What did I do to deserve this, God?

Almost a year ago I sat amongst a group of Christian women, some of whom I would describe as UHT (long, longer Christian life), others just as green and newish as I. We had gathered together over a few weeks to watch the Christianity Explored series, which is essentially an introduction to Jesus, the gospel and grace 101. Whilst I27f82b712677284206c5645e19d68067 originally chose to attend in order to offer my journalist-head some proof, the reality was sitting upon me uncomfortably.

We had reached the point of the crucifixion, Jesus’ exhale “it is finished”,  the temple curtain ripping, of blood, tears and a humiliating public death full of mockery and rivers of spit. The leader of the group asked how it made us feel, Jesus dying on the cross for us. 

I was uncomfortable as hell with the idea. I sat there under no illusions of any sort of self-worthiness. I didn’t feel worthy of someone dying for me, for goodness sake. Die for someone else who deserves it, Jesus, but not me.

I’ve spoken to addicts who, full of shame and self-loathing, were literally delighted in Jesus’ generosity. Feeling broken and unloveable, the unconditional love poured out on them by God – His giving His only son – gave them a sense of worth and esteem that quite literally replaced the need to fill up their inner emptiness with alcohol.

I was less delighted. I recall leaving that evening, driving away and having to pull over due to the tears blinding my vision. They weren’t tears of relief. They were hot, angry, bewildered and irritated. “I didn’t ask You to do this,” I recall firing furiously at the sky. “Now what am I supposed to do with it?”

I suspect, back in the early days, if the SAP was asked for one adjective to describe my coming to Jesus, he would use the word “confronted”. Not because of who Jesus was, but because of what I was and what I didn’t do. For me, Jesus’ gift of love was confronting and uncomfortable.

Love was something I had reason to be cautious of. In my history, love was something I’d learnt to control before it lashed in and tore. My personal thunder road was littered with relationships that, as soon as the magic ‘I love you’ was uttered, I’d exit, rarely gracefully, most often messily, leaving confused suitors behind. Sometimes it descended into restraining orders and, in one memorable case, a young man used a car key to gouge my initials into his hand whilst threatening suicide on a climbing weekend in Snowden. Through it all, I’d wonder at what madness gripped them. I seriously wasn’t worth that much emotional pain. Mata Hari I am not. 

So my experience of love was rarely patient and kind; it was bitter, blackmailing, unforgiving and a wasteland of harsh words. I lived in a hedgehog ball, seeking love and redemption on one hand whilst rolling myself up on another. In my darkest relationship moments, I hurt before I was hurt first.

So Jesus dying for me pressed uncomfortably. Not least because, by the time I’d decided to figure this God and Jesus business out, I was 100% certain I’d therapied all those wounds. Yet there I was again, ridiculously confronted by being loved so much that God would give His son to die for me. Poised to run from the ultimate ‘I love you’ because, oh my God, it’s me. Don’t you know the mess that I make, God? Did you not see what I did to that poor, bewildered man-child on Snowdon? And then there was….  and what about…. and.. I am not a good bet, God. It’s a miracle (and lots of great therapy) I made it to the altar and 20 years with Big T.

Nor did Jesus die cleanly in a way my head and heart could sanitise. It was the equivalent, in my view, of a public beating, dismembering, stuffing the body parts into a suitcase, throwing it into the nearest river, capturing it on video and sharing it on social media to millions of views. This wasn’t gouged initials in a love heart on the back of someone’s hand and frayed climbing rope. It was more, much more – because there were no strings attached.

God gave His son for me before I was born. As God whispered eternity on my heart and sang over me in my mother’s womb, it was already finished. I didn’t have to do anything but trust that this ridiculous, radical, crazy love was for me, all of me. That it would never hurt, wound or blackmail. That it was the most perfect love I could never imagine, yet in a way had always been looking for.

What did I do to deserve this, God? Absolutely nothing. And that’s the miracle.

Jesus forgives once every 25 years?

Over 20 years ago I walked into an anonymous-looking building in Sydney. A few people jostled outside with placards. I held tight to the hand of the girlfriend I had come with and kept my head turned away from the right to life slogans. images-1

The receptionist took names quietly, handed over sheets of instructions as to what to expect next. It was silent as a tomb, the air fecund with unspoken pathways. As I sat with the consequence of unprotected sex with a married man, it struck me that no one had offered anything other than this option.

