I love the bloopers at the end of shows. I think it started as a child watching Smokey and the Bandit movies. I loved how I could move from pure fiction to authentic reality. There was also a massive lesson about failing fast and failing with fun. All these people getting it wrong, stuffing up lines, enjoying it, trying again and succeeding.
Upon reflection, my getting up on stage to give my testimony almost two years ago was a fairly interesting exercise on the SAP’s part. He’d observed me pinging around like meerkat on speed as I wrestled and questioned with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. And whilst he knew I was more than solid with what GJ&HS had delivered – I’d not have been lipton’d otherwise – he’d also had plenty of insight into my, um, somewhat colourful communication methods.
I wonder if pastors ever have a moment when they wish for the same nine-second delay button that allows live broadcasters to dump any content that’s off-piste before it goes out to air?
After all, live testimony is a fairly public litmus test of a pastor’s efforts in the soul-saving funnel. Yes, yes, I know, God is sovereign, it’s not really the pastor’s fault if someone doesn’t get it 100%….but, still, you’ve surely got to feel a bit of the pressure.
Something has prompted the newbie to come to (or call) the church, they’ve asked lots of questions, likely attended the gospel 101, Christianity Explored course, totally gotten with the program that Jesus’ grace is an underserved gift and are ready to publicly give testimony. But imagine if something has been lost in translation, and, up on stage, there’s some major faux-pas.
Like the live testimony where the person expressed hope they had done enough.
Whoops. I imagine it caused the pastor a mental forehead-slap, a quick grab of the microphone and a, “Ahem, right, well, actually, before you continue let me quickly open up to Ephesians 2:9.”
Testimony is a funny thing. There are the big, headliner, “Jesus turned my life around saved me from drugs/drink/prostitution” testimonies. Or the no less headlining, but somehow less attention-getting, “I grew up in a Christian home, with happy parents, their solid marriage and embrace Jesus as my saviour because I have seen so much joy in him throughout my life why on earth would I put anything else above him?”
Why don’t churches do more ‘where are they now?’ testimonies and report on some follow up stories? I think many congregants would be greatly encouraged by how and where the newbies are growing in their faith. It would also spread some colour and awareness of how gloriously different everyone’s faith walk can be. Hints and tips could be shared. Honest bloopers too.
Imagine sharing all those lessons about failing fast and failing with fun. Grabbing grace. All these people getting it wrong, stuffing up lines, enjoying it, and trying again through faith. Real life, real church.
Sex is – when done well, with a caring, respectful partner – awesome. Releases endorphins. An orgasm is (in my humble opinion as I can’t speak for a man’s orgasm, not being a bloke) a total mind, body, emotional reset.
Also, a couple’s orgasm is far more satisfying than a DIY solo orgasm. There’s just something about the whole skin-on-skin, intimacy, ‘hey, we’ve both just blown the tops of our skulls off (ahem) together.’ When you’re intimate and comfortable with your partner, you laugh, roll around on the sheets – or across the kitchen counter, whatever takes your fancy – and put some effort into ensuring sex is bloody great fun.
Yes, I’m still a Christian. I’m not subbing for Harlequin/ Mills and Boon romance writing/light erotica. Because guess what, Christians have sex. And hopefully lots of it. Within their covenant of marriage.
Bolting on our newish arrival at Christianity to a ten year marriage – and 20 year relationship – has taken some effort for Big T and I. What God desires for us both within our marriage is fairly different to what we had arrived at under our own steam. Thankfully, God has no desire for me to batten down my own desires, wear chastity belts, ankle-skimming skirts and keep my head bowed modestly.
Yes He loves me, this I know, because He gave me the Song of Solomon sealed section of the Bible as the place to go.
Shall I tell you the secret to a cracker of a Christian sex life?
Prayer (and stop your jokes about Madonna songs).
I’m 100% serious. His ‘n’ Her Prayer. When I shared this little gem with the SAP he spluttered somewhat. “Phil, in all my years of pastoring, I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone tell me they use prayer as foreplay.”
But think about it. What’s the biggest frustration women have with their men? Here’s a typical sample:
“I don’t know what he’s thinking.”
“We don’t talk enough.”
“He doesn’t understand me.”
“I tell him what I want, but I think it goes in one ear and out the other.”
In defence of all the husbands, women too often say one thing and mean something else. Which is a minefield for a man who simply says what he means. But this communication breakdown has an awful impact on a healthy sex life, purely because women’s desires are linked with their brain whilst men’s are linked a lot lower.
Big T could have had the most hideous day on earth, come in the house, trip over a pile of laundry and smell burnt dinner, but if I sashayed out the bedroom in my dodgiest ugg boots and tattiest dressing gown, crooked my finger and said something about no clothes underneath, he’d be, well, up for it.
But us women? Wired differently. Foreplay starts the moment we open our eyes in the morning. It’s all in how our brains and minds are engaged. In the scenario above, unfair as it reads, if I come home after a terrible day to a great dinner, laundry packed away, with Big T freshly-shaved and smelling yummy? His odds of come hither, finger-crooking success are greatly increased. Terribly unfair. Blame that serpent. Prior to that I bet Adam and Eve were at it like…well…
So this is where His ‘n’ Her prayer is fabulous because it connects you. Each night I am able to have an intimate, articulate peak inside my husband’s mind. When we pray together, as Big T is being open with God, he is being open with me. I know what he is thinking. The reverse is true.
Regardless of good day, bad day, folded laundry or burnt dinner, it all gets poured out and handed over to God. The clear, undistracted mind I need to really focus on my husband and my sexual response? Delivered. As we pray together with God, we open up more intimacy with each other. The fact that we’ve not had a chance to communicate between home, activities, dinner, kids’ bedtime, homework, late-work, who took the bins out – becomes less of a thing. Prayer as the deliverer of intimacy. Foreplay.
Plus (and I hope I’m not too off piste here), I really get off on the idea as sex as worship. If God designed man and women to be together, and He sees a Christian couple growing closer towards each other and Him as part of their married, healthy sex life, I’d say He’d be jolly pleased.
By the way, this doesn’t occur every time Big T and I pray together. But His ‘n’ Her prayer does appear to increase the likelihood of it happening.
So if you ever ask what I did last night and I tell you I spent an enjoyable time in prayer and worship with my husband? I’ll be telling the truth.
Note: Someone told me today there are historical peaks in babies being born nine months after revivals. So I think I’m onto something…
It never ceases to amaze me that people manage to sell (and get sold on) the prosperity gospel. God may refer to pouring out His blessings, Jesus mentions how the Father clothes the birds and flowers, so how much more will He will do for us etc. but there’s nowhere in the Bible about life being easy, rolling around on piles of dollars, strewn on satin sheets, all because God desperately loves us so much He wants us to be uber-wealthy.
