The cost of honouring life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silencing your shame harpies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The path to happiness

I was asked to give a talk a few weeks back: how to keep your ‘Be Happy’ new year’s resolution longer than February.

The original topic given to me to talk about was Hot Tips to Happiness. I pondered discussing great cocktails and great sex but decided while the audience (non-Christian parents dropping their kids off at a church-run summer event) might enjoy it, it likely wasn’t the best context to discuss gin and g-spots…

But being happy seems to be the goal nowadays. Do X, achieve Y, add in a dash of Z and, ta-da, happiness! Working at RedBalloon a few years ago, the tag line was “Creating A Happiness Revolution.” In RedBalloon’s case, at least it wasn’t the pursuit of buying stuff that made you happy…rather the pursuit of experiences, doing things – either solo or with friends and family – that delivered happy. Yet it’s still external. Still a pursuit.

Being happy isn’t as easy as it’s advertised. 

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source: tmhome.com
Our economy is geared up for happy: in advertising, brands want to be associated with smiling, laughing, happy customers, and positivity has been shown to increase sharing and engagement on social media. Billboards tell us to open a coke, open happy! Don’t worry, be happy.  Lose weight, marry someone who looks and behaves like Hugh Jackman… these are all things we’re told can make us happy (I’m waiting to test out the Hugh Jackman theory.. just as part of research, you understand).

We see happy, we connect with it, and we all go, yes, I want that. And the mistake we can make is thinking that happiness is something that can be pursued. If I just pay off my debts, I’ll be happier. Get that red dress, I’ll be happier. Have a cleaner house (by the way, no-one lies on their death bed saying they wished they’d spend more time cleaning!).

C.S Lewis, of Narnia fame, once described suffering as God’s megaphone. When my Mum died six years ago, when I was grieving her, I was very aware of what I was experiencing internally. To go off and find happy externally seemed to make a mockery of what I was feeling inside. It made no sense to look at happiness as an external pursuit. If sad was in my heart, then happiness, it’s opposite, must be in there too.

Proverbs 15:15 says this:

A miserable heart means a miserable life;
a cheerful heart fills the day with song.

So how do we go about encouraging our hearts to be cheerful? Below are some some good daily habits, and then I’m going expand on one area that gets insufficient attention.

Take a daily thank you walk – “Feel blessed and you won’t be stressed” – what you pay attention to that grows. What do you give thanks for every day?

Talk to yourself – Not the naggy, unkind voice we can too often use. Remind yourself of the lovely truths about yourself. Me, I came to a faith in Jesus a few years ago and that really gave me a new perspective on how to talk to myself. In the Bible God tells me that I’m fearfully and wonderfully made and that God’s works are wonderful. Who am I to disagree with God? When you talk kindly to yourself, when you share God’s perspective on yourself, there’s an immense amount of love and happiness that comes with that.

Get more sleep – a great night’s sleep cannot be replaced by a double latte.

Don’t waste your energy on negative things. Gossip. Your past. Stuff you can’t change. Forgive yourself, and others, admit your mistakes and ask forgiveness of others too.

Love, serve and care – For centuries, the greatest thinkers have suggested the same thing: Happiness is found in helping others. Jesus said it is better to give than to receive. Through MRI technology, we now know that giving activates the same parts of the brain that are stimulated by food and sex. Experiments show evidence that altruism is hardwired in the brain—and it’s pleasurable.

You don’t need me to tell you five tips, or ten steps, to daily happiness habits. We’ve got google for that! I did it when writing this: how to have a happy life. I got about 14 articles per page, and by page 18 of Google I’d stopped pressing ‘Next’. But there were plenty more. Hundreds if not thousands of articles on how to be happy.

But we’re not. In any one year, around 1 million Australian adults have depression, and over 2 million have anxiety. I suffered from it, and I’m sure everyone knows at least one person. It’s on the rise.

So for all the self-help articles, for all the hints and tips out there, ‘being happy’ must be – if you look at the stats – hard. Or are we looking at it the wrong way?

What if it isn’t about self-help?

