The cost of honouring life

At 19, Clare became pregnant. Was it intentional? Her mother didn’t share – perhaps she didn’t know – if Clare intentionally came off the pill, if there was a reaction to antibiotics, or she’d had a stomach virus. baby-barefoot-blur-415824

Regardless of how, sperm had met egg and cells were dividing – life had begun.

Clare was in a steady relationship with her boyfriend. It was likely steadier than her home life, which had seen its share of trauma and upheaval through family breakdown.

Her father had remarried, to a younger woman not much older than Clare herself. A second family had been born. It was a messy break-up – her mother had had an affair, walked out of the family home – all rolled up in the mess of alcohol and emotional abuse from both sides of the family tree. For Clare, life, love and relationships were not simple. Are they ever? In the mess of the break-up, Clare and her siblings had opted to live with their father.

Clare’s father had himself a new family, one that looked secure. One where two new babies were loved and cared for. Babies that were taking his attention. Is it too hard to imagine that Clare observed that and thought, ‘Well, why don’t I become a Mum too?’

We all seek love and acceptance. Perhaps Clare was seeking to create her own, secure, family unit. Something that allowed her to share in the extra love and attention that she had been lacking.

Regardless of why sperm had met egg and cells were dividing – life had begun.

But there was a difference between Clare and her father in regards to parenthood. He was married. She was not. As it turned out, her boyfriend – the one who supplied the sperm – did not want to be married either.

Clare was brought up on Sunday mass and Catholic rosaries. Given the science that human life begins at conception, the Church’s opposition to abortion is the principle that each and every human life has inherent dignity, and thus must be treated with the respect due to a human person.

Sperm had met egg and cells were dividing. For Clare, and her father, a life that had inherent dignity has begun and was to be treated with the respect due to a human person.

Clare lived in a small town. The inherent dignity that she was affording her unborn wasn’t offered to her. Clare’s inherent dignity was ignored in the age-old whispers and slut-shaming that so commonly accompanies small minds and small towns.

Her boyfriend’s inherent dignity – the young man who had not looked after his sperm, nor respected the consequences for Clare, and whose family was more concerned about what being a dad at such a young age could do to his career, was far, far less maligned.

Clare was sent away. Before her body began to really show that sperm had met egg and that life had begun. To a place where the baby could be born quietly, away from prying eyes, and given away to a family unable to conceive a child of their own.

Clare was sent away from those who gossiped over her inherent dignity. Over six hours away from the family home. It was a long, lonely, difficult time.

Clare kept her eyes closed throughout her labour. She was giving away her baby. She couldn’t look.

Then she returned home. Sobbing in the car for the whole six-hour journey.

Only a few days later, unable to carry the burden of it, Clare did the next brave thing in her life: she demanded to be driven back and to bring her baby home.

But family of origin is a messed-up space. Humans are broken and flawed. It’s a hard thing to forgive being given up for adoption – despite knowing the love and seeing the sacrifices your single parent has made on your behalf.

“Why didn’t she want me, why didn’t she love me enough to keep me from day one?” is the question that has haunted her child ever since the reason for the lack of newborn photographs was provided.

For Clare, the same refrain could be asked of her own parents. “Why did I have to be sent away? Why was there so much shame attached?” A shame that has continued, passed onto younger sisters who spent their years in the same small town feeling like all eyes were on them, waiting to see if they too would make the same ‘mistake’ by having sex and getting pregnant when they ought not.

I wrote yesterday about there being grey in the black and white debate over the bill to decriminalize abortion in New South Wales. Clare’s story comes from the grey space.

She honoured her faith and beliefs. Sperm had met egg and cells were dividing, life had begun. A life that had inherent dignity, made in the image of God, and was to be treated with the respect due to a human person.

But she carried a lot in the grey space. A burden that her church neglected to honour. A burden that society neglected to honour. The father carried far, far less of a burden.

This is the grey. A place where women still have to count the cost of honouring life. Lower superannuation due to leaving work to have children. Gender pay gaps. Unflexible work hours. Mummy wars. Slut-shaming. Job uncertainty. Centrelink shaming. Discrimination. All the minute costs that appear to amount to little in the column of costs when stacked up against the moral positive of HONOURING LIFE. But they are there. And they weigh.

Until there is no cost in this decision, or until the cost of honouring life is born equally by both genders, there will be abortions. Their decriminalization in NSW will not change this.

So how do we work to change our society so women have more possibilities of not having to choose abortion?  I think to do so we must start understanding the cost of honoring life. Christians ought to understand that best. Ought to support that best. Ought to lobby the hardest for the cost to change. After all, we follow someone who paid the greatest cost to let us live.

If you are facing an unplanned pregnancy and wish to talk to someone about your choices with compassion and without judgment, contact Diamond Women’s Support or call them on (02) 8003 4990.

Silencing your shame harpies

The Harpies were monsters in Greek mythology, having the form of a bird and a human face. They carried evildoers to be punished by the Erinyes. Their name means “snatchers” or “swift robbers”.

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Source: https://mythology.net/monsters/harpy/

I think we all have Harpies. They might be internal voices, ones that whisper we’re not good enough, we’ll never succeed. Voices that taunt us for past mistakes. They may be external: voices of (ahem) friends or family. And they can be swift: a quick dive in from a Harpy’s talons can lay waste to all positivity.