Prosperity gospel reminds me of law of attraction /universal manifestation teachings. Whereby the believer is told to use God/ the universe as a power to achieve whatever the believer wills. Thought creates. Think a million dollars strongly enough and it will appear in your life.
Whilst the truth of biblical Christianity is just the opposite: God uses me, the believer, not the other way round. Rather than the Holy Spirit (HS) being my magical manifestation magnet, instead the HS resides within to help me do God’s will. Because, heaven knows, I’d be up the proverbial creek without a paddle trying to carry out God’s will without it!
Yet the most hilarious bit about the prosperity gospel is, well…. does no-one read the fine print nowadays? I have many joyous phrases to describe my journey with GJ&HS, but “winning lotto” and “gee, isn’t it a smooth road without hiccups?” aren’t ones that spring to mind.
God has His crucibles. His ways of achieving the growth of those who love Him:
The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart. – Proverbs 17:3
He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the Lord offerings in righteousness. – Malachi 3:3
The crucible metaphor being how heat purifies metal to its purest form, just as times of trial, tribulation and suffering refine our faith.
It sounds so lovely, doesn’t it, precious metals and crucibles? Conjures up images of tastefully-crafted jewellery at the end. But let’s not forget the sweaty, burning, eyes closed against the furnace heat part.
I refer to such times as God’s blowtorches. Personally, the last few months? They have not been the simmering sense of a frog warming up in a pot, but a blasting heat that requires an asbestos grip on Jesus’ divinity because…wow…so You think I need that much refining, Lord? Ouch.
After a series of intense weeks, the SAP picked a shift in my tone from: “Yes, just little bit of testing, but, oh, such joy to be embraced in the trials. I’m totally meditating on James 1 2-4, whilst colouring-in a mindfulness page I’ve designed based on the same Bible passage..” …to something darker. Think Steven Seagal meets Jason Statham.
The SAP suggested it was all part of God’s refining rather than one isolated lesson for me to grasp. So refining is a lesson in itself. Yet it was fairly obvious I’d reached flash point when I began slanging back at God with blackmail threats:
“You know those awesome gifts of engagement, communication, and ‘sell ice to Eskimos’ You gifted me with, Lord? Well (through gritted teeth), you really don’t want me using them against You rather than for You. I reckon the atheists would love me on their team…and I’m feeling just pissed-off enough right now to do a really awesome job. Ease up on the damn blow torch!”
Thank heaven for answered prayer. I suspect God answered The SAP’s respectful one – “I’ll pray the blowtorch turns off,” he kindly offered me – over my full-frontal tactical assault.
And in His constant, loving, amazing, God-only way, the next day His gentle Yellow Post-It notes of care began to appear or, rather, I was able to see them more clearly. Perhaps the SAP added in something about scales from my eyes in his prayer too?
Like the meeting – after a time of attempting to introduce more prayer into a Christian workplace and feeling a resisting silence to change – when a team member, without prompting, suggested prayers directly afterwards.
Or – in the middle of my worst blowtorched stresses, as that voice in my head began to ask how seriously I had got this wrong, that God really was a spaghetti monster in the sky and wasn’t this just a freakin’ mess and why not go back to how it used to be, because surely it was easier then? – sitting with two Christian women who demonstrated total commitment in their faith, an unwavering certainty that prayers would be answered, that God’s hand was in everything. Intelligent, Godly women, one older, one younger, who through shared prayer reminded me that their faith in Jesus’ sacrifice came not through spaghetti monsters but seeing God work in their lives over and over.
They didn’t even know, those two women, as they sat across the table from me, how close my fingertips had come to breaking point hanging off my blowtorched cliff. But listening to them talk, hearing the clarity of their certainty, was my chance to draw faith from their faith.
There’s a lesson for us all. You never know who is listening and watching, how God is using you in one moment, and the unexpected encouragement that moment can bring to someone else. Salt and light.
The same day, God drew me back to the longer passage in James 1:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
I realised I had missed a major point on perseverance. There I had been, with ground teeth and bleeding fingernails, grittily persevering. “Just hang on,” I would grind out to myself. “You can do this.”
I had been focused on the wrong two verses: the ‘most famous’ first two, the ones held up as the lights to be guided by in testing times. “Just hang on, Phil, because, on the other side of this, you’ll be whole and complete. That’s the deal.”
Trouble is, the harder I hung on, the more effort I put into this back-breaking perseverance, the more sweat-drenched and slippy my grip became.
No-where in the passage does it say enduring in the sense of being ground down. No. James’ emotion is pure joy. As for the work of perseverance so I could be mature and complete? James doesn’t write that I’m the one having to do the work. The elegant solution, the best approach, the one that would take the pressure off my clamped jaw and anguished, exhausted brain? Verses 5 and 6 leapt out at me:
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.
I didn’t need bleary perseverance and gritted teeth. I needed wisdom – God’s. And I needed to get my head back into His game so I could draw on His wisdom without doubts. Otherwise I was going to be swamped.
Finally, it filtered through. “I’m so sorry. I’ve been unstable, haven’t I? I don’t have the wisdom here. I need Yours. Please.” Even better, after all my slanging, all my challenging ungratefulness, I could hold onto His promise through Jesus: that He would give it to me generously, without finding fault.
The wisdom He whispered made me smile and hiccup, and get a little snot-monstery. “Count your blessings, dear heart. The way through the blowtorches are to count your blessings.”
I am recognising God’s methods with me: Pressure, pressure, blowtorch, refine, okay so now you’re hanging on by your fingertips, dear heart, so… pause. You’ve taken too much on yourself. Here’s a hint. Why not lean on Me? Ask Me? Let me encourage you? Ah, yes, there you go. See, look, you’re still here, now get your breath back, get the growth, rumble with the joy and get back out there and FLY.
So I am back to swigging grace like Guinness, chomping humble pills like Smarties and remembering the one with all the wisdom. Whilst holding onto the greatest lesson of all. Crucibles refine and the way through my blowtorches are to count my blessings, because blessings are our paths to pure joy:
Children who are heathy and nourished
A husband who never fails to make me laugh: from impersonating a Cath and Kim power walker to being a doofus over helping me stretch a hamsting when I’m taking life too seriously
A job that not only delivers regular income to our household, but challenges, stretches, satisfies and allows me to contribute to something bigger than myself
A business. With fun-loving clients who trust me and let me have fun too
A house. With a room for each child and more to spare
A roof that does not leak
Running water. Electricity. WiFi!