For all those articles I googled, the one thing I noticed – Jesus didn’t pop up once.  He didn’t get a mention as a way to happiness. Yet the 5 tips above, they can all be traced back to Jesus. Even getting more sleep – like the time in Mark 4, when he and the disciples are in a boat when there’s a massive storm, Jesus is fast asleep in the bottom of the boat, the disciples are panicking, yelling “How can you sleep?! We are going TO DIE”.

How can Jesus sleep? He sleeps because he’s assured of His Father in heaven. Sleep, prayer, thankfulness, forgiveness – these are ways of happiness –– they are all ways that Jesus modelled not because of SELF-help. But because of His trust and the love of his Father in heaven.

And that’s the same for all of us. It’s not about SELF-help, but God’s help.

The Bible has plenty in it about happiness, but defines it differently than our culture. The happiness the Bible advocates isn’t dependent on circumstances. The words for “bless” and “blessed” in both the Old and New Testaments means “well-being,” “flourishing,” and “happiness.”

It is used throughout the Psalms and Proverbs to describe the happy state of those who live wisely according to God’s design.

Four years ago, I wasn’t a Christian. In fact, I’d done the self-help, new age thing for over a decade. Courses, crystals, books (I even went to a church that channeled an alien) – you name it, I tried it. Searching for happiness. There was always another course, another book.

And then I met Jesus – and may I say, I have never been happier. Augustine (one of the great early church theologians and a wild man before he met Jesus) said a lot of pretty fantastic things.  This is one: ‘You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts find no rest until they find their rest in you.’

In Jesus, I have found rest, peace, contentment – happiness – no matter what the external world throws at me.

And, unlike that external pursuit of happiness, of striving, God says STOP.

God says, YOU don’t have to do all the work to be happy. No. I’m pursuing YOU. I love every hair on your head. I sang over you as you knit together in your mother’s womb.

With God’s love and gift of Jesus, there are no rules to get right, no external things to chase. No ladder of rights and wrongs you have to climb up to reach God.

Instead, in Jesus, you meet the God who came down the ladder. Pursuing us. He became human, lived the sinless life we could not, died the death we deserved, then rose again – all  in order to ensure a close, forgiven relationship with us. Through faith. And Grace. Nothing else.

Being loved like that, being redeemed by that, no matter what, gives you an incredible blank canvas each day of love, trust and happiness. Jesus died and overcame death for me so I could be in right relationship with God.

And His love is where true happiness and flourishing comes from.

A lovely new friend said to me recently, after she’d gotten to know Jesus, “Phil, it sounds mad, but even the trees seem greener!” It’s not mad – it’s the right order of things. A relationship with God, through Jesus, means we flourish. And when we flourish, happiness is a natural by-product. Psalm 1 tells us that in relationship with God we are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fresh fruit, always in blossom. Happy.

I want to close with something that Jesus said that resonated strongly with me when I was seeking happiness. You see, we put so much effort in trying to achieve happiness, we can just end up exhausted. Jesus said this in Matthew’s Gospel, and I’m using a more modern message translation as it really speaks into how harried we can become pursuing happy:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burnt out? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

If you’re tired out by this pursuit of happiness, and you like this idea of blossoming, flourishing with ease, without the stress and effort, try hanging out with the Jesus-fella for a while. And if you don’t know where to start, drop a comment below and I’ll do my best to help.

 

DV in church is not about me wanting to preach or be ordained. Seriously.

My last post regarding the emerging story about Don Burke, and comparisons I drew with recent news coverage and responses to DV in churches and clergy marriages, was received, for the most, positively.

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Source: BBC

I urged readers to be wise as snakes and gentle as doves. Again, for the most, readers were.

I have a philosophy/policy with this blog. I treat the posts like my children. I’ve done my best with them, I pray they don’t disgrace me in public, but nor am I going to hover, defend, justify or disempower them. Whether as a writer or a parent, the time comes when I have to let go and see if they fend for themselves.

