What’s different about Matt?

In the early hours of this morning, a wonderful young man got to go hang out with Jesus and have God wipe away any tears. The resurrection body I believe he now walks in will be healed. He will no longer need the cane/walker/wheelchair/reclined bed that became his progressive modes of transport as the brain tumours that robbed him of his faculties grew. He will be able to see clearly again. Walk straight and tall. I have no doubt he will be dancing with joy in front of the Lord Jesus. IMG_6383

Matt battled brain cancer for over a decade. The man who first bounded up to me close to three years ago, after I shared in church how I’d recently become a Christian and been Lipton’d in a river, was exuberant and without filters – something I adored because I love a lot of joy, a lot of laughter and a lot of cheekiness.

I did not know him before – before the myriad of brain operations and medications that not only removed tumours and surrounding brain tissues but, along with those, the neural pathways that wire our social inhibitions.

Yet the Matt I knew was likely different to the Matt his parents, siblings, wife and children knew. That takes some getting used to, don’t you think? Watching your loved one’s character shift and change as an insidious sickness slips through their brain.

Best of all, Matt was head over heels with the Jesus fella. Which made watching him face the end of his life – as the Doctors told him there was no further operation, no further drug that would stop these damned tumours doing their worst – truly amazing.

“I’m Ok,” he’d tell us all. “I’m going to heaven to meet Jesus. I just want you all to make sure my wife and two boys are well cared for, and for my boys to get to know and love the Lord Jesus like I do.”

There was something different about Matt. It may have been the removal of those neurons that wire us to worry about what people may think or feel – but I believe it was his whole-hearted embracing of his identity in Jesus.

I recall taking him out to lunch, and those impatient synapses couldn’t order food quick enough, have a glass of coke placed in front of him fast enough. I felt oddly protective – don’t you dare judge this man by how impatient he appears – but, more, it was a gift to sit with someone who damn well knew that time was short, and he no longer wanted to play along with the illusion. I loved the crisp, clean intensity he brought to it.

There was something different about Matt. Every nurse, doctor, patient – anyone  he’d have encountered – would have experienced it. The pure peace with which he talked about the end of his life. It wasn’t the scoffing, bluster of,  ‘oh, when it’s your time, it’s your time’ that dismisses the pain. Nor was it full of fear.  It was peaceful. Beautiful. Matt walked into the very promise that Jesus offers all who believe in him: you will have eternal life. I will draw you in, hold you close, overcome all death and suffering. For my yoke is light.

“I wonder what it will be like?” he asked me one day over coffee. I’d taken him out after church – he’d been too tired to attend – and shared we’d sung I Can Only Imagine – a hymn that asks precisely that question: when we meet Jesus what will it be like? Will we fall to our knees and pray? Will we dance? Sing Hallelujah? Will we be able to speak at all?

“I love that hymn!’ he exclaimed, starting to hum the tune. It will be my enduring memory, sitting in a crowded cafe over Sunday lunch, the pair of us belting out the hymn at the top of our voices in a crazy cappuccino chorus. The look on the face of the bloke at the next table? Priceless.

“I don’t know what death will be like,” he said. “Maybe I’ll just go ZAP, fall asleep, switch off? Like a computer?” I remember replying totally inappropriately, knowing his lack of filters would welcome mine: “Well, can you not do it here with me, in this coffee shop? Or if you do…can we maybe pray for some warning? So I can at least try to get you up and out, at least off the premises? Less paperwork for these poor cafe owners…”

He grinned mightily at me before suggesting another hymn to sing.

There was something different about Matt. He remained other-focused. “Are you still studying at bible college?” he would demand of me. “How are the kids? What’s Big T up to?” It doesn’t automatically assume that all Christians are other-focused (Dear God,  I know I forget so often!) but it’s testament to how much Matt sought to walk like Jesus that even in the midst of the most sorrowful time of illness (for goodness sake, you’re DYING, Matt, who gives a flying fig about my bible study?!?) he wanted to know.

Sidenote: Truthfully, if I was studying knitting, or the migratory habits of the lesser spotted dung beetle, I think Matt would have been less concerned. He was always all about Jesus. Bible college beats dung beetles, after all.

But my best memory of Matt? Just a few weeks ago. Delivered to church in his reclining bed on wheels, he was there to worship, listen to God’s Word, be around his family in Christ. I looked over and saw my smart, thinking, questioning 12 year-old son, who has had plenty of “WHAT THE?” moments over our family going to church.

He was standing next to Matt, holding his hand, poised on that edge of awkwardness where only young adolescents can wobble. I wandered slowly over. I didn’t wish to intrude, but dealing with incurable sickness is hard for all of us, and I wanted to help my son navigate the waters should he need. Matt was holding onto his hand and I could sense Seb’s social uncertainty: ‘Do I just take my hand away? How long ought I stand here for?’