Friends. Whose doorsteps I could turn up on at 3am knowing they would help
Faith. That God has my back. That Jesus has it covered
Access to healthcare
The ability to worship in public. Read the Bible in plain sight
Shops without food shortages
Blog posts that are read, shared and commented on across the globe
Being Loved. Crazy, radical, God-driven, let me lay down My son’s life because I want to be right next to you always, loved.
Just wow. So many blessings. So many joys. Plus, after the blowtorches? Growth. Always growth.
Lately I’ve been wanting to dig into doubts a bit more. Not due to some strange call to self-flagellation, but because I wonder if the term is used so broadly amongst Christians we actually don’t stop to think about doubt in all its nuances.
As my ‘on a scale of one to ten, I’m going to heaven‘ post hopefully demonstrated, I have little problem with being saved. I know I can’t ever do enough or be enough, but that doesn’t matter because of the pure certainty that ripped through me when I grasped Jesus’ gift to me.
Once I got passed the, ‘why in God’s name would you do something like that?’ confrontation of being utterly loved, the acceptance of grace was fairly easy. On my worst day I never doubt that, come my last day, Jesus will be there (probably shaking his head and smiling wryly with affection) pulling me in close.
I will likely be snot-monstering my awe, hiccuping, and – as the song goes – on my knees or (more honestly) dancing like a loon. I imagine it a little like the wildest reunion: “Oh my gosh I’m here and there’s Mum and Jo and Percy and, wow, look there’s Dorothy’s husband and, yes, he’s a handsome so-and-so in his resurrection body, just as she told me she imagined after his funeral.”
I have a dear girlfriend and when we catch up – not frequently enough – it typically involves big hugs, then pulling back to hold each other at arm’s length to check each other out, whilst jigging on the balls of our toes, then back in for more enormous hugs, all to a sound track of exclamations. “Darlz!” she half yells, half screams, “let’s grab a champagne.” I imagine my heavenly reunions in a similar fashion.
(BTW, I’m really praying the SAP won’t be in heaven until after God calls me home. That’s because I have a codicil in my will about dog collars and robes being worn by the pastor I’d like to officiate my funeral. I’m only sad I won’t be there to see it.)
So what are doubts, then? If I’m assured of being saved by the Jesus fella, then what are the wobbly periods about? I know mine to be different to Big T’s. Blame it on his Roman Catholic hangover as – unlike me – his doubts often take form as ‘the works burger’. What if I’m not ‘good’ enough? If my works aren’t super-sized sufficiently to get me in?
Some days I do a Thomas. My journalist brain kicks in and – despite all the investigation I undertook – I have this strange shimmer of, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but if I could actually put my finger into those nail prints… Yet it is just that, a shimmer. As I can’t discount what has happened – for real – since getting to grips with the J-man.
When my doubts are in the here and now, they are mostly around not ‘feeling‘ God and Jesus as intensely as I’m used to. It’s never about my end of days.
Some days in the now you just need solid. When my daughter has a rough day in the schoolyard and I remind her to pray for strength and help – as well as doing the actual work of engaging with others around her – and she rolls her eyes and says, “But, Mum, Jesus isn’t there to play handball with me when I’m lonely!”
There are days when I want Jesus to turn up next to me and play handball. I want to grab his hand and feel the physical. Not to check for nail holes (well, maybe I’d take a peek) but because I am human. Sight, smell, touch and warmth; oh my gosh, they mean something on our dark, down, doubting days, don’t they?
His bread and water might fill us up. But so too do our friends when they nod in the right place and lean over and hug us. Make us laugh. The real and solid. From a full human contact hug to the lightest rub of an understanding hand across your back. Every now and again my doubts seek the equivalent from GJ & the HS to squash the air out of them.
“Can’t You sneak Jesus down on a sort of day release from heaven, God?” I whisper. “For a hug?”
Some readers may respond that time in the Bible ought to be enough. Praying and talking it through with Christian brothers and sisters. But sometimes it’s a massive, tight, ‘channelling a boa constrictor’ hug that’s required. Jesus seeping through my skin, across my nerve endings, into my marrow and I want it – need it – to be just as real as Big T wrapping his arms about me.
I may just start a trend at my next bible study, or set up a ‘free hug’ sign at the doorway to church next Sunday.
So what are your doubts? Are they of the works burger variety? Do you do a Thomas, like me? Maybe your doubts are around creation, cosmology, miracles, suffering, evil, even God’s patience. Doubts, I think, take form in the stuff that gets in the way between myself and Jesus. The distance I allow in. It’s never God or Jesus that move, after all. But dismissing it as a catch-all collective of ‘doubt’ is an easy excuse. Hence my wanting to dig deeper into what doubts really are.
Will you join me on this excavation? I’d really appreciate your willingness to share your doubts in the comments below. At the very least it may spark some new blog posts and great conversation. At the very best it may shine a light on doubts and extinguish them in the viewing.
P.S: Atheist doubters are welcome to add their comments. Please be respectful and kind. Any, ‘you crutch-needing, weak minded weirdoes who believe in the spaghetti monster’ comments will be deleted. That isn’t contributing to a conversation. It’s simply trying to yell loudly. Same applies to any blustering Christians who see doubt as a weakness of faith, being possessed by the horned mother-trucker and turn up with the written equivalent of bible-thumping and exorcism.
This is an open letter to all my gorgeous, loyal, non-believing in God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit friends. There’s a few really important things we ought to clear up.
1) Please don’t freak-out when I say the name Jesus.
It’s OK, it really is. I’m not about to grab holy water and douse you in it. But being friends with a Christian and expecting not to hear the word Jesus pass my lips is like being friends with a passionate West Bromwich Albion supporter and being surprised when they bring up the Baggies.
I get it, I do, because not so long ago I sat on the other side with you watching Christians myself for signs of rabid evangelising and judgement. Back then, when I sat with a Christian who bought up the J-man, I’d get itchy. “Oh man, they’re going to ask me to church.”
2) I may ask you to church, I may not.
Depends. I’m not in the business of shoving Jesus down people’s throats. If you fancy a good singsong at Christmas, then, yes, I’ll extend the invite.
If you’re struggling, and I see you going through some hard times, and it seems to be a suffering you’re facing over and over with little respite, then, yes, I’m probably going to ask you along. Not because I want to shove Jesus at you. But because I love you and don’t like to see you hurting. Jesus and his church have helped me through some seriously challenging times: a friend’s death, marriage needing a defibrillator, job uncertainties, and children’s health issues, to name a few.
Maybe I’ve watched you try other avenues to alleviate the suffering and you’ve told me it’s not working. So, having been there myself – looking for pain relief in a myriad of places without success – I can put my hand on my heart and tell you this helped me. So that’s why I’d ask you – in case you find some relief in coming along too.