I awoke earlier this week with my least favourite brand of Harpy in my brain: the Shame Harpy.  One of the contemporary scholars of shame, Gershen Kaufman says this, “Shame is the most disturbing experience individuals ever have about themselves; no other emotion feels more deeply disturbing because in the moment of shame the self feels wounded from within.”

When you’re wounded from within, you can feel like you never get away from it. It is always with you. With shame, it’s not an action, I’m not writing about anyone actually doing anything wrong. It’s the feeling – the thoughts that we are somehow wrong, defective, inadequate, not good enough, or not strong enough.

Shame is, as Brene Brown writes, the swampland of the soul. Shame is different from guilt. If someone did something to upset me, they would (I hope) be able to say sorry.

Guilt is: “I did something bad, I’m sorry I made a mistake.”

Shame is: “I am bad. I’m sorry. I am a mistake.”

I don’t know why the Shame Harpies took up roost. We’ve been dealing with plenty of emotional stresses as a family. Unpacking past traumas. Plus, when running a business doesn’t go as well as expected, you also have days of doubt.

So there’s never one thing. Nothing to easily explain why this insidious whispering was JUST THERE as I opened my eyes from sleep. However, I have a history that sowed such seeds. And some days they explode without warning, looming large like triffids, and the Shame Harpies can land in their branches and begin.

The first trick is in recognising them and the damage they do as they flap and squawk in my brain. Recovery from trauma is rarely linear and some days can feel more swampland than solid ground. I wanted to stay in bed and pull the covers over my head. The darkness feels more attractive than the harsh light of day. In the dark, no-one can find me and inadvertently scratch my too-raw emotional skin.

But me, myself, and a choir of Shame Harpies alone in the dark do not a great combination make. Brown writes if you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment.

So trick number 2: get out in the light, stop being silent, secretive and passing judgment on myself. For years I treated myself with my personal brand of the impatient warrior: harsh, unkind and frustrated with such weakness. It was a poor healing protocol.

Yet, Brown’s research also shows that if you put the same amount of shame in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive. So, instead, I try to be gentle and empathetic towards myself. For that gift, I can only thank the Jesus fella.

You might wonder how serving myself up some Son of God helps. After all, supreme perfection is a difficult yardstick when you’re trying to throttle a Shame Harpie. But it is Jesus, the Son of God in his humanity, in the flesh, who has the ability to understand and share my feelings the best. He who experienced tiredness, pain, and abandonment is the one who pours out empathy.

One of my most treasured people in the Bible, whom I can’t wait to meet in heaven, is the Samaritan woman Jesus met at the well.

For her, Jesus is different from all the other men she has come across. Men who might have slept with, used and discarded her. He is different from those who had left her feeling inadequate and shamed. Jesus is different from the townspeople who judge her. He offers her time, pays her attention and speaks to her gently. He offers her what her heart is thirsting for: empathy.

But when he declares to her, “I am he” he goes one better. In that, Jesus moves from empathy, the empathy of his humanity that douses our shame, to something FAR bigger.

Restoration. I am He. The Christ. The Messiah. “Know who I am,” promises Jesus, “and I will restore you to what you are supposed to be. Spotless, perfect, a wonderful child of God, created to be in relationship with our heavenly Father.”

Jesus, as fully human, douses my shame, just as he douses the shame of the Samarian woman, everyone’s shame with empathy.  But as fully God, as the Messiah, he sees into our hearts, sees past our veneers, our hurts. And He goes beyond an empathetic fix-up, as wonderful and tender as that is. He doesn’t simply fix-up. He restores.

So if I am restored, why do those damn Shame Harpies come back to roost? Well, I guess because I live between two points: the cross and eternity. The saving grace of Jesus and the work his Holy Spirit is doing in me each day to make me a little more like him is a process – just like recovery. Some days I forget and get in the way, which is often the biggest problem.

But when I draw closer to Jesus, the shame harpies get quieter. It’s simple to write, so often hard to practice. But I know now how he works. You see, in shame we condemn ourselves. But Jesus doesn’t. He came to heal and restore, as I am reminded by Romans 8:

There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ because through Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free.

The space for grey and grace in decriminalizing abortion.

There’s been a LOT on social media regarding the NSW Health Care Reform Bill 2019.abdomen-anticipation-baby-1556669 (1)

In NSW, ‘unlawful abortion’ has been a criminal offence in NSW since 1900 under the Crimes Act. In NSW the law allows you to have a ‘lawful’ abortion if the doctor believes your physical or mental health is in serious danger by continuing the pregnancy. The doctor takes your social/family situation, finances and health into consideration when making this decision.

Today, the NSW parliament is set to vote on a bill decriminalizing abortion after an impassioned debate from both sides of the issue.

Is it disturbing that the framework for abortion was still found in the state’s Crimes Act? That in making this major life decision, women and their doctors have to do so with the threat of being charged with a criminal offence?

Some say yes. Others say no.

Those opposing the decriminalization bill say they want to speak “on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves”. Those opposing are concerned that the bill allows abortions to occur in very late stages of pregnancy, in circumstances where there is no medical need, on the advice of two medical practitioners. Those opposing say pregnant people would demand abortion on demand up to the day of birth.