However I do want to look again at an example I used. I sought to illustrate the subtlety of language and how it can both empower and disempower. I wrote about two conversations I’d had where – on separate occasions – a man and a women in church positions of influence dismissed the idea of women preaching. They used specific language on i) how it would disempower men and ii) my female broken, sinful nature.

A couple of comments via social media reached me. While my policy/philosophy above means I ought to let them slide, I want to be clear: I did not use the example to make it about me; specifically me wanting to hijack domestic and sexual violence in church in order to push an agenda about women wanting to preach and women seeking ordination.

The comments I read tried to make out this was so. And I won’t have it. I asked people to be wise as snakes, gentle as doves. So let’s try again. To tackle the concerns:

1) My credentials: I don’t have insight to write on DV.

I write with insight into DV and sexual abuse because of my personal experience (read here and here). This is how, alongside the Bible and some literal, smacked-into-me lessons, I learnt my wise as a snake mojo.  I don’t profess to have counselling degrees and a specialist field of study. But I pray I have empathy and insight.

2) I just want to preach, so I’m using the angle of lack of women’s voices in church = DV to push my personal agenda about my desire to preach.

It is not wise or gentle of me to want to stick my fingers in my ears and loudly sing, “la-la-la-la-la-la, can’t hear you.” But, Good Lord, I really want to when I read such agenda-shifting comments. Oh, hang on, that’s what happened. An attempt at agenda-shift.

Take your fingers out your ears, please, stop the la-la-la’s and breath. Sit with it. I know it hurts. It’s bloody painful to think a lack of women’s voices and leadership in church could play into the insidious evil of DV in church. But we can get past this. God is bigger than us and this. So let’s lean in. If – and I’m referring especially to anyone in church leadership, influence or authority – you think it’s too painful to do so, please lift your eyes back to the cross and away from your pain receptors.

Do I preach? Yes. Am I gifted at it? According to feedback, yes. Can I? Literally, yes. Biblically? Well, it depends on where you land scripturally.

Do I particularly care if I preach to men or women? Nope. I just want to preach Jesus.

If you do want to get Greek scholarly and biblical and start thrusting verses at me to argue I ought not preach to men, please resist. Be a gentle dove. I don’t need you to agree with me to justify why I’ve arrived at my ‘wide path’ decision on women preaching based on my scriptural study; just as you don’t need me to agree with you to justify your ‘narrow path’ belief in your decision based on your scriptural study. Okay?

It’s not a salvation issue, there’s no “I’m a better Christian” barometer if one person believes X and the other believes Y about women preaching. Thank God for the fully equalising gurney of grace.

But, as someone with 20+ years in communications and a Masters degree in the dark arts (PR and Comms, or ‘persuading someone to think a certain way about an issue’) I do know there’s a consequence of language becoming subtle, pervasive and using oft-repeated specific messages. In this case, regarding gender, roles and influence in our churches.

Having had intimate insight into domestic family violence, I know exactly how hyper-vigilant sufferers are. The words you say, the look on your face, the tone of your voice, they all signal something. Something you may not even intend. And when it is ‘the norm’  – like, say, a woman should not preach as it disempowers men – you may not even think about it coming out your mouth. But for the victim, reading and paying attention to that, it is everything. I cannot emphasise that enough. Because she has learnt to observe, to watch for cues, to live in fear of missing one. The onus has to be on us, surely, to love our neighbours better. To no longer speak in ways that offer subtle disempowerment and disenfranchisement.

3) It rises up when you least expect it (back to credentials)

For the most part I have prayed, pondered and therapied my wounds. But until quite recently I never realised the level of my hyper-vigilance. I just thought God had wired me fast, with a million-miles-an-hour brain! A career in journalism (deadlines) and 20 years of business ownership (always another job to do, another sale to pitch) had simply fed the pace and race.

It wasn’t until I was given some pills to fell the racing cheetah did I realise. Forget multi-tasking, I hyper-tasked. I won’t sit with my back to an entry and, if I do, unwittingly, my sub-conscious will reposition my body before I’m aware. If I ever have coffee with you and you find I’ve switched sides of the table to sit in your lap, my apologies…

Talk to me in a crowded room, and I will focus fully on your conversation, but I’ll also be aware of the content and currents of the other conversations around us. I thought it was a fairly cool gift until a kindly doctor pointed out the dangerous spikes in my cholesterol were likely to do with constant fight and flight and cortisol.