3) I’m going to pray for you. Deal.
You were an awesome friend before I became a Christian and you’re an awesome friend now. So you are going to get added to my prayer list, because that’s what Christians do. Even if you don’t believe in G, J& HS, when you are going through tough times (and when you’re not) I’m going to pray they care, support and help. So don’t look like a rabbit in headlights when I say the P word. Try a little faith in my faith.
4) Expect me to knock back invites that are on a Sunday morning.
I need to go to church. My soul needs to. It fulfils me. It’s like going to see the best lover you can imagine and learning more about what makes them tick. With that level of attraction – a somersaulting butterflies in the stomach happiness – it’s definitely an every week thing. I grow stronger in my faith and I learn more about myself in church each Sunday. So please don’t roll your eyes when I decline the invites or think I’m in some happy-clappy cult. I don’t love you any less. But doing church each week makes me a kinder, more patient, more other-focused soul. Which (I hope) delivers benefits to our friendship.
5) Please don’t treat me differently.
I’ve changed but I’m still me. You’re likely going to swear in front of me – that’s fine. I’m not going to freak. I am likely to be just as sweary with the F-bomb but not so much with the G&J. I still drink. I’m not going to judge you. That’s precisely what a Christian ought not do. If you’ve been hanging around with judgey Christians, please let me know. I’ll try my best to show you how flawed Christians really are. It won’t take much, as you already know I’ve got plenty of flaws and I really like to let them all hang out!
6) Your support is appreciated.
When you ask me what I did at the weekend and I tell you I went to church, can we try and avoid the awkward silence? Tell you what, why not ask me how it was – just as I’d ask you how the picnic/footie/breakfast in the city/cycle in the park was for you on Sunday morning. It doesn’t mean I’ll unleash a floodgate of sermonising and bible passages at you. It means you are a caring friend who is willing to take an interest in what I’m up to, and for that I am grateful.
7) I understand it may feel weird.
After all, I was an anti-Christian, anti-religion soul just two short years ago. You might feel I’ve headed down a path you will never understand. But we celebrated our differences before I met the Jesus fella, so let’s keep celebrating and respecting those differences. I don’t need you to believe in God and Jesus to justify my faith, just as you don’t need me to not believe to justify your not believing in them. Of course, if you do need me to not believe to justify your non-belief, that’s a whole different conversation.
8) This isn’t wearing off.
Believe me, I waited for it to wear off, I did! Yet here I am, two years later, still writing a blog about the journey, and helping run a Christian not-for-profit that has an amazing impact on lives around the world. It doesn’t wear off. Instead it just gets better. I never imagined the joyful, head-over-heels feeling that emerged in my soul would last – or could even improve. But it does.
Although, at the risk of sounding like a shiny-suited evangelist, I’ve got to ask. Doesn’t what happened to me ever make you wonder?
I was asked this question. From the stage, during a conference. Where one is no, and ten is absolutely. I answered, from my table, without even thinking, “Hell, yes. I’m a ten. Abso-freakin’-lutely.”
Well, let’s just say some crickets chirped.
There were some hefty UHT* Christians in the room too.
The question was posed of all of us, with the scenario explained that – when first discussed in a different location – there were people – also Christians – answering four, seven, six etc.
Now, I’m kind of a Christian newbie and I don’t want to be wagging my finger at all the UHTers, but why weren’t there more loud affirmatives of “TEN!” echoing around the room?
Before I became a Christian, there was a standing joke amongst our good friends that I was deserving of a Sainthood and would absolutely get to heaven by virtue of the craziness I put up with being married to Big T. But of course that’s nonsense.
I’m going to heaven because I’m head-over-heels with the Jesus fella and know and trust he’s done all that needs to be done. Grace. Saved. Eternal Life.
Jesus is my assurance because, God knows, I’d be deep in the negative numbers otherwise.
He delivers me the perfect ten. No doubt.
The same day, the conference also asked about revitalising brand Christian. For me, brand Christian is a little too synonymous with institutional church and it hasn’t fared well of late. Less than 8% of Australians attend church regularly, even though more identify as Christian. With those sort of response rates, I’d say brand Christian has had a bit of a battering.
But brand Jesus? Well, you’ve got to be brave to promote brand Jesus. But what a brand. He’s Coke (Live Life), Nike (Just Do It), Apple (Think Different) L’Oreal (You’re Worth It) and De Beers (A diamond is forever) rolled into one eternal package. With his sort of unique selling point, Jesus ought to fly off the shelves.
Yet when some of his top customer service representatives, marketing team and sales guns are all in a room and they take a moment to wonder at their score rather than yelling a heartfelt, “TEN!” to this blog’s headline?
Then I’m a little worried about brand Jesus.
How can others trust in his message, if his ‘brand managers’ aren’t trusting it fully themselves? If assurance of Jesus’ grace isn’t a ten in every single Christian heart, then the message gets diluted. And misses it mark.
God didn’t just want to save us through Jesus. He wanted us to know it. Every single day. To taste it, sing it, embrace it, be joyful about it and share it. He left His Spirit with us so we can yell ‘Ten!’ over and over.
We have assurance. And certainty. Don’t take my word for it. Take His.
..and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. – 1 John 2:2.
The Perfect Ten.
Glossary of Terms
* UHT – treading this Christian path a long, longer life than I.
It’s easier to take Jesus to the starving in the slums than it is to the over-achiever.
The handful of pastors I’ve polled on this agree. Yet while they all agreed ministering in less well to do suburbs is easier, it isn’t for the reasons one might assume.
Suburbs that suffer from generational unemployment, poor job opportunities, low education — low hope, you might say — are more honest, gritty and real about their issues. Which makes ministering easier because people living in that world can’t help but look at the issues, experience the pain, and, for the most part, let it all hang out:
“I need another drink because that no-hoper boyfriend of mine just smacked me around again and my dickhead boss cut my shifts.” There is no glitz and gloss. Life is harsh, cruel and there’s no shame in letting everyone know. Which makes opening up the Jesus conversation a little easier.
“Your mate Jesus wants to come in and take a look and help? He wants to show me I’ve got more worth than the next no-hoper boyfriend? I’d like to see him try. But, hell, Ok then, I’ll have a listen.”
It’s harder amongst the demographics where do it yourself (DIY) has displaced Jesus. Where resilience has shifted into papering over the cracks. There are still issues – domestic violence, gambling, drinking, financial insecurity, adultery, pornography addiction and over-stretching – but heaven forbid anyone talks about it. Stepford suffering. Pastors have a harder gig breaking through the facades.
Yet what if you’re not suffering, are meeting your mortgage payments with ease, can afford a nice holiday once or twice a year, you’ve got a good good group of friends you can call on in a moment for help, are building up your self-managed super fund and life is sweet?