Sydney barrister Larissa Andelman, president of the Women Lawyers’ Association of NSW, said “there is, in fact, more oversight by medical practitioners after 22 weeks” under the proposed law, and “that’s actually more restrictive than it is today”.

In Australia, 0.7 per cent of all terminations take place after 20 weeks. They are usually done due to complications, meaning that the foetus is not compatible with life, or in situations where due to difficult circumstances the pregnant person has not had access to suitable health care earlier in the pregnancy.

I’ve written about my experience with abortion prior to becoming a Christian. Back then, like now, I am concerned about the lack of grace too often displayed in the debate. Back then, like now, I am concerned how churches hold up their doctrine – the sacredness of life – but fail to develop anything useful in practice.

Christian, Muslim and Jewish religious leaders issued a statement that included:

“Abortion does not need to be further encouraged. A pregnant woman requires help and support, not a quick answer which will ultimately harm her. The bill does nothing to provide real choices for women who feel they have no option other than abortion.”

Yes, pregnant women do require help and support. Intimating abortion is a ‘quick answer’ for a pregnant woman – or her family – is graceless. Such decisions weigh heavily and cause harm, grief and pain. But writing that the bill does nothing to provide real choices for women, who feel they have no option other than abortion, mixes contexts. Champion for more choices, please do.

But that’s not what this bill is about. The bill is about decriminalizing this one choice.

Is it a narrow and awful choice for a woman or family? Yes. So, instead of all the noise and ‘thou shalt not!’ how are our churches championing for additional, real, ongoing, supportive choices and programs? How are we touting them as real and vital options? Making pro-life look attractive compared to the “quick answer”?

I don’t have the answers, just observations. Perhaps conversation starters.

Over on the Ministry of Sex, I wrote about the young woman so shamed by her church for falling pregnant outside of marriage – and who chose to keep her child – she attempted suicide. If we are unable to help the parent who is brave enough to honour the sacredness of life, why on earth would we imagine a woman conflicted and overwhelmed by pregnancy – faced with the darkest of choices – would feel secure approaching a pastor for help and advice?

There are highly vocal opinions being displayed in Christian circles. These opinions are being written – in the majority – by men. They appear to very certain of the right and the wrong. The black and the white.

They seem to intimate that if you do not sit clearly in the clear cut choices, you are lacking in Christian conviction. But this is not clear cut. It is not so black and white as they like to write. There is grey.

Tread carefully in the grey, my brothers. Tread carefully.

There is shame and there is sin in the grey.

In the grey, there is also a confusing purity sexual ethic that likely contributes to unexpected pregnancies in Christian unwed couples. Why? Because these couples daren’t think about having pre-meditated sex, which therefore means no contraception, and then, “oops, well his penis just slid into my vagina and, oh no, I’m pregnant” outcomes. Not pre-meditated sexual sin, no siree. An accident.

So then, in the grey, uncertain of the support they’d receive, fearful of the shame if they admit it, abortion becomes an option.

In the grey, behind those 0.7 per cent of all terminations taking place after 20 weeks, are families with rare genetic conditions. Those who are not in a position to care for a child with a genetic or terminal illness. Those without the privilege of secure housing. Or a partner.  Without the privilege of a high or stable income, paid maternity leave, long service leave, and pre-existing private health cover.

In the grey, are the negligible adoption rates for children with disabilities, let alone those with a terminal illness.

In the grey, there are women who have been pressured into terminations by abusive spouses.

It’s hard in the grey. So let’s lean into the space and have graceful, loving, challenging, respectful and open-hearted discussions.

What would make the pro-life choice attractive?

You see, I would have sperm-proof contraception and a sex-positive sexual ethic in church, rather than young people hiding in shame over thinking abortion is their only choice.

I would rather see the improved education of our young people about sex. Especially our Christian young people. I had sex before marriage as I wasn’t a Christian back then. But I am not ‘lucky’ that I did not fall unexpectedly pregnant.

I was informed. Not simply due to condoms, pills, diaphragms and spermicide creams. But because I knew my cycle, knew exactly when I ovulated and had a healthy sex-positive awareness of myself, my body and consent. Informing your church youth about sex and how not to get pregnant doesn’t cause a rush of pre-marital sex. In fact, research shows the opposite.

In the grey, think not simply about purity, or impurity. Get everyone understanding the rich theology of absolute purity (blog on its way on this one!).

In the grey, have real conversations in church about what an unwed pregnancy looks like in your community. Would the single mother be loved and supported? Or would she feel shame pushing in the stroller? How would the single Father expect to be treated?

In the grey, a young woman on your youth team turns up in front of you this Sunday, confronted and grieved by all that was on social media this week, admitting through sobs that she’d chosen termination because she had been date-raped – and she’d been so ashamed by the notion she was no longer pure for Christ she couldn’t breathe a word. How would you respond?

In the grey, there is the 15-year-old girl who bravely opts for adoption. The young man who is the father wants no responsibility. She finds out at 22 weeks a terrible in utero genetic condition that means the baby would not be adopted. What would you say to her?

