All Things are Possible

Today I spoke at Premiers Woman to Woman conference, on the theme of ‘with God all things are possible. This is a tricky subject for me, as I do believe God can do anything, I just don’t often feel that he is going to do much for me. This is what I said – longer than a usual blog post!

With God all things are possible – but this does not mean that everything that we ask for will happen.

In my experience faith is incredibly messy. How do you reconcile what you believe to be true but have very little (if any) tangible proof of, with the world we live in and the lives that we lead?

I live with depression and anxiety and have done for the past ten years. Three years ago, everything I had thought was safe and had worked towards crumbled around me during a nervous breakdown. I was signed off sick for 5 months. I prayed for healing daily. For peace, for comfort, for change. I sought out healing prayer and yet suicidal thoughts and an overwhelming blackness did not fade. Since then, my mental health has been consistently poor and God has not made me well. With a recent diagnosis of a hot pot of anxiety disorders, it seems that rather than making me well, God is letting me live with this.

But if faith as small as a mustard seed is enough to move a mountain, what does it mean that I live with this illness, with no sign of it improving? Is my faith just simply not big enough for this God of the impossible? Do I have less faith than a mustard seed?

No.

God may not answer our prayers in the way we hope or even expect. Psalm 73 says ‘My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.’ Paul, in 2 Corinthians 12 talks about the thorn in his flesh, but God said to him ‘my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ Paul goes so far as to delight in his weakness, hardships, insults and persecutions because ‘when I am weak, then I am strong’.

This can, on occasion be of great comfort. It is an encouragement to know that being weak is not wrong. Having weakness and being able to acknowledge it, in fact, gives God an opportunity to work through us.

Recently, however, I have been losing hope. It has been getting harder and harder to find that I have become happier with my life and relationships, and yet still ill – and in many ways worse health wise than previously. I find more and more that I don’t know where to turn. I am so so tired of fighting. The idea that every day is another opportunity to battle the constant barrage of thoughts that inform me of my every weakness both perceived and real, is often too overwhelming to contemplate and the TV – that always friendly source of absolutely brain free entertainment is an increasingly constant friend.

I am exhausted, fed up and drained of any anticipation that this I am going to be released from this illness anytime soon. Paul and his thorn can feel like cold comfort and the hope I have had in the past few years of improvement and change is becoming increasingly hard to access, however, the journey I am on is never lonely. I have biblical precedent for living in a state of misery and despair beyond what I can even imagine. The psalmist is the most eloquent depressive I know. He can summarise a desire to curl up and fade away better than anyone else. Elijah and Jonah both had a desire to die. Job was very justifiably fed up – to say the least. And yet all of these people lived in awe and praise of God. They questioned him, challenged him and sought out hope.

They believed in the God who could destroy an entire nation, who showed up in battles and played an active part, who answered them – spoke to them through the prophets and directly. God was their guide, and he had brought them out of slavery and into freedom. Having seen him perform the impossible, they all still had moments of despair. What they were waiting for was not happening, or wasn’t happening quickly enough. Or life had just simply got far too much and God did not seem to do anything about it. This, their God, the God of the impossible, was not fixing it for them. And yet this never changed the fact that they wholeheartedly believed that he was still the God of the impossible, he would always come through, but it would be in his way and in his time.

This offers us an opportunity to let go of the pressure of what we ‘should’ do in order to receive the possible. The thing the prophets all did, was recognise that God is a mystery – bigger than our comprehension, his ways are mysterious. Jesus free’d us from the ‘should’ and broke down the barriers between us and God, creating an impossible relationship where we have the freedom to speak with him.

Recognising that God can do all things, is about looking beyond my own immediate desire for a happier less depressed life. Towards the end of Job, God speaks – he talks of his might and power, and reading it, it is easy to understand why Job came back to him saying ‘I won’t question you, I shouldn’t question you, you are awesome and big and mighty and wow!’ God has already done things that are considered impossible. Yet, he never forgets us.

He has shown me a picture of his love for me which goes deeper than ‘being happy’. When I am in my blackest and darkest place I have found that even though I often can’t even hear the words of anyone around me, I can find a sense of peace that can only come from the knowledge that God is sitting in the darkness with me.

It is this companionship, that makes him so awesome to me. Beyond his mighty acts of creation and saving and all that – he has time to sit and be with me. He makes space within his complete and absolute knowledge of the universe to think about how much he loves me and to take the time to let me know. A lot of the time I don’t want to hear about hope and healing. I want to find peace where I am. I don’t want to hear that God can do anything because my reality is that he isn’t doing the one thing I really want him to do.