You don’t perceive you have any lack. You’re confident, with a great job, with well-rounded kids attending a well-rounded school for which you pay well-rounded fees. So what does Jesus offer you? Aside from eternal life…which you possibly think is a crock anyway.
The ‘surrender to Jesus’ message doesn’t gain traction here. Not only has DIY displaced Jesus, DIY is done so well it’s easy to say, “Sorry, God and Jesus, you don’t fit in with our decor.” Hell is imaginary. God being in charge, with talk of hell at the end of your unbelieving life, is to be scoffed at.
I write from first-hand experience. To all intents and purposes my BC life was sweet. I wasn’t filling up any gaping psyche wounds with alcohol or trinkets. But I was always a ‘seeker’. I have always been drawn to the mysteries of life, not because I was filling a gap but because I wanted to understand more. This odd siren call in my heart that would have me look around at the world and know – quite fiercely – that it was all a facade. That there was much, much more hiding in the heights and depths.
So why do some seek out the mysteries while others sit firmly in reality? If God writes all our names on His palm, when He drops eternity in all our hearts, how come some of us recall the watermark echo and others don’t?
It can’t simply be upbringing – I have friends who grew up in God-loving homes who are atheists, and others, like myself, who have come to Christ despite the lack of presence of anything Godly or spiritual in childhood.
It isn’t always suffering – but I suspect that has a great deal to do with it. It was really only when my Mum passed away that I paid more attention to what God was trying to tell me. It’s like I say about the year Big T and I split up early in our relationship: sometimes you have to hurt a bit; and then go back and scrabble around in the mess, dust and coal to realise there’s a diamond right under your nose.
My largest frustration is how to describe exactly what has changed since G&J rocked in. Sure, I record what’s lost in translation between what I thought I knew and what actually is in these posts – but it’s a poor facsimile of what has occurred in my brain, heart, soul and cells.
Before he became a Christian, Sydney’s new Dean, Kanishka Raffel, recalls asking his friend, now Moore College lecturer, Andrew Shead, what the big deal was. What being a Christian actually meant. Shead replied, “It means I’ve lost control of my life to Christ.”
That’s it. My life is no longer my own. Which is desperately hard to explain to the ‘DIY, in control of my life’ demographic. Why on earth would I give away control of my life?
Simply, I had no choice. Approaching my second Easter on this Christian journey, I am reminded of how I kept expecting ‘it’ to wear off. That the joyful, fizzing feeling that invaded my soul would fade away. That my sensible, educated, degree-holding, rational brain would argue Jesus away.
Neither happened. Instead, Jesus delivered evidence to my head and miracles to my heart. God forged His relationship with me in such an intensely personal, bespoke way, I was a goner.
I mean, what are the odds? A straight-talking ex-journo with a dry sense of humour calls a church. She gets a straight-talking, smart-alec pastor (SAP) with a similar sense of humour on the other end. Who – when I made my first visit to church – turned out to be an excellent type of preacher that didn’t annoy or aggravate this communications professional with monotone delivery, verbal ticks, squeaky voice and boring content.
I mean, let’s be honest, on the scale of probabilities the odds were higher of me getting someone, ahem, less likely to engage and entertain. I’d experienced plenty of snoozy sermons at school.
Of course it wasn’t odds. It was God. His tailor-made, bespoke, personal call for engagement. He knows me so well. That he would give his son at Easter so I may be in a closer relationship with Him is amazing enough. But to think He would take the time, care and attention to understand my impatient, judgemental heart.
To know, that first day back at church, the likelihood of my rolling my eyes at a poorly-executed sermon was high. That I was looking for excuses not to be engaged. That when I first called the church, I would have run rough-shod over some more polite, diplomatic pastor whilst making awful judgements about boring Anglican Revs who were out of touch with the real world.
And all because He wanted me back. That’s personal. And it doesn’t wear off.
Anyone look around their church and think they’re the only one doing it tough in their faith walk? Watched a charismatic preacher ‘in the groove’ and haven’t left inspired but flat because, dear God, it feels like tumbleweed in my soul at the moment?
The hymns start and everyone around is doing the clap, the sway, the hands in the air downloading the holy spirit like it’s on super-speed broadband and me….me? Well, God, my faith has got so much lactic acid pressing down right now I can barely lift a finger to turn a bible page.
The SAP calls it time in the desert. A testing drought. When you’re going through a dry spell, turning up to church is more than necessary, it’s essential. Trouble is, unless you are really clear about the space you are in, it can be more isolating than uplifting. It’s like a depressive being told to cheer up and get over it.
I’m naturally a fairly optimistic person. I have been hugely blessed with a fast faith metabolism. I sort of dive in, try some freestyle, get bored with the synchronised stuff, throw myself at a few big waves, and then attempt to float in the shallows with God at the end of it all. Recently, a new Christian friend prayed for me quite beautifully, during which she thanked God for my amazing faith. Was she nuts? My faith isn’t amazing. It’s quirky, a little off-kilter, and beset and bedevilled just like anyone else’s.
Take the other day. I was done. Slanging at God that I was ready to get my Sundays back. I was muttering around the house like I was pursuing my own, personal Spanish Inquisition.
At such times, his ‘n’ her prayer is a massive blessing. Big T and I are new to praying together as a couple. We stall like learners at the lights most often, with good intentions sliding away in the busyness of life. Yet when we are praying together, life reflects a better order. Putting God and time for prayer first delivers a better order? Well, duh.
So with me slanging and stumbling around the desert, barely able to vocalise to my husband my own arid confusion, it was a great blessing to have Big T pray for us as a family and for me as his wife. I couldn’t gather the mental wherewithal to even stutter the Lord’s Prayer. So Big T especially prayed to God for me to receive clarity. As he closed, I added a feeble ‘Amen’ and fell asleep. Bah humbug.
Once again, God has to be glorified and thanked because, let’s be frank, if someone treated me the way I’d ranted at God last week? I’d likely have punched them. Or, at the very least, turned my back, deleted them from my phone, and dismissed them as a whiny so and so who was being incredibly ungrateful.
Yet He doesn’t. Nor does Jesus. Nor the Holy Spirit that resides within and prods me with prevenient grace whenever I spit the dummy.
The following day, God delivered me a series of beautiful, bespoke gifts. The totally humbling part was I hadn’t even said, “I’m sorry.”
I would have done – eventually. Yet He still sweetly answered Big T’s prayers for clarity on my behalf and reminded me – again – just how patient He is, how much love He is willing to pour out, how much He glories in me – all of us – being back in the fold. There was I behaving like a tough, gnarly bit of mutton and He’s ensuring I remember the lamb.