As I wrote in my other blog, there are Christians who make huge decisions to ignore their Doctors and proceed with dangerous, life-threatening pregnancies with uncertain outcomes. Yet, despite that, when they prayed over the other choice – a termination offered by Doctors as ‘kinder’ – they felt unable to share how tempting it was with their pastors.

There is pain and there is doubt in the grey.

As this bill is debated, focus not only on the black and white. Focus also on the grey. How can you offer compassion and pro-life choices hand-in-hand and do it beautifully?

As we do, let there be forgiveness in our churches and demonstration of the Gospel of grace. Come up with wild and radical plans to challenge the “easy choice”. Host mass teen sleepovers with robot babies in your churches to show just how much work a young baby is. When young people are venturing into unprotected sex early, seeking love and affection in all the wrong places, can we show them a more loving, fulfilling way?

Like Jesus, let us lean into the grey spaces with love and compassion, not judgment. Let us all take the time to listen.

This is not a space for extremes – from either side. Our media and culture are quick to trumpet that an unplanned pregnancy equals your life is over! That is not the case.

Certain church messaging about abortion drowns Jesus and compassion in religiosity. That ought not to be the case either.

Termination is not the only option. But if it has been your experience, know Jesus offers acceptance, love, forgiveness and hope.

If you are facing an unplanned pregnancy and wish to talk to someone about your choices with compassion and without judgement, contact http://www.diamondpregnancy.com/ or call them on (02) 8003 4990.

Thank you.

The week I retired from preaching

Retirement_imageLast week, I prayed over something dear to my heart. Running close to empty I needed encouragement. Was preaching a path God really wanted me on? People like the SAP were saying, “Yes, don’t you dare stop.” But the month prior it had felt hard and lonely.

In the month prior, I’d tried to find a spot to do live expository sermons (one that’s on a specific Bible passage). Without it I couldn’t be assessed for a unit in my Grad Dip Divinity.

Attending church within a denomination that can get itchy over women preaching -whilst studying at a denominational college that doesn’t – has its challenges.

So, emboldened by an idea God whispered, I suggested sermon salons.  A place where I could practise my sermons on willing guinea pigs. And it grew. The first one outgrew the original idea of my lounge room venue. Which meant I needed a larger space. So, armed with a registration list of Christians and non – and an audience of both genders – I asked my church for a room.

A room I received. I did feel I had to explain why the men wanting to attend weren’t unwillingly under my preaching authority. I also had to quiet the sense of unfairness I felt when, setting up the room with tables and chairs, plugging in the data projector, managing my own AV, I thought of my brothers in Christ also being assessed. Who likely have walked into ‘church proper’ on a Sunday, to a pre-prepared room, with a pre-prepared AV desk, with a pre-supplied audience. ‘Just’ walk in and preach.

God is kind and gracious, packing my virtual sermon salons with 70+ interested people and 15 to my first ‘live’. But still the sense of unfairness dogged me.

Sometimes using my female voice for the Jesus-fella can feel a struggle, as I’ve blogged before. Sometimes I wonder why it’s 2019 and my gender is getting in the way of me being assessed for a course of study.

So, at the start of last week, feeling tender, tired and lonely, I asked if He wanted me to give up. I sought out a wise woman who, also in a denomination that can get itchy over women preaching, has been supported by many male senior ministers over 20 years of her preaching ministry.

Before I went to meet her, God – in His gracious way during my prayer yurt/ journal/ Bible time – had pressed 2 Cor 3:12 upon me: You have hope in Jesus. So be bold. 

Except I wasn’t feeling bold. I was needing more. More than what my prayer yurt quiet time was revealing. More than the encouraging SMS from the SAP – Don’t you dare give up! –  who had heard the dark creeping in.

So, as my my wise friend and I prayed in the glaring surrounds of a coffee shop, I asked for neon. Like He used to use with me back at the start. Forgive me, Lord, but solo Bible time in a prayer yurt is only reminding me of how solo this is feeling. You made it fairly clear a few years ago you wanted me on this preaching path. But perhaps not anymore? If you do want me to keep pressing on, I’m sorry, but I’m really going to need neon to do so. 

The rest of the week illustrates again the intimacy with which God seeks be close to us. To grow us. To help us. He’s God for goodness sake. He doesn’t have to meet my lonely needs to help me feel better. It’s not like He gave Moses a pep talk as Moses stood there shuddering over, “ooh, how will Pharaoh know I’m really speaking a message from You?” and, “You do know I’m a terrible public speaker?”

It’s not like he ever picks worthy people! Abraham had little to commend him – but in God’s initiating grace He chose Abraham to start the nation through whom He would bless all the nations.

In fact, that’s likely what freaks me out the most. I am the least likely, most obtuse, complaining soul. I ran from Him, for goodness sake, for years. I didn’t want His love, His grace, His offer of hope and forgiveness. When I finally stopped fleeing, I stood there with my hands behind my back, like a small child unwilling to touch the amazing gift because… what if? What if He’d got it wrong? And, oh, even worse, what if I let Him down?

“He doesn’t and you can’t,” is a whisper I have heard time and time again from Jesus. From a patient, kind SAP. I have grown and I have learnt that my God makes no mistakes. Even when – especially when – I disagree with the choices He makes in regards asking me to do stuff! As the song goes, there’s no wall God won’t kick down, no lie He won’t tear down, coming after me. 