In this clinic, patients were beckoned forward discreetly. By avoiding names, by depersonalising, we could ignore what would happen beyond those frosted doors. We could all pretend that life was fine, that life would go on.

Except it wouldn’t. One life would not go on, and the lives of those entwined would never forget. No matter how much future destructive behaviour blocked out the pain, no matter how much alcohol was consumed, how many daring raids on the married man’s marital bed took place while his wife was away, all in the vain hope that seductiveness, power, danger and sexual prowess would transplant vows and gold rings. Seeking reasons: if he left her, it would somehow be ‘better’. The scraping across a womb, across a soul, would be validated.

As the nurse beckoned, I looked at my friend. I hadn’t the wisdom, age or words. So I stood up, gave her a hug, took a deep breath – and let her step forward, alone, into cold sterility.

Today, in my journey with God and Jesus, I wonder could I have offered her something different? Yet if you don’t grow up in a faith-based household, the choice to keep an unplanned pregnancy rarely crops up. If you’re a female of a certain age, in a certain demographic, with a career path ahead of you, then the outcome of unprotected sex is most often a clinic appointment. I’m not saying it is the only choice, but it is certainly the choice our society pushes as ‘easiest’.

No judgement. I am from that demographic. There but for the grace of latex, pill, IUD and low count swimmers. Before any right to lifers start sending me hate mail, I’d like to explain now how my perspective has changed. Yet God and Jesus had nothing to do with it.

I am married with school-age children. I have grown two babies within me, spending the first 12 weeks of pregnancy silently hoping that fertilised eggs would bed successfully into my womb. Throwing up all day and every day from week three to week 33, seeing heartbeats on an ultrasound and feeling the first fluttering of butterfly wings from the inside. Tracing the outline of my son’s foot shoved out against the drum-tightness of my stomach, and experiencing the brutiful awfulness of long labours. I loved the simplicity of life when, floating on an oxytocin hormone haze, all I needed think about was the next breastfeed, the next nap and cuddling bone-less, milk-drunk newborn babies.

After all of that, a long time before I ever got to know G&J, I made the emotional connection that life began way sooner than all the clinical language of unplanned pregnancies tried to have me think in my teens.

If, thanks to the vagaries of a peri-menopausal cycle and Big T’s sperm of steel I found myself pregnant today, I would be horrified. Yet, even before I started slanging at G&J with a “what on earth are You thinking?” style-prayer, my own emotional connection with two babies born wouldn’t allow me to do much else than welcome a third.

But I write this in a secure relationship, economically-comfortable, with all my education qualifications achieved and framed. Take me back to 16 years old and my then 21-year old boyfriend – whom I saw as troubled and Heathcliff-esque, whilst my parents saw only police record and danger – and I know I would have been marched to the clinic. No dialogue entered into. Which now makes me ponder. Why do I ‘know’ that? Because of the media message we hear continually: that an unexpected pregnancy is ‘the end’. My chances of further study would have been ‘ruined’. Which is nonsense. An unexpected pregnancy is scary, frightening, overwhelming and confronting. But it does not mean ruin or the end. Yet the extreme language used explains why abortion is so often viewed as the ‘only’ solution.

Every situation is different. I have stories from faithful Christians who were told their unborn baby would die in the womb, whose Doctor said an abortion would be ‘kinder’, yet continued with the pregnancy. They wrapped their daughter – born without heartbeat or breath at 30 weeks – in a handmade quilt, gave her a funeral with dignity, and now hold onto their memories.

Today they talk about their daughter with others and visit her gravestone. She had the briefest of lives but they were able to love her, hold her and talk to her. Her mother says they would never have been able to talk about her if they had taken the doctor’s advice. Yet in the early days of diagnosis, it was tempting. Worse, the thought of uttering the word ‘abortion’ to her pastor filled her with dread.

Which makes me weep. At a time when the need for spiritual, pastoral care was at its highest, she felt shame for even considering the notion and unable to share the burden with someone of her faith. But isn’t that the point? We need to be able to hold up our darkest choices to God and Jesus – and their proxies – and ask for help and forgiveness. Not judgement and condemnation.

Yes, there are pastors, churches and organisations who can help. The problem is, their availability is forgotten in the use of extreme language: Unplanned pregnancy? Your life is over! Plus certain church messaging about abortion – such as the upcoming Roman Catholic Jubilee Year – drowns Jesus and compassion in religiosity.