I can’t ever get over those times when I’m sooo frustrated and stomping off ready to be all secular and independent…. and God slings an arm around me and says, “Hang on, look what I’ve got here for you.”
So I walked up the main street of a busy Sydney suburb in grateful tears getting odd looks. Thank you, God. I’m so sorry I was slanging and petulantly stomping yesterday saying I couldn’t be bothered to pray or read the bible. I’ll return to trusting whatever You are up to and slug down the grace like an irishman on Guinness… Just wow.
The SAP, of course, in his supportive pastoral way had a good laugh at my antics. “Did that whole, ‘I freaked out a day too early’ thing, didn’t you?” he chortled. Smart alec.
Yet something even funnier and humbling happened, that shows how ridiculously we can behave in our relationship with God. As soon as the SAP suggested I’d freaked out a day too early, my immediate response was this:
Blame God. He wired me for a million miles an hour. What does He expect? Oops. Sorry God, I will try harder to slow my processing speed at such future junctures.
Which then left me giggling at my imagination of Jesus shaking his head at me saying, “No, Phil, no, no. You don’t get to tell God to keep up.”
Yet the beautiful thing is, God gets me. He knows I know, deep down, that I can never keep up. And that my mostly optimistic, cheeky, quirky and somewhat off-kilter faith is my way of trying to keep Him entertained. Most days I begin with praying, “So, God, what can I do today to make you smile?”
Sometimes it is slapstick. Other times I may even take a step closer to emulating a Jesus moment.
Either way, at speed or faltering, forward is forward. Whether it is through a lush field strewn with wildflowers or across dry desert, God tells me He’s there, He’s got me, and to just keep aiming forward.
Her Mummy clicked on the bedroom light and burst crying through the doorway. The little girl sat up groggily in bed, rubbing her eyes against the brightness, squinting.
Dragged out of sleep, she stared bewildered. She had gone to bed early the night before after vomiting all afternoon. It wasn’t – as all assumed – the odd banana flavoured chocolate she’d eaten at the six-year old birthday party she had attended. It was something in the air of their home yesterday afternoon. Her Daddy had gotten really upset at the lunch table about the lid being left off the toothpaste. Why was he so angry over toothpaste? And the invisible crows had come back, pecking at her, flying in currents of the adults’ wake that she could feel but couldn’t see to navigate.
It made her confused. Her head ached and the paracetamol tablet her mummy gave her sat dizzily in her tummy. She had run out of the ‘Pass the Parcel’ game at the party, vomiting into the bowl of the downstairs toilet. She had felt miserable and alone but hadn’t told the mother of the birthday girl because she didn’t want to go home yet. She dreaded stepping back into those unseen currents that bit and buffeted her invisibly; she worried they would again flare into rapids of angry, bitter words between her parents that made her head hurt and clogged up the words in her own throat. Staying quiet might mean the currents would stay quiet too.
“He’s leaving us,” her mother sobbed. The child stared up from her bed. Her mother added: “Daddy has met another woman and he’s leaving us for her.”
The child sat in front of the TV eating her supper from a small table in front of her. The lounge room door was shoved open suddenly and her mother appeared, in nightdress and dressing gown, Daddy just behind. Her mother’s clothes fluttered behind her as she half ran, half stumbled across the room. She thrust a buff A6 envelope onto the little girl’s lap, where it caught between the underside of the table and her knees. “This is for you, don’t read it yet,” her mother said, sounding angry.
Her Daddy left the room, saying he was calling an ambulance. Her mother chased after him, sobbing hysterically. Small egg-shaped, yellow tablets scattered on the floor. The child stood to follow them out, the envelope falling onto the carpet. She waited in the lounge doorway, staring up the hall. Her Daddy was on the phone, trying to call, but her Mummy kept slapping her hand over the cradle so it disconnected. He ran out the front door saying something about the public telephone box. The child didn’t want him to leave her alone with this strange version of her mother, collapsed at an odd angle up the stairs. Nor did she want to get any closer. So she stood at a distance, watching her through the slats of the wooden bannisters, feeling a little scared but mostly removed.
The ambulance man with dark hair wore a dark navy jumper with patches at the elbows. Proper patches, not ones to cover holes. He helped stretcher her mother into the ambulance. “She bit my hand,” said her Daddy, over and over. “I tried to get my fingers in her mouth to get the tablets out, and she bit my hand.”
“He didn’t even bring me clothes to the hospital,” her mother told her bitterly. “The nurses thought it was awful of him. I had to come home in a hospital blanket over my nightdress.”
“Wake-up, get up, you have to get up,” her mother cried, snapping on the bedroom light. The child woke up quickly, a pit of dread in her stomach, clamping her muscles against the panic drops of urine that wanted to escape as she sat up. “You have to call him, come on, get up. I’ve got her phone number. Call her. Tell her he has to come home.”
But I can’t, thought the little girl. I’m too scared to call her. You’ve told me how awful she is. How nasty. She is dark-haired and so much bigger than me, you’ve told me. You told me she works opposite my school and is watching me. You told me she might steal me. I’m too scared to call her.
But then the little girl remembers the small, egg-shaped yellow tablets. The ones she had quietly picked up from the floor. The ones with the tiny black writing that matched the title on the paper sheet she had found in her mother’s bedside drawer. She was a very good reader for her age. Everyone told her.
If she didn’t make the phone calls, then her Mummy might take more of those yellow tablets. And if she didn’t wake up this time, if they didn’t pump her stomach the way her Mummy had told her they’d done in the hospital, then she’d have to live with her Daddy and the big, dark-haired lady who was waiting to steal her.
She sat on the stairs and dialled the number her Mummy told her. But Mummy hadn’t given her a chance to do her morning bathroom pee. It was wet and uncomfortable, her nightdress sticking to her bottom. Her mother stood at the top of the stairs, making sure she called, listening to her cry and sob and ask for her Daddy to come home. The next morning was the same. And the next. And the next…
When she was 11-years old, her mum went out to an evening meeting. The man who had moved in, who would eventually marry her mother, jovial, tall, always smiling and clapping his hands, told her to climb into bed for a bedtime cuddle. “I’ll keep my hands clasped under my chin,” he whispered. “No need to worry. No need to tell anyone.” He kept his hands clasped but the 11-year old never quite relaxed around him again. If there was nothing to worry about, why did it have to be kept a secret?
Before she was fourteen, she had defended herself with a knife against the same man who now liked to use his fists in places it didn’t show. He wasn’t so jovial now. She had watched a tea-tray thrown from the top of a three-storey house because his cup was not placed on it – and it wasn’t a leap of her imagination to suppose he would push her mother out too. His son, who lived with them, watched with empty eyes. She watched where he put his hands too.