“But I”m not anxious or stressed!” I blustered. “No, that’s part of the problem,” he replied. “You think it’s normal. You were a child, the wiring started way back when, you don’t realise it’s not normal because it’s always been there. Time to stop.” The day I took my first ‘fell the racing cheetah’ pills was hilarious…

But the point I’m trying to make: it creeps up and fells me when I least expect. Like when I was told, ‘wanting to preach is sinful and broken’. I kept it together until I left the church but afterwards I just howled. I couldn’t reconcile my loving, grace-filled Abba in heaven who has blessed me with a gift to write, read and speak, with what I had just been told (well, admonished). That even though I thought I had a voice, it was sinful and broken of me to think about using it widely.  It took me straight back to an abusive step father, grooming and an attempted sexual assault where I had felt voiceless. Unheard. Without hope.

Recall: I’m a 45 year old, feisty so-and-so who has come a long, long way in healing and speaking out, who did not experience abuse at the hands of a Christian using scripture to keep me down. Yet my reaction still happened.

How much worse, then, for someone who has suffered through incorrect application of scripture? Who has been told she ought to always submit, who has been abused, assaulted, raped? Hearing narrow messaging, no matter how unwittingly done, would be much worse. A million times worse.

And please, let’s not go off track on admonishing and correction, and how if someone is biblically incorrect then they need to be put straight. You may agree I needed to be ‘put straight’ on women preaching. That’s ok. This isn’t about that. It’s about being open to consider how the tenor of language and messaging, the subtleties of submission doctrine and gender leadership, can impact.

Please hear my voice: this is not, and never will be, about pushing a personal female preaching agenda.

This is about urging everyone to be vigilant in their scriptural language and being alert to any subtle disempowerment and disenfranchisement of women, from how scripture is taught to how we speak, lead and teach each other.

There are too many great women in the Bible who led, fought, taught, preached, prophesied and served for us to think about doing anything less. To do so would be, well, unBiblical.

 

Best. Decision. Ever.

Surfacing

Did this three years ago yesterday (hint: wasn’t a swim safety program). As I blogged at the time, it wasn’t the easiest of decisions. I only admitted quite recently to the SAP that on the day of dunking, I almost didn’t turn up. “Like I wouldn’t have driven over and dragged you down to the river,” he answered.

Hmm. It’s not like you can hold people down in baptism against their will. That would be known as..well.. drowning. But I got his point.

My sudden onset cold feet had little to do with my faith in God and Jesus, and more to do with my faith in me at the time. The SAP could likely see quite clearly that G&J had me embraced, secure and held up. It was ME – with all my quivers over being worthy of such unconditional love – that had me teetering.

Now? I look back on that woman and wonder, wow, who was she? There is little from back then I recognise. Which is the beauty of a crazy, radical, loving journey with GJ&HS. They did all the work. I surrendered. Perhaps not totally gracefully (cagefight with God, anyone?) but no-one’s perfect here. That’s Jesus’ gig.

The HS is good. And kind. And patient. But even He’s going to roll his eyes at my preference for ribald language, cheek and a large gin or four. I imagine the discussion of my HS download – after I got to grips with being head-over-heels with the Jesus fella – being an entertaining board meeting in heaven.

The difference now is I sit with ME secure in how I’m fearfully and wonderfully made. Back then, I sat behind the ribald, the cheek, the gin (ok, I’m kidding a bit with relying on the gin, ease up with the AA intervention, SAP), and prayed I could let some love in.

“Be vulnerable, ” God would whisper to me, oh, so often, these past three years. That was the hardest lesson of all. Saying I am vulnerable, and then actually doing vulnerability, are worlds apart.

If it were easy, we’d all be doing it..