And so God began to light my path like a blazing runway at night. The day after my wise friend and I prayed, I received an out the blue to an ‘invite-only’ preachers development workshop – run by someone who amazes me with his storytelling preaching talent and will, I know – with that HS scary certainty – challenge and push me to more. The same preacher whose name my wise friend had shared the day before over coffee – and, no, she hadn’t approached him either.

The day after that, another out the blue invite to the same preaching workshop from an attendee. Someone who had prayed and prayed and prayed over me five years ago when she learnt I – supremely unqualified – was applying for a job that had Christianity as one of its essential criteria and could I blag a reference off her? Not being head over heels with the Jesus fella wasn’t going to stop me, was it? Today she is like my favourite bra: lots of support, colourful and close to my heart.

The evening after that, asked to jump up and speak, to share my voice, wisdom and opinion at a large, mixed Christian gathering. Yes, God reminded me, I do want your voice out there.

And then, in case I needed more, right at the end of the week, beautifully timed on International Women’s Day (IWD), God delivered me a neon blast from my BC past.  Not on any day, but on a day designed to recognise and promote unity, celebration, reflection, advocacy and action for women.

“I know you!’ she called out as I walked through Circular Quay towards a Christian IWD event. She did? I knew her face too, but couldn’t place why. Turns out she was the guest speaker. A vital, engaging preacher from a Sydney north shore church.

But we worked out we knew each other from 20 years ago. Neither of us Christians, then. Back then, we were non-believing, pommie, opinionated, quick-thinking PR pros with our own agencies. Both of us thinking  – back then – that GJ&HS needed PR agents, but, ha,ha,ha, we weren’t ever going to be part of THAT campaign. No siree.

Ah. No God-incidences. Look. Look what I’ve done with someone so like you.

Maybe this sense of struggle makes me appreciate my preaching opportunities even more? It keeps me humble – but it also reminds me what a privilege it is. Perhaps it’s a reminder, too, for all my preaching brothers, to not take for granted the opportunities they have. To not – and I’ve heard it done – pronounce from the front in an aggrieved tone, “Oh, I got the really tricky passage to preach on this week.

God closed the week with three other gifts. Less neon, as I’d already expressed my snot-monstering, hiccupping awe at what He had provided. Just quiet underlines to keep me steady. An email asking me to preach at a local church. And two people from my church asking to come along to the next sermon salon.

Sometimes I need neon.

But I also need quiet time in a payer yurt to appreciate and reflect upon just how amazing all God’s neon is.

I will blog of His faithfulness? That’s it?

shrugIf my past five years being a Christian had ALL been cage fighting wrestles, as per my last blog post, I’m sure the smart-alec pastor (SAP) would have expired. Or accepted a mission role somewhere remote without cellular or internet. I think I might have burnt out too. But sometimes, sometimes I miss it. The neon. The unmissable insights that God is taking action in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I love the quiet prayer yurt times. But the WHOO HOO moments are fantastic.

Last post, I explained how I’d not written because I worried how boring my faith travels might sound. Sedate, safe, Bible-reading, Bible-college attending, preaching Phil. Compared to the ‘skidding, whoo, WHAT is going on?’ from three-to-five years ago. I’d made me the arbiter of interesting. Not God. How foolish.

I worried at it like a kid with a fidget-spinner. I wanted to blog, but what about? I realised – as Godspiration began to strike less over the past three years – I had egocentrically put my own, somewhat pious parameters around it: “I won’t blog unless I am called to.”

Really? Who kidnapped me, made me editor of the universe and puffed me up with such writing importance??! Unless I’m called to. Dear God. Anyone would think I’d been marinating a bit too long in theological college and mission. Ah… possibly.

I thought the only way to keep writing about GJ&HS was to either get all Bible study exegetical each blog (yikes) or draw out what they were up to with me. But, truly, all eye-rolling nonsense about waiting to be called to write aside – I didn’t want it to be about me!

“Write about your new story being part of the old, old story,” advised the SAP. Which – three days ago – made zero sense.

I imagine God and Jesus doing the divine forehead slap. Then – offering more kindness and patience with me than I ever manage with myself or others – agreeing: “She’s not quite picked up on the point, yet. Let’s try again.”

As they so often do, they used an early morning wake-up call today and a pressing to listen. This time to an Exodus sermon. Finally, what they were trying to tell me clicked.

(Sidebar: If you don’t understand how Israel wandering around in the wilderness for 40 years in the Old Testament makes sense of God’s massive, crazy promise in Jesus in the New, it’s well worth the 29 mins. Link at the end).

The main point of the sermon: look at how faithful God was – and is. He made these massive promises to His people that, frankly, looked impossible.

How was God going to create a massive nation using the dry and likely limp fertility of two old age Israelites? But He did. Through famine, slavery and desert dust He went from one man with no land to a nation overloaded with loot – blessing after faithful blessing poured out, promise after promise kept.

How much more then His promise to us in Jesus? That one day every knee will bow, every tongue confess, that there will be no more tears or pain, and the world that so cuts and grieves us one day will be but a mirage in the review mirror as we step into His eternal banquet. As we step into God’s house, His home, His peace.