That girl today is 44-years old. She has written about domestic violence, but never about the personal damage of divorce, emotional blackmail and abuse. Never. It was locked away.
She is me. And, finally, she is happy to own her story.
I can only thank God, Jesus and Holy Spirit for the work they have activated in the past two weeks. For a SAP, with whom I became irrationally angry for prompting me to read Psalm 139.
Why was I angry? Anger is a secondary emotion. The real response was fear. Psalm 139 was calling me to look at something beautiful about myself and all I wanted was to run away as fast as I could.
Because, oh my God, hadn’t I already done this? Hadn’t I built something of myself? All that history, it had built me. It gave me the guts and resilience to move on and through. In a fiery, fiesty, flicking-the-bird, sort of way, I had overcome. With so many benefits, not least knowing myself intensely as a result. I know:
I can over-read and internally over-react to emotional cues. Not externally. Externally I am poker-face solid
Silent tension in a house is my absolute undoing because of what it heralded
I hate confrontation – when your childhood is soaked with echoes of suicide and violence, keeping quiet is a great thing
I will go a long way to avoid asking anyone to meet my needs. I’ll meet them all myself, thanks, way safer.
I don’t do vulnerable easily. Emotional independence is, literally, in my make-up. S*&t happens when you are emotionally dependent
Deep down struggling with being deserving of love, no matter how many achievements I could list, how much value I could attach to my life because if your mum attempts suicide the childish synapse locks onto her not loving you enough to want to live and be your mother; and then your dad has left…and then the next husband liked to use his fists…
So I know why I have certain behaviours. I acknowledge them and have checks and strategies to manage them all healthily. I had therapied myself to self-awareness – which brought forgiveness and insight. You may read the above and judge my Mum. How could she do that to a child? Why didn’t she leave her second husband? But take a step in her shoes. Imagine how lost, how raw, how broken her internal life must have been. So I can forgive her all of it because of how she had been taught to love and be in relationship. My lesson has been not to repeat hers.
So why was Psalm 139 so gut-wrenchingly confronting?
Because of what God wanted me desperately to see. He didn’t want me to look at who I had created in response to life’s circumstances. But at who He had created. Who was incredibly different.
Yet I couldn’t see her because it meant I had to look closely at the experiences that forged the current me; to look back past them to who He created. And I really didn’t want to. It made me sob and hiccup and be vulnerable. To get back to what He created meant I had to walk back through the car-crash.
“No,” I raged. “I’m not looking. Not there. Not when I have to walk back through that. Leave me alone. I’ve done more than ok despite it all. Let me be. I’m going back to my cave.” I may even have pouted that I was ‘magnificent enough’ to the Lord.
The irony? The SAP had done a sermon series on Jonah as irrational prophet just a few weeks before. As I raged, pouted and refused to do what God asked, I couldn’t help but think of Jonah, stinking of fish guts and sulking under his plant.
My surrender took less than 20 hours, with low to no eye-rolling. A record. “Whatever I need to learn, whatever I need to let go, over to You. And if am wading back through that, be ready for my fingernail imprints in Your palm because I’ll be gripping real tight.”
“Like your fingernails bother me,” replied God: “Did you look at Jesus’ hands lately?”
It took less than five minutes for God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit to answer my prayer and do Their business.
Directly with Psalm 139, verse 6, to how intimately God loves and knows me, that is ‘too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.’
“Look,” He kept whispered to me. “Look at how fearfully and wonderfully I made you. Before. Before you had to create yourself on top. Because until you see that, you can’t do what I want you to do next. My works are wonderful. You know that full well. And you are one of my works. Look.”
So I sat in my car, in a Sydney suburban side street, had a purging, fast, howl for the teen and for the child, and came out the other side . That the Holy Spirit is so often referred to as fire does not surprise me. Bushfire regeneration before growth. Cauterising and cleansing. G, J & the HS did in less than 30 minutes what many hours of talking with professionals had not delivered. Integrated peace.
God sees me as He sees His son. Holy without blemish. My job now is to live out who I already am.
Footnote/Disclaimer: I am not waving my hands in the air, yelling “Praise the Lord, I am healed, cancel all your therapy appointments and give your life to Jesus.” No.
Keep the therapy. Keep the meds if you take them. Keep loving and being kind to yourself. For me, I have simply found it much easier to love and be kind to myself with God and Jesus as the lens and accepting the gift of grace. For me.
For you, there may be psychologists, psychiatrists, counsellors, medications and help lines. Abuse – whatever its type – leaves a scar. You may have been abused at the hands of the church, for which I am deeply sorry and wish more people who say they are Christians behave like it more often.
All I know from my experience is this: you can’t ever heal by yourself. Tucking the last little remnants away deep inside, whilst congratulating yourself on how well you are doing, rarely works. Those remnants have a pesky way of jabbing to the surface when you least expect it.
As she dashed tears from her eyes, I swept this valiant 42-year-old woman into a hug. “I’m so sorry,” I told her, adding some slightly bluer language under my breath for good measure.
Yet like a neon question mark flashing at the back of my brain, there was only this: ‘What does she believe? And how do I ask without sounding like an awful end of days prepper?’
Through business circles, I had known her for years. Not closely, not until the start of 2015 when we ‘just clicked’ as members of the same networking group. We discovered a similar outlook on life. Offered complementary business services. Wicked senses of humour. Some shared emotional baggage that we unpacked over wine as only new friends on discovery can, laughing at each other with a gentleness that said, yes; I understand that screwed up bit of you too.
She was the coolest of cool friends, yet without ego or notion of how beautiful or cool she really was.
“I’m not telling many people about my diagnosis because I want my business to go on as normal,” she told me. “But I’ve seen what you post on Facebook and I see you have faith. I feel ok about it. I’ve enjoyed my life. There’s nothing else I really want to do. I’ve always tried to treat others how I would like to be treated myself. But I don’t believe anything comes next.”
Really God and Jesus? Really?
After six plus years of knowing her around the business traps, we properly connect in the year she is given a terminal cancer diagnosis; her without any belief or faith about what comes after death, and me a scant 18 months after becoming a Christian?
There are no Godincidences.
But, really? Pressure much?
For anyone who doesn’t understand why some Christians behave like shiny-suited TV evangelists, it’s because Jesus said some serious stuff in the Bible about what happens when we die.
“The only way to the Father is through me,” he told his disciples. “The promise of eternal life, the resurrection, the free gift of grace comes only if you are willing to lay down your life and follow me.” (I’m paraphrasing).
If not? Well, it’s not pretty. Too many Christians like to gloss over it, playing safe in the more new-agey pools of God being nothing but love.