I was in my early 40s, had zero Christian friends (but loads of atheist ones) and meeting Jesus was fairly inconvenient. Putting my skin in the game, publicly, was quite the demand.

Plus, to be brutally honest: in Australia today Christians – and the church – are hardly embraced with open arms. You’ve only got to look at some of the same-sex marriage commentary (hating, homophobic bigots, anyone?) or the latest news coverage on domestic violence in the church, and it’s enough to make anyone wonder WHY I’d reach such a decision.

The answer: irresistible grace.

Ask me if I’m religious and I’m likely to have bile rise in the back of my throat. Dear God, I never want to be religious. The toughest words Jesus had back in the day were for the religious rulers, the Pharisees. No, I just want to try to walk a little bit more like Jesus each day.

Which isn’t about me being judgmental or trying to follow churchy rules. I still think that’s where Jesus gets lost in translation. It’s actually more about me throwing my arms open wide and going, “TA DA! I am so utterly loved in the Jesus-fella despite my many, varied and colourful failings, and LOOK, look what he gets to do with me. Fixer-upperer. Holy spirit makeover.”

I was happy to dunk down in that river three years ago because of the sheer love and grace that Jesus showed me when he walked to the cross on my behalf. My journey over the past three years has only continued to show how wide and long and high and deep that love is.

I’ll never be the pin-up poster girl for religion. But I pray I can be a pin-up for Jesus. Who is now covering his eyes and saying, “Don’t type that! D’you know what some people will make of a line about me and pin-up girls!?!”

Gotta have faith-a-faith-a-faith

Three and a half years ago I was rejected for a job. And, boy, it stung. I was geared up to wow them with what I could do only to find out it was irrelevant compared to what I was not (a person of Christian faith). Anyone who isn’t across the hilarious Jesus journey that ensued, you’ll need to go back to the start to read about it here.

A character on this journey who’s received a lot of blog time is the smart-alec pastor (SAP) who picked up the church phone when I decided I’d get into some tyre-kicking, journalist Jesus research. An individual who’s had a lot, lot less attention is the person who decided against offering me the job. The Rejector.theterminator

The Rejector also deserves some blog time. Credit where credit is due. Why? Because he stuck to his faithful guns and wouldn’t concede ground on seeking a person who shared his beliefs to be his proxy in a public situation.

When he explained that at the time, I confess I mentally rolled my eyes and thought to myself: “oh, but I’m in PR, I can handle any message you need me to spin…” Something prevented me from sharing that obnoxious gem, and it was quickly replaced by something that pressed and intrigued: “He really needs me to believe this. And to reply that I can spin it, would – I sense – make a mockery of something he holds dear.”

I didn’t have a clue then of what a true, faith-based, faith-led life looks like. After the recent same-sex marriage campaigns, I’d argue very few Australians do. To many, it seems extreme and irrelevant to hold God’s word as truth, to confess Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, to be obedient to a single God who tells us He knows what’s best for us.  Instead we often prefer to follow our own personal gods of self, career, money-making, self-validation..to basically follow ME, my feelings and my desires. I’m the god of me. No-one else.

The funny thing is, if you spend any time having a read of the Bible, worshipping the god of ME isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s been happening since Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve chomped down on that apple after the serpent waved it at them. We’re wired to want the apple that is described in Genesis as from ‘the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.’

We desire to be the gods of our own good and evil. To know best. That was me back then in response to The Rejector. I knew best.

Now, after my journey with the Jesus-fella, I am far more humbly aware of just how dodgy a proposition that is.

But what if The Rejector hadn’t had faithful guns? What if he’d let those concerns slide? Worried less about the veracity and importance of my faith, and instead focused on filling the short-term need of someone who’d just get the job done. There’s a line in the Bible’s book of Romans (Chapter 12, V2) which springs to mind, and I’m using a modern translation in order to think about it in light of a job interview:

“Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

The Terminator didn’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world in his interview decision. He refused to weigh up my skills and expertise. In fact, he threw out all my skills and expertise against this one criteria: Did I believe in Jesus?

Nothing else mattered.