But while we wait, what do we do? asked the preacher. Do we give up on the promises entirely? Make them small and attainable? Make them more suitable to our small, not God-sized lives? Refuse to accept the super-size me God serving on offer and simply settle?

Oh. That struck. Like me: settle for a quiet life that stops writing, Phil, because, gosh, you think you might sound a little like Ned Flanders going on and on and on and on about what GJ&HS are doing in your life.

No, the sermon reminded me, as God ricocheted through my headphones and shook my heart. No. The promises of God are not to keep me comfortable. So what if me writing about God makes me fret and worry about looking self-centred (here she goes, writing about her GJ&HS encounters again)?

The preacher asked: “how do we maintain our trust in the promises of God while we’re facing the brokenness and the famine and the hardship of life right now? How am I going to say to my children, and my children’s children, that the promises of God are good and never fail? How do we maintain our faith in the massive, preposterous promises of God to us in Christ?”

The sermon suggested: first to look for the places where we see God at work. The small signs that He is still rolling out His love and blessings.

Yes, Phil, God whispered, for you to see the small and large ways I have changed your life today and over the past five years as part of My larger gathering of you to Me. 

All those God shoves, all those answered prayers, those crazy Godincidences I used to blog about so often, that blew me away and took me out with awe-full tears at the heart and the knees? They were never simply exciting new God news. They were blogs that strived to unpack GJ&HS. To examine more closely, like a bower-bird returning to the blue shiny glistening gem in the dirt of life, how they were building and sustaining my faith.

And then what this preacher said? The most important thing to do, to learn from Exodus is to keep telling the story of God’s faithfulness. “You’ve gotta tell the story,” he said.

A cracking one liner, delivered with Canadian-accented colour.

THAT line? Right there, today at 3am, wet my eyes with God’s love.

“You’ve gotta tell the story,” said this preacher.

“Write about your new story being part of the old, old story,” said the SAP.

Who gave me this talent with words? Who created my tongue?

Phil, you’ve just gotta tell the story.

I don’t have to make the story. Heck, I don’t even have to be the story. I just gotta tell it. Over and over, sharing the bower-bird shiny blue gems. Because it gives me hope.

So, much as it feels a little presumptuous and scary, I figure, dear reader, it gives you hope too. Of what He is doing in your life and mine, your family’s life and mine, in the lives of the people around us.

So I’ll keep telling the story of those God shoves, of the quiet Yurt times and the crazy who-hoo times. I will blog of His faithfulness.

Phil, you’ve gotta tell the story.

Thank God I’ve got one hell of a subject.


Link to Exodus: The Story So Far.  Exodus 1: 1-24. By Marc Rader, Gymea Baptist Church

When did my Jesus get boring?

If I told you I had met a bloke who could raise the dead with his words, perform heart surgery simply by the touch of his cloak and turn tap water into Grange, you’d be impressed, wouldn’t you?

If I said this guy spoke love to asylum seekers, saved the environment with a breath, empowered women on every day, not just on March 8th, tackled the corruption of and abuse by religious leaders, and could fix the public health system by healing all the sick – you’d vote him in at the next election, wouldn’t you?

It’d be big crosses on the ballot paper for the Jesus party.

Surely.

Sadly, I think us humans are way too fickle for that. Look at me. Here I am, unexpected poster girl for ‘Who does that at 40-something? Wow, that Jesus bloke must be something different for Phil to do this major life switch, did you know she’s even at Bible College and, what the actual, she’s preaching???!!!

You would think I’d be drunk on dizzying amounts of watered up, Jesus-delivered Grange.

And yet.

I had the mother of all awakenings yesterday when I realised I’d domesticated God. I read back through some of the early posts on this blog and wondered, where has the ‘zing’ gone? 

Those cage fights with Him that characterised our early relationship – as I tested, wrestled, Vodka-Cruiser style Psalm slanged – have settled. I, much like a slowly maturing adolescent, learnt to lean in and trust. Much of that trust has come from spending significantly more time with God. Marinating in His word. I have to give the SAP points for pastoring bravery. There’s a certain smart-alec timing in being able to deliver, drily, “I reckon some time in the Bible would take the edge off this wrestling, Phil,’ without causing the recipient of such wisdom to launch herself at him in cage-fighting frustration. “I’m wrestling here! Venting! And you want me to go off, sit quietly, pray and READ THE BIBLE??!!!!”

The SAP received a fair few flippin’ the bird emojis in the early days. 

I miss those God wrestles. I find my answers in His word, but, gosh, I loved it when I’d launch myself at Him and then see Him reach so clearly into my world, catch me and guide me. Graciously and kindly, He would deliver His Post It Notes of love. It was real, vital and tactile. Plus my immature Christian faith, my pinging around like a meercat on speed, gave me such blog fodder. So entertaining!

Originally I wrote to figure out what was lost in translation between the stereotypes by which I’d been misled, compared to the hope-filled, loving reality of having a relationship with GJ&HS. In God’s crazy way, readership grew. He used my own figuring it out via this blog as a way to help others who were figuring it out too.

As the months passed, more would press on my heart and out the keyboard: domestic assault. Lack of women’s voices. I began to write less about where I was in my faith and more of what I saw around me in institutionalised Christianity that I perceived as barriers to people meeting the Jesus-fella.