Who can blame them? Hellfire Bible-thumping religion has done G&J a huge disservice. In reaction, the pendulum has swung the other way in today’s world of free choice, self-service and freedom.
Standing up and saying, “Well, actually, I do believe that God calls us to account when we die,” is not welcome. Too often the fire ‘n’ brimstone hangover of being called to account overshadows the good news of that Jesus fella.
The good news that through the grace of Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection, I can stand in front of God as a child in front of her loving Father, and receive forgiveness and an eternal gift of life.
But here’s the kicker: you’ve got to get to know and accept Jesus first.
As I sat in front of my friend, reeling from the news of her cancer diagnosis, listening to her dismiss her Roman Catholic schooling (heavy on the guilt and wrong doing) and what she’d heard from her brother-in-law pastor (I know, I know, the irony), the true punch in my solar plexus was this:
‘She can’t die without sorting out where she stands with God and Jesus. But, on the face of it, she’s lived a good life. She has an amazing moral code and value system. How do I explain that none of that matters? That compared to Jesus on the cross, because of our very distance from God, we are all broken and needing saving? No matter the amount of our virtue and strength of moral fibre.’
I cried a lot that night. And prayed. I visualised the Holy Spirit (HS) firing through that liver of hers so often it was more lighthouse than vital organ in my prayers. I had one of those slanging, bargaining type conversations with God: “Quick zap of the HS and all will be well. I’ve got my prayer warriors on it too. I know You can hear us. She knows we are all praying. C’mon, what better way to prove You exist than a miracle cure?”
I don’t believe slapping people round the head with G&J gets them closer to understanding. Yet the urgency was horrible. Even more as her treatment failed. It got to the point that if another well-meaning Christian had asked, “Has she said the Jesus prayer yet?” I may well have reached over and ripped out their throat in a very unchristian manner. When one of them asked, quite seriously, “Do you think you’ve done enough?” my tongue bled from my biting it. To ask me, tripping around in my flawed way, if I’d done enough, dismissed God’s sovereignty and my friend’s heart. Whilst it was ultimately down to God and her, not me, it still made me feel like hell. I couldn’t make her become a Christian.
So what could I do? I prayed (as did others) and kept on being the sort of Christian I am: irreverent, flawed, and prone to explaining G&J in my own quirky way. It is less theological college, checklist ‘shiny’ and more sweary, eye-rolling ‘I know, I can’t quite believe I’m a Christian either,” reality.
When Jesus told his early followers to be like salt – let their faith stand out, be a well-flavoured advertisement for Christianity – I’m sure he didn’t expect me to pair it with tequila slammers. By my being the least expected ‘type’ of Christian person (ie: not religious), I pray daily that Jesus can be seen in his true light. Which is all I wished for my friend.
So when she asked what I believed, I said God doesn’t promise me a pain-free this life, but he promises me an eternal next one. Told her, no, her cancer wasn’t punishment for wanting to die during her own brush with depression years before.
I said, simply, how we live in a broken world. That we are all more flawed than we could ever believe, yet more loved by Jesus and God than we could ever dare imagine. And that heaven was way, way better. How I dearly wanted to see her when I got there, so could she please get with the resurrection program that Jesus offers. Plus, when my time is up here on earth, could she start lining up the margaritas for my arrival.
Sadly, the doctors were wrong. My friend died just four months after her diagnosis. We didn’t do any shiny ‘I give my life to Jesus’ prayers. But in those four months she humbled me by reading all my blogs and asking questions. She came along to church – which was a touch and go first visit – but she came back to sing carols with a passion and hold my hand as she did so. She even whispered that I ought not be frustrated by her experience back at church, “because you made sure you explained it afterwards. I get it.” I don’t think she understood just how much she taught me about God and Jesus as I tried to show them to her. Is still teaching me.
In the final week of her life, as she drifted in and out of consciousness I asked how she and God were doing. “He’s really helping me,” she whispered. I went back most days to sit next to the bed and, when the opportunities arose, read her Psalms and gospel verses. “Beautiful,” she whispered over Psalm 121, my voice breaking at verse 8.
Being a Christian is tough. Being a Christian in the hospital room of someone who is dying, surrounded by her friends and family, who may or may not share your faith, is tougher. They needed their own time with her; who was I – more of an outsider with what may have appeared to be a lesser friendship/business connection – to keep turning up at her bedside?
Back to salt: how could I not? On the first night she was admitted, she had whispered to me: “I don’t want to die.” So even if she – and her other friends and family – did not share my faith and hope in Jesus, perhaps they could find some solace in mine. Sometimes it felt like I was sharing him across eggshells. Like sending John 14:27 to her husband – who at the time may have felt least able to let his heart be untroubled – and carefully adding: “Sometimes it’s like tasting nails…but sometimes there is comfort.”
The last afternoon, her barely conscious, a shadow of the woman admitted eight days before, I said one final prayer to this lover of all things bright and beautiful. “You know, I think Jesus is standing right in front of you now, holding out the most amazing technicolour coat. All you have to do is reach forward, take it, and let him wrap you in it.” Her hand under mine gave the faintest of flexes. She died early the next morning. New Year’s Day.
But the tribe of shiny Christians asking about her ‘doing’ the Jesus prayer scared me. I spent the hours after her death proclaiming God’s sovereignty on one hand, and then whispering how I’d love to know He’d got her on the other. “Just a sign,” I implored. “Just so I know. Please.”
What happened next is how I describe God’s personal love for us all. He didn’t have to offer me comfort. He is sovereign and my exhibiting control freakery over the outcome of His conversations with my dying friend totally disses His sovereign bit. Who am I to be asking, “how did You and she go?”
Yet that day, on the drive south of Sydney to grieve on a less-populated beach with waves and my surfboard, every car I passed seemed to have either a fish sticker on the back or a crucifix swinging from its rear-view mirror. I coughed and hiccupped and saline snot-monstered my hope: “Is that the sign? Or am I imagining things? I’m so sorry God. You know how I need it up emblazoned on a billboard so I don’t miss it.”
At the last minute, I changed my mind over the beach I was going to. As I pulled into the car park, the beachside meeting room boasted this red sign:
Praise God for His graciousness. I imagined Him asking, “Now, dear heart, is that literally a big enough sign for you?” I sighed, cried some more, smiled and recalled, Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. – Hebrews 11:1
I have faith He has her. Which means, along with no more pain, sorrow or hurt, I have confidence she’s going to have a margarita waiting in heaven with my name on it.
Not because of anything I’ve done, not because of works, not because I deserve a lemon, salty, triple-sec, tequila cocktail for facilitating an introduction between God and my friend. But because of His love and Jesus’ grace I get to see her again.