Now I (and many others, as we wrestle with SSM laws, freedom of religion laws, freedom of expression, and anti-discrimination) could have bleated about it being unfair (and, well, maybe I did for a day or 5 ;-)) but what I actually wanted to know, deep-down, was this:

Why was this Jesus fella so bloody important that he trumped my amazing skills and expertise? And why was he so important to the Rejector? Thank God I was sufficiently self-aware to recognise something more important than my own self-importance and be intrigued.

And thank God for the Rejector. If he’d copied the customs and behaviours of this world, I could well have found myself in a job with a bunch of people I misunderstood and with no clue, still, of the Jesus fella.

It also reminds me that institutions who use faith as a criteria for a job description have a real need and requirement to continue to do so.

Good game God. Good, faithful guns Rejector.

Preach it, sister – part one

I’ve written two sermons in my life and preached one. The first – written, not delivered – was a full length, “give me something I can get my teeth into” challenge I begged of the SAP. The second was a 20 minutes to prepare, ten minutes to deliver number as part of a ‘Principles of Evangelism’ unit.the-sisterhood-book-hillsong-collected

The first I prayed, sweated and toiled over for weeks. It was pre-bible college enrolment and, in reaction to ‘needing more’ in my heart, was answering the relentless call to dive deeper into scripture. Maybe because I’m late to the GJ&HS game or maybe, in echoes of my Divinity o-level at 15 years old, it is proof of God’s word never retuning void. Instead it is returning me. Back to dig deeper, to write again, much as I did in the exam hall in 1987, about the meaning of Jesus’ ministry. I recall being sprawled across the day-bed, making notes on the Gospel verses the SAP had ‘set’ me, feeling like I had returned home.

The second sermon experience was far more stomach-churning. 20 minutes? Dear Lord. The SAP received a volley of vomiting emoji faces. “You can do that,” calmly texted back the bloke who’s been SAPing and preachin’  for 20-odd years. Such faith.

Much like my early blog posts, I know when God is on a roll because He simply helps me flow it out between head, heart and keyboard. It was a daring, daunting whisper: “You can do this.”

“Who me?”

“Yes. Don’t you feel it, love it, know it? Love Me?”

“Yes, but… You want me to do THIS?”

I’m no shrinking violet. I’m quite confident in my PR abilities to write a speech, jump up on a stage facing an audience of 1000s, and deliver a message. But a sermon? That matters. It’s personal. It’s more than unpacking scripture. More than God’s word. It’s my guide, my compass, my everything. It’s being willing to share my deepest heart connection to all and sundry. Does it read weird that thinking about delivering a sermon reminds me of the ‘butterflies in the stomach feeling’ of introducing ‘the one’ to your parents? Desperate that they love and think he’s awesome too?

Of course, unlike introducing ‘the one’ to your parents, God is unlikely to put His foot in it with an ill-timed joke and would always know the correct cutlery to use.

Yet, even so, this was a timed, tie-breaker, under pressure. Pick one of eight verses on offer, prepare a ten-minute sermon in 20 minutes… and GO!

Peskily, the verse the SAP had set me for my more leisured sermon preparation wasn’t on the list so I couldn’t even rely on that.

Yet there she appeared. One of my most treasured bible characters whom I look forward to meeting in heaven. The Samaritan woman at the well. I so identify with her is likely why I’m so fond of her. Who hasn’t made horrendous relationship choices in their life? Been let down by men who were supposed to offer security? Similarly, who hasn’t felt judged for those poor choices?

There were 30 of us in the classroom. Not everyone had to take the podium, there wasn’t sufficient time. “Who wants to go next?” asked the lecturer. I sat there, head down, heart in my mouth. “Put your hand up,” said God loudly.

I wasn’t immediately obedient. I’m more scared of God than the SAP, but I’ve got to admit the thought of telling the SAP I’d choked, next to God shoving at me, had my hand in the air.

“He won’t pick me,” I muttered back to God unfaithfully.

The lecturer picked me.