Plus, if I’m honest, deep down, I quietly wondered how interesting I could keep making the settled, sedate, safety I was experiencing with the three of them. How entertaining was writing about church each Sunday? My bible college classes on a Tuesday night? The swathes of the Bible I have now read? How systematic theology fascinates me, understanding the historicity of God’s story hooking together, and how His reaching through time and place to redeem people to Him – broken, stuffed-up people like myself – is echoed over and over and over.

I mean, I love it. But everyone else? Aren’t cage fights and vodka-Cruiser style Psalmesque slanging more interesting? Compared to settled, sedate, safety? Hardly the three Ss of a news agenda or rollocking good story.

But I have far more than an interesting, entertaining faith. My God is not a God of readership statistics. Jesus is not a barometer of social media likes and shares. The Holy Spirit doesn’t get measured on His five-star entertainment rating. My faith is deeper and stronger than that.

And God says, just as He has to countless characters over thousands of years, inside the Bible and out: “Excuse me, Phil…since when is it all about you? I’m in all of this. It’s not you.”

It’s the three of them inviting me into their story that have given my life fresh colour. At the start it was ‘let go of the trapeze, what next?’ crazy. Today the trapeze still happens – but now it feels so safe because my trust in them is now strong and implicit. My error has been confusing their strong, surrounded, rock-solid support with BORING.

GJ&HS have removed my need to operate at speed. They have healed the hyper-vigilance that domestic and sexual assault grew in me from a horribly young age – along with the help of some cracking meds – but it wasn’t until GJ&HS was I able to understand what was going on.

They have – and absolutely this is the HS at work – helped me become more other focused. I genuinely want to be kinder, more patient, have self control, be gentle, share love, offer peace. Not because I have to in order to get in God’s good books. But because that’s how the HS shapes me. A little bit more of Jesus taking shape out of this clay each day.

I mistook that for boring. I replaced GJ&HS with my worldly news agenda that tells me in order to write well and to gain attention, I need to have conflict. Action. Pace.

I made GJ&HS boring. Not them. I told myself no-one would want to read about:

  • my answered prayers, because I’ve written about those before
  • how daily Bible time in a quiet room and the wisdom it gives me each day is the only thing after 40 odd years of searching that works (and I really did some searching!) when it comes to helping me tackle whatever life throws
  • the quiet room nicknamed the Prayer Yurt – so named because it needs more than four walls for the strings and strings of A4 pages of handwritten prayers hung up. Prayers I get to take to God, secure in the knowledge that Jesus’ work in me makes those prayers powerful and effective
  • the journal of daily notes that come out of my Bible time. That when I make those notes, there can be a tingling in my fingertips and the handwriting turns to CAPS as God speaks His love and wisdom to me. To me. Wow. The God who hangs stars, calls tides, commands night and dark, speaks to me. Here is this quiet space. Him and I. All because He loves and desires relationship with ME. With us all.
  • how, like nothing else in 40 odd years of struggling and searching,  GJ&HS, Bible time, the Prayer Yurt and the support of other Jesus followers have healed my family through addictions, marital struggles, and helping me find my voice that I’d silenced for so long. Silenced due to what happened as a child when the man in the pink shirt wearing Paco Rabanne Pour Homme aftershave would enter my bedroom.

No-one would be interested in that. They’d find GJ&HS doing that boring, surely?

The only boring bit here is my repeating the same mistake that God’s people have made over and over for thousands of years. Of making it about me. Of me thinking it has to be fast and exciting for anyone to pay attention to what GJ&HS have done and continue to do. That God needs me to drum up attention. To be the arbiter of what makes Him exciting. How foolish, how typically human, I have been.

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

1 Kings 19: 11-12

Can Godly men be quiet?

In my five years as a Christian, I have felt the weight of my gender, its capacity to be diminished, unheard and unseen more than any other time. Not because I suddenly became Christianly enlightened to the atrocities women face globally. No. It was more personal. In these five years I have been exposed to more limiting expectations and opinions based on my gender than in any other context I’ve been in during the 37 years prior to my meeting Jesus.the-quieter-you-become-the-more-you-can-hear-22384454

Did you inhale in horror? I hope so. In the 37 years before meeting Christ, hanging out in that broken world, far from a relationship with God, I experienced low-to-no gender discrimination. Didn’t even blip on my radar. Compare this to my recent, briefer time spent working in Christian organisations, worshipping in church, and studying at Bible college, and overnight my gender seemed to become the yardstick for my ability to do anything!

Take a church gifting questionnaire I filled out in year 2 after meeting the Jesus-fella. My top three ‘manifest’ gifts: wisdom, leadership, teaching. With but a point separating the three of them. Closely followed by knowledge, discernment, prayer.

Crickets chirped as I shared the results. “What will you be able to do with those in church?” asked one.

It was my first clanging indication that I wasn’t in Kansas (or indeed a developed, enlightened country) anymore. My ability to have wisdom, lead and teach all reduced and negated by having ovaries and breasts. As a lecturer at Bible College said to me last year, “You know, Phil, with some of the things that have been said to you, I’m amazed you actually are a Christian.”