Except, what he does do – in taking that time to sit in the darkness with me, to catch each one of my tears – is the impossible. Our call is to accept this impossible relationship, to recognise that actually God may do the impossible for us – the healing we hope for, but he may do it for our neighbour and leave us be. We need to stand together, God the trinity is an example of community, and within our community we need to recognise the joy of those who have experienced the impossible, and the pain of those who are longing for change.

The unifying part of this is that we all come together to praise the God with whom all things are possible. And to recognise that like the prophets within our community there will be the contrast of the now and the not yet and all the hope and pain that comes with that. If we stand together we will be able to love each other through the highs of the parting of the red sea and the disappointments of being taken into exile. Knowing all the way that God is in love with us. Present with us. And that he is seeking the relationship that for many in the Old Testament was entirely impossible.

My God

I feel like I am at the bottom of a cliff. I’m in the water and the waves are crashing over me one after another. It seems to never end. I guess it’s tidal because every now and then I get a couple of months pause, where breathing is temporarily easier. Like the waves are smaller and I can keep my head above the water. Generally though, I feel as though I am drowning but never dying. It’s exhausting.

I have so much to be thankful for, and there is a part of me which feels horribly guilty for the fact that I – who has so much – should still feel so hopeless. And I find myself despairing when, so often, I don’t recognise the God so many other people seem to know. I often wonder why no one else appears to be drowning. The testimonies never end with ‘and I still don’t have a job’ or ‘and I still have chronic back pain’. The preacher never says ‘I don’t know how to get through the week’ or ‘life really is pretty rubbish most of the time’. My experience is that it is in the darkest places that we find the most hope – even if the darkness doesn’t appear to have the testimony ready ending. This doesn’t mean that there are not tons of people that feel the same way as me, but it seems that the God who lets me be bashed against the base of a cliff, tossed about by the waves, gasping for breath, is not the God that I am meant to know.

The thing is, I can understand why! What use is a hero who lets us take hit after hit with no relief? I mean isn’t God meant to make it all a bit easier? Isn’t he meant to make it a bit more bearable? Doesn’t the bible say that God will not give us more than we can bear?

This idea though, has always slightly jarred with me. The idea that God does not give us more than we can bear seems so at odds with the bible. The story of David or Job, the cries that come out favouring death over continuing in that pain. Were the women of Bethlehem strong enough to bear their sons being slaughtered? The bible is the book which tells me suffering is normal, it tells me that I am normal. The often quoted verse – 1Corinthians 10:13 – seems at odds in so many ways with the rest of the book:

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

Yet, in an article from Relevant magazine, Michael Hidalgo unpicks this idea that somehow we are supposed to ‘bear’ our suffering, otherwise God wouldn’t have ‘given’ it to us.

Jesus himself felt forgotten by God whilst dying on the cross. The night before he died he despaired, and God didn’t save him. This idea that suffering is not something we bear, it is not temptation where we can choose what we do but is just what happens, seems to line up so much more clearly with my God.

My God doesn’t make my life ‘easier’, he doesn’t seem to want to take away the constant daily battering my brain seems to think I deserve. My God is the one who dives off the cliff to offer me his breath to breathe in the violence of the waves. He is the one who gives me the strength to swim just a little longer, the one who gives me the hope of land.

My God is not the God of the happy pill. He is the God who came to earth and bled, who felt what I have felt but so so much more. Who had relationship with God but allowed himself to be abandoned so that I never would be.

On my way home from work today I was miserable, I feel like there has been one wave too many in the last few years. I had this image of being stuck at the bottom of a cliff, drowning but not dying, stuck in this place of breathlessness, and ‘I Will Exalt’ by Bethel Music came on.

Your presence is all I need
It’s all I want, all I seek
Without it, without it there’s no meaning
Your presence is the air I breath
The song I sing, the love I need
Without it, without it I’m not living

I will exalt You, Lord, I will exalt You, Lord
There is no one like You God
I will exalt You, Lord, I will exalt You, Lord
No other name be lifted high

There will be no one like You
And no one beside You
You alone are worthy of all praise
There will be no one like You
And no one beside You
You alone are worthy of all praise

I guess I will just gurgle this out until I start to feel the tide shift and I find my feet on land again.

It is a real challenge to end such a depressing post on a light note – and yet I feel I ought to. However, my brain is not in a joking mood so I will settle with stating the feelings expressed above are a manifestation of an illness I have. I am fortunate enough to be happily married, in a safe home, with wonderful friends and family. Many people struggle with these thoughts and much much worse and feel they cannot talk to anyone. If you recognise something from this within yourself or someone you know and don’t know where to turn to for help, there are many places but I would take a look at Mind and Soul for some good signposts and resources.