Seb wasn’t aware that Matt likely didn’t even register he was still holding onto his hand. He just didn’t know what to do. He looked up at me with a faint question in his eyes, and I whispered, “You can take your hand away if you want to.”

Seb tugged his hand away and on the return journey back to his side, squeezed Matt on the shoulder. “I’ll see you soon,” he said. “See you soon too, buddy,” Matt replied. It emerged that Seb had turned up at Matt’s side, unprompted, asking how he was. And I cry as I type this because I know – I know – how rare that other-focus can be in one so young. Heck, even in one so old (like me!) But it was a beautiful, poignant moment that encapsulated how church works. How Jesus works. When one hurts, you all hurt. When we hurt, Jesus hurts. Matt delivered my son a wonderful opportunity to lean into the unknown with love.

Last night Seb and I spoke about God, suffering, pain, hope, the promises of Jesus and Matt. This evening, hearing the news of Matt’s passing, he cried. Yet, at 12, he can see there was something different about Matt when it came to pain and death, and the eternal comfort and hope he had in Jesus.

And for that I will always be grateful.

Rest In Peace, Matty. You sowed so many seeds when you were here. Good, faithful and cheeky servant, I look forward to seeing you again. Enjoy singing your hymns and getting your groove on in heaven.

Amen.

Personally, Jesus is no crutch

I’m not a fan of crutches – mental, that is. I figure I’ve a fairly good brain, my resilience is solid, and I’ve a good dose of personal insight. Yet there appears to be this odd misconception that faith is a weakness. By being head-over-heels with the Jesus fella, I am somehow abdicating my thought processes and, eek, am displaying to all and sundry that I am weak and need this to prop me up. Unknown

I don’t need. I choose. Want. Desire. Embrace. I’ve a magnificent supernatural God that the Bible shows me was there through plagues, wars, famine, floods, times of plenty, times of trouble – and consistently comes up with solid answers and solutions. Chapter after chapter, verse after verse, God proves over and over that, yes, He’s way better at this universal existence thing than I am. Through time and place.

Jesus said he was the light and the way. The son of God who I’ve already figured out is better at guiding, planning and sorting out both the big picture and fine detail than I.  So no matter what I else I do to train my brain, read a new book each week, study online with Linda and use all this new knowledge to add value, improve myself, my career path and justify that pay rise…. it’s still but a drop in the ocean compared to what I’ve learnt about GJ& the HS and what they can do in my life when I let them in and trust.

I don’t have to have all the answers – and neither do my children or my husband. I don’t have to be right all the time – because I trust God is. Not because of spiritual insubstantial fairy floss, but because that rather massive book called the Bible proves His hand can guide me far more magnificently than myself alone. Naturally. Him being God and me being 40-something Phil. Who’s only been around gathering wisdom for 40-something years while He’s been doing it, for, well, always and forever.

In Australia, anxiety is on the rise – it’s the most common mental health condition. On average, 1 in 4 people – 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men – will experience anxiety. One in six young Australians (aged 16–24) had experienced and anxiety disorder in 2016Up to 40 per cent of the population will experience a panic attack at some time in their life.

Isn’t that frightening? I attended a seminar on the topic recently and found myself talking to many, many women who confirmed they had this constant voice in their head telling them all sorts of anxiety-inducing material. They weren’t good enough. They wouldn’t get the dinner finished in time. That someone accidentally ignored them on the street and it sent them into a paralysis of wondering had they somehow offended them? Perhaps they didn’t like them? And what about their body, isn’t it unfit, overweight, underweight, too fit, too tall, too small, too thin, too broad? What if they miss their work deadline?

I was aghast. Still am. God may have wired me to operate and process at speed, yet He also blessed me with a quiet mind. Minimal chatter. It was both blessing and pain to realise I was in a minority.

“Jesus loves me this I know, because he gave me Lexipro,” is a line you may have heard. Depression and anti-anxiety medication absolutely has its place. I figure we live in a post-Fall world, so to think our brain chemistry and wiring is going to be perfect misses the whole impact of that pesky snake and the apple.

I also know brave, persistent individuals who have re-wired their brains and neurons away from anxiety, fight and flight responses, and into a more calm, manageable place. They also use medication to support them on this journey. Yet with all the research on neuroplasticity, the comfort and hope offered – with strategies and work, bloody hard work – that they could re-wire their anxious neural pathways means they persevere. As one Christian friend commented after the seminar, “it was a great reminder as to how far I’ve come.”