For the coming Roman Catholic Jubilee year, starting in December, Pope Francis is ‘making it easier for doctors and women to seek forgiveness for abortion’. A jubilee year is one of the Catholic Church’s most important events and normally takes place every 25 years. But why is it just a jubilee year that makes it easier to seek forgiveness? Why not every second of every day of every year?

Imagine Jesus up on the cross, dying for us and saying:

“Yes, I’m covering for you all. I’m dying so you can have a relationship with God. It is finish-

“…No, actually. Hold off on that spear in my side for a moment…

“It’s sort of finished. For you people over there. But not for you women who had an abortion. No. The good news isn’t for you. Yes, the decision may press on your heart and weigh you down that you can barely breathe, but you missed the forgiveness train and it won’t be coming to the station again for 25 years.”

Every situation is different. In regards to abortion, Roman Catholicism teaches differently to the church I am part of. Yet Jesus does not differ.

Remember the woman caught in adultery in John 8?

“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Based on this passage, it is perverse that the Roman Catholic religion ends up throwing the first stone at women, and doctors, who have procured or carried out abortion.

I can clearly see Jesus offering a woman who has had an abortion acceptance, love, forgiveness and hope as soon as she seeks it. Not once every 25 years.

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.

Sorry doesn’t have to be the hardest word

I had the the biggest shock of my married life some years back when my beautiful husband Big T shared the ‘noise’ in his head: what he had to do next, what had happened before, what may happen in the next minute, what may not. It was like he lived a constant risk-assessment dialogue, a hamster scurrying round and round on its wheel.imgres-1

So then I started asking friends and colleagues about their inner noise. It became apparent there were a lot of mental hamsters on an exhausting road to nowhere. I reported back, dismayed, to Big T. Intrigued, he looked at me and asked, “Don’t you?”

“Well, no, not really,” I pondered, surprised. “My head’s a fairly placid place. Sure, I know I’ve things to do, but I don’t fret too much over what happened yesterday and what could happen tomorrow.”

This has been my inner-world for as long as I can remember. Which strikes many who know me as odd, because my brain tends to zip through life at warp speed. However, just because my brain processes fast, it doesn’t mean my mind goes along for the ride. I figure I can fly with the wind, rather than be buffeted by it.

At a midnight Christmas Eve youth service, after a poignant poetry/drama about an incredibly busy career woman who finally found ‘quiet space’ in the understanding of Jesus and grace, the SAP asked me if it resonated. He, quite clearly, thought that was me. Yet all the way through the drama segment I had been baffled by the inability of the character to accept stillness and silence, of how her mind was always scurrying ahead to the next meeting, the next ‘place to be’.

God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit (G,J & HS) didn’t need to swoop in and fix my busy mind. That wasn’t required. Rather, they improved the landscape. The natural stillness of my mind has now been filled with an awe, joy and wonder that is far easier and more fulfilling than the non-attached striving I mistakenly thought was the path to its ongoing quietness. When I ran from the hound of heaven, it wasn’t because my mind was too busy on its hamster wheel. I ran because I didn’t know any better. If I knew of all the love, care and gifts I would receive, would I have stopped sprinting sooner? Hmm, not sure. Allowing love in is often far harder than shutting it out…

Yet, I also understand how grace can calm a racing heart and apply balm to a busy mind. That by Jesus’ gift of the cross, we may all understand a grace that tells the hamster to quieten down, get off the wheel, and stop running hard on the spot.

After my recent horned Mother Trucker struggles, it would have been easy to stay in a ‘how could I almost do that?’ woe is me, breast-beating state of mind. But, thankfully, I’m not wired that way and, really, what’s the point? I apologised to the SAP (who dismissed it with such ‘all good, no dramas’ aplomb it makes me wonder if he’s been devil-ditched a few times, poor bastard) and it’d only continue to make a mockery of grace if I rolled around in sackcloth and ashes. Plus, you know, I’m in PR. Sackcloth and ashes are soooo not me, daaalink. It’s all Prada and Louboutin over here.

You know Elton John’s lyric, “Sorry seems to to be the hardest word”?  My Mum was a little bit tethered to that. She took pride in never apologising. I know others who are the same. Instead of apologies, they close down all dialogue by saying, “I’m not going to argue with you about this,” and therefore protect their position. It was me too, once. I’d grown up with a role-model who taught me apology meant weakness. I had to learn forgiveness because it wasn’t anything I’d ever been taught.

Imagine instead if sorry was the easiest word to say, and forgiveness was the easiest gift to bestow. What would that look like?

It looks like God and Jesus, that’s what.