Taking a deep breath and praying hard I’d not stuff up, I stepped up to the lectern and began an exegesis of reality TV house renovations, broken-down fixer upperers, lonely people thirsting for affection, and the wonderful restoration offered by Jesus who doesn’t care where we’ve been, what we’ve done, and whatever awful wallpaper we’ve chosen to paper over the cracks.

I closed with the invitation to learn more: that perhaps you’ve been sold on the idea of the masterpiece, perfect show-home life and you’re just so tired and it’s not as fulfilling as you’d been led to believe and you are thirsting for more.

Or maybe if you already know Jesus, how are you responding to him? Do you still thirst for him? Are you letting Jesus refresh you? Or has your faith gone off the boil…and if so the call is to spend more time with him.

Or if you do know Jesus, do you still talk about him? The Samaritan woman blossoms once she understands Jesus’ affection for her and who he really is. Cast-out in the heat of the day, she is hopeless and defensive one minute, and then she returns to her village reborn, restored, vital, and unashamed. “You have to meet this guy!” she exclaims. The first evangelist to Samaria, sowing the early seeds that ripen and show harvest later in the book of Acts.

So there you have it. A fast sermon synopsis of what I delivered in that ten minutes.

I ended. Inhaled. And stepped off stage saying I’d never delivered a sermon before. To which the lecturer responded, “perhaps that ought to change. Especially if that’s what you do with just 20 mins preparation.”

Stunning.

There’s a line in Jane Austin’s Persuasion that sums it up: It was agitation, pain, pleasure, a something between delight and misery. Three hours afterwards I was still churning emotionally. Which is fairly unnerving for a chick who will do other sorts of public speaking without a eyelid bat. I glittered between, “woo, God is awesome and quite mad and He graced me with THIS sort of gift, what the, really?” and the flat-out, humbled, teary, breath-taking realisation that God is laying out a path that feels way too big and yet perfectly tailored and beautiful.

As the churning feeling continued I asked the SAP if it ever subsides. “I’ll let you know if that feeling goes if it goes from me,” he replied. Ah. Let’s pray it never does. Green round the gills preaching keeps you on your toes. This… well, this is important.

I’m also aware of some in Christian circles who believe I lack the necessary ‘tackle’ to preach. Whilst I have a heart, soul, and head for Jesus something a little lower is missing.

Similar to my opinion on Greek qualifications, I don’t think Jesus is going to reject someone when they turn up in front of him saying, “Yes, I heard this great sermon delivered by a woman, how she spoke resonated and that’s when I really accepted you.”

I can’t imagine Jesus saying, “No, wrong. My grace does not extend to you because you got to know me through a preacher who had female genitalia. Off to hell with you.” It doesn’t fit with the full picture I have of God and Jesus from the Bible and the time Jesus spent teaching and encouraging women.

Nor am I exaggerating. A believer I know has been told quite seriously by a male pastor she ought to question her salvation because she came to know, understand and love Jesus through the peaching of Bobbie Houston. I mean, really? Where’s the grace in that conversation? I’ve also been told that my seeking to study preaching is a sign of my sinful, broken nature that I ought to repent over.

There’s more, naturally. I can’t unpack women, church, leadership and preaching in one blog. What I do hold close is this:

When we accept Jesus the Bible tells us we are all graced with different spiritual gifts. Since becoming a Christian I have crafted the most creative, the most attuned, and the most heart-felt pieces of writing since..well, since ten year’s old. I suddenly found myself able to write, speak and explain Jesus and the Bible in such a way that resonated strongly with others – and it not only took me by surprise, it took a lot of UHT Christians aback too. I know it isn’t all on me. My writing and communications skills all blossomed, just as the Samaritan woman at the well blossomed, since meeting the Jesus fella.

I’m just going to go and grab me a bunch of head-coverings…. and tell everyone I’m not preaching, but rather prophesying. Yes, I can see Jesus shaking his head at that too.

“Dad, we did call the cheeky, comms PR chick didn’t we?”

“Yes, son, Yes we did. It’s going to be an exhilarating earth-exit interview, don’t you think?”

And that, dear reader, is why I call Him Abba and why I always refer to it as the gurney of grace.