Strategies not crutches. Intelligent thinking not abdication of intellect. The Bible reminds her (and me, and anyone else who cares to take a read) that God can take her anxieties and calm them. That when she relentlessly and persistently challenges those voices, lays her worries at the Cross, they quieten.

Love Me with all your heart, God tells us. Be anxious about nothing. Pray and petition Me because I love you desperately – so desperately I gave you My son so I could be even closer to you – and I want to bless you, help you, guide you. Let me.

Climb into my lap and just be. Let me dry your tears when you are anxious. Help you laugh. I’ll even tease you gently about your fears so you keep them in perspective. Carry you along if you need it. Kick you in the butt if you need that too. My love has no fear. No anxiety. And because I am God, you are made utterly, beautifully perfect in your weakness, your fears, your anxieties. Why? Because I am God. So you have no need to be.

On a scale of 1-10, will you get to heaven?

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.

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Dudley Moore and Bo Derek in ’10’. Image courtesy of grouchoreviews.com

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.

This third Easter is a charm

Many of my childhood Easter memories revolve around chocolate eggs and holidaying with my surrogate family in a lovely english coastal town called Beer. A single-parent, my Mum arranged for us to get away in the school holidays with neighbours. It worked out well for all: as the eldest I was able to keep an eye on their younger offspring and my Mum got some much needed adult time.

It was an annual tradition. Waking up early on Easter morning to discover chocolate eggs at the end of the bed. My neighbour’s youngest son devouring a Yorkie Trucker’s Egg before 8am. Me tracing my fingers over the correctly-spelt Philippa on the hand-made Thornton’s egg.

I don’t recall us attending church on Easter day. Then as I grew up and away from C of E schooling into agnostic new-ageism, Easter simply signified an handy long weekend. I’d roll my eyes at Big T wanting to only eat fish on Good Friday, but for me it simply was about the chance to drink wine with friends, maybe get away camping, and chocolate.

Nowadays I’d categorise my most recent Easters as akin to ‘Grumpy’ ‘Weepy’ and ‘Smiley’

Grumpy Easter

This was the ‘wake me up at 3am with song lyrics and shove bibles at me’ Easter. I was not impressed. I couldn’t take a step on the beach without a sailboat thrusting Christian logos at me. What? Are you talking to me? For goodness sake, leave me alone.

Weepy Easter

A year down the track and I’d done plenty of cage-fights with God by the time my second Easter rolled around. It was a pensive, reflective time. I’d moth-dived towards the light, spent some time in the gospels and had got stuck in the Groundhog Day nature of how humanity had crucified an undeserving man. Reflecting back, the enormity of the suffering outweighed my joy in the resurrection.

I spent Weepy Easter uncertain that I could do it again the following year because, not only was I in sorrow due to the enormity of what Jesus sacrificed, I was weighed down by how little humanity has learnt since. I found myself wishing that something would change. That, somehow, there would be a different ending. That we’d learn.

grass_egg_smiley_smile_humor_macro_54212_300x300.jpgSmiley Easter

I write this at the start of my third, Smiley Easter. And I cannot wait. Whether it’s because I prayed earlier this week for God to show me how to embrace the Holy Spirit within, or because – miracle of miracles – Big T and I have almost managed a week of daily ‘his n her’ prayer, but I am behaving in a decidedly unAnglican manner.

The poor check-out chick who wished me a dour happy easter at the shopping centre earlier is now probably shaking her head over the nutbag happy-clappy Christian who jumped behind the counter, washed her feet and tried to anoint her head with oil. Luckily the SAP was willing to take the call when I asked for bail to be posted…

But you know what? Deal with it.  As Brussels shudders in shock, we need something more substantial to put our hope in than ourselves. Our selves are the problem. And anyone who honestly thinks we’re doing OK as a DIY society is delusional.

Easter is a chance to reflect on what we could all learn from Jesus, his crucifixion and resurrection: This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12).

Easter reminds us that Jesus offered the selfless laying down of his life for our eternal gift. Compare that to the selfish blowing up of life we saw in Brussels two days ago. If you haven’t yet thought about what Jesus offers in comparison to such worldly horror, there’s no better time than Easter to do it. 

Over achievers don’t need Jesus. They’ve got DIY.

It’s easier to take Jesus to the starving in the slums than it is to the over-achiever.images-4

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.

No dry spells or struggles? Don’t believe you.

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?images-3.jpg

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.

If only you could see yourself as I do

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.

bing-2
Photographs of Sunsets Through Broken Glass by Bing Wright

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.

Resources

Psalm 139 

www.lifeline.org.au or call 13 11 44. 

https://www.anglicare.org.au/

http://www.salvationarmy.org.au  or call 13 SALVOS