But I am. And I have intentionally chosen theological study because what I was hearing didn’t match up with the fullness of what Christ Jesus offered me. I needed to discern where denominational opine was leading me away from Jesus, not to. And, thankfully, God blessed me with gifts like wisdom and discernment so I could.

How many awesome, gifted women are not meeting Jesus because of this sort of thing? How many remain unreached and lost as a consequence? This is what presses and hurts my heart the most. It’s why – despite feeling hugely uncomfortable speaking up and out in a context that has Timothy’s ‘woman, be quiet’ rattling around my brain – I continue to do so.

But I don’t want to have to operate at such a loud volume to be heard. It hurts my throat. So instead, I ask: Godly men, could you be quiet? Because in the quietness you might hear something new. Something Jesus is whispering. That this fuss about women is getting in the way of the Gospel and we need to shush and listen.

A recent post from an organisation that develops strategies to hold institutions, perpetrators, and enablers accountable for violence, harm, and cover-ups was the final shove to have me take to the keyboard after months of quiet.  It comes in response to yet another church cover up of abuse. The headline used (from which I drew inspiration): Godly men, be quiet.

Boom. Nothing like a headline between the eyes. The writer opens:

The vast majority of church leaders have absolutely no business trying to be leaders in the movement to end sexual abuse. Part of how church leaders mess up–particularly in strongly patriarchal traditions invested in male headship (and let’s get real, for all the change that’s happened, that’s still most of Christianity)–is in assuming that they do.

With my hand on my heart for all my Christian brothers who have supported and encouraged me, I have to say: the article is right. Can you please, please, just shush and listen.

Listen without the defensiveness of #notallmen (and that goes for any women too who swoop in with the hashtag and rush to the defence of their husbands, brothers or sons). We know it’s not all men. But just like when everyone rushed to decry the data about domestic violence in Aussie churches, swooping in with the hashtag means you diminish the importance of what is being shared and, worse, you negate the pain and bravery it has taken for people to speak up.

You see, the very nature of how the world views leadership has pervaded many churches. Of course it has, or else we wouldn’t be reading story after story of collapsing meagchurches with leaders caught in sin without anyone being held to account.

Christian leadership courses teach being servant-hearted, leading from behind. To do so, it requires you to champion the least to the front. If Jesus told us the least will be first in the Kingdom of Heaven, then surely Jesus-like leadership demands the same of our leaders?

But do we see that in church? I think to model heaven on earth, we need to look more honestly at the locus of our spheres of leadership. And own that we do not do it. Not nearly enough.

Almost ten years ago, the top scholar on gender and leadership, Dr. Alice Eagly, released studies showing that women are more likely than men to possess transformational leadership qualities  – they care more about developing their followers, they listen to them and stimulate them to think ‘outside the box,’ are more inspirational, and they are more ethical.

Gosh. Transformational leadership qualities. Caring about developing their followers. Listening to their followers. Stimulating them to think outside the box. Inspirational and ethical. Why, that sounds positively ‘Lead like Jesus 101’!

Imagine if the Vatican church had leapt on that research by Dr Alice Eagly a decade ago. Or the Southern Baptist churches. Would such growth – appointing women in vital leadership roles – have prevented the tsunami of abuse that is washing out of these organisations?

So who is least? For one, those women without a voice in church. Those women who are not represented or modelled female leadership outside of children’s or women’s ministry. Who hear a majority male perspective on scripture, and, worse, are made to feel they are rebellious trouble makers when they question it. Not because they seek to tear down God’s word. But because, as women, they have been long aware of how their opportunities are diminished because of their gender.

So they pray, and they wonder. They recognise Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, who bandages up bruised reeds and fans smouldering wicks. They think, surely, Jesus, you wouldn’t seek to diminish us too?

Of course not. Who were first to share the resurrection? The earliest evangelist to Samaria? All women.

Women like the persistent widow, the haemorrhaging woman, or Mary learning at Jesus’ feet. Many women challenged their status in a patriarchal society to be near Jesus, to touch him, to be forgiven and to grow in his likeness. To grow. 

The trouble is, as soon as this topic get touched on, we get caught in shouty dialogue of what scripture says, who is right, who is wrong, who can lead, preach, teach etc. Don’t you think I’ve not prayed and wrestled with James 3:1? I know where my salvation lies and to whom I will give an account.

So, instead, can Godly men be quiet in this? Rather than rushing to speak, look at what we are seeing: the diminishment or lack of female voices is having far-reaching impact. Instead, look at the evidence that women have a vital role to play in leadership transformation.

When I turn up, again and again, asking for a new way it’s not because I’m a shrill harpy seeking to diminish men. It’s because I’m the persistent widow.

When I reach out my hand, my voice, fighting against the crowd to speak, to lead, it is not because I am some bossy feminist seeking to stomp all over men in my high heel boots. It’s because I am the haemorrhaging woman.

When I listen to the Holy Spirit, to learn and engage, to use the gifts He poured out on me in making sense of scripture and Jesus; having a knack to speak it, teach it, share it, it’s not because I seek to wilfully challenge. It’s because I am doing my best to honour and obey. To sit at Jesus’ feet like Mary.

Remember, too, there is a difference between quiet and silence. A culture of silence is a breeding ground for abuse. A culture of quiet creates the space for many more to be heard. For the last to be first.