A question of success

Second blog in two days? Yup. There HAS to be something wrong. Or I have too many drafts sitting around and am finishing them off while I try to avoid other more pressing items on my task list…

Over the Easter period I have been thinking a lot about what it means to succeed. Over the past year I have gone from being full time down to working two days a week, due to the fact that it appears I cannot cope with more.

I am exhausted. There is little else I can say, and while my Dr and psychiatrist work together to work out if there is more to this than the mental health bit, I sit here thinking I don’t really know how to cope anymore with feeling so flat. Like a battery that half heartedly attempts to do it’s job then just gives up with a little whine. What I have been wondering though is what does all of this mean for me? Am I a failure because I cannot achieve great things in the world?

This led me to think about the nature of success, which in turn got me to thinking about what I see in the church around me. What do we know about success from the bible? What do we reward as success in those around us when at church?

I found that I don’t really know! I hear one thing yet often see another. It seems that in church, as with anywhere else, wealth, looks and outward confidence are rewarded with recognition, and not having these qualities is often portrayed as failure. I actually don’t think this is intentional. I think it is cultural conditioning. It is really not all that easy to go against the grain and really, not many are any good at it (in other words, don’t seek reward for their Christ like character and therefore defeating the point). When we come across those that are, we inevitably find we are in awe of them (and occasionally try to bring them down).

The bible teaches us again and again that obedience is success, with Easter being the prompt for this post, I shall use it as my example. What was it that made the story of Easter such a resounding success? It was that Christ did what he came to do. He didn’t compromise, he didn’t sway. He wasn’t bothered by what people thought of him, he cared what God thought.

He taught us to give in secret, to love those around us. He taught us to be salt. Salt, doesn’t stand out, alone, on the side. It doesn’t shine brightly. It becomes a part of it’s surroundings and brings about change by being and bringing something contagiously different.

I am writing this wondering how much I have stretched the idea of salt, but not really caring if it is too far. Light is the same. It transforms it’s surroundings by going into every part of them.

The way the world, and so often the church, rewards success is by bringing an individual out of their surroundings and putting them on a pedestal. Creating in an individual an ‘ideal’, and when this ‘ideal’ fails to meet with our ideal we often inform said individual that they have disappointed us.

The problem I have though, is how do we recognise the success the bible teaches us about? If we take a look at someone like the pope, who is seen to be doing something different – humble, modest and generous in the way he lives his life – do we not then end up putting him up on a pedestal anyway? Also, with this same example, he is already very public. Would we notice someone behaving in the same way if they were not the pope, if it was just an individual who lived the same lifestyle without the constant scrutiny of the worlds media?

I guess my biggest issue with pedestals is how far there is to fall. Inevitably if we raise people up, the moment they get it wrong we are devastated. Their failing demonstrates our ability to fail in the same way their success represented something we were capable of.

The bible tells me I am not a failure. I am a brilliant success of God’s own making. He designed me and I have a purpose. It may not be to work a full time week and become a genius at something, well known throughout the world for my vast brain, extraordinary wit and awe inspiring humility. This does not mean that I don’t have a purpose.

I would like to see a church that is inclusive regardless of our world vision failures. I want to see a church that recognises that each and every individual has a gift that is worth shouting about. Problem is, the church is as much of a world failure as me. It is made up of people who have as much baggage as me, who are as weak as me. So I imagine the church will always be putting people on pedestals. Just as much as it will always be working in the darkness to bring light.

The thing with silent success – and here I am talking about the God success, the biblical success, the individuals working away quietly to help and serve their community and be salt and light – is that it is everywhere, we just don’t hear about it.

A paleo beginning

 

20140430-225345.jpgI have not been very present on here recently. I have about 6 started blogs, some of which may see the light of day, but I have never really finished anything as my energy is mostly spent trying to find a way to cope.

See, things have been awesome – got married, living with my husband, nice flat, cool gifts etc etc and yet I have been more tired and run down over the past six months than I can remember being.

It’s not just the mental health stuff – although my psychiatrist is all over that, it is something else, which my psychiatrist is all over too, but I have had enough.

I am tired of being too tired to have any form of social life, of being too tired to work more than one day in a row. I am now down to a two day working week, which may sound wonderful – and I am not complaining it is great – but I seem to have no more time to do any of the things that I would have thought I could do, should I only work two days a week.

Why? Because I am so exhausted getting up each day hurts. Now I know, I just got married, big change tiredness expected. Also, depressed – tiredness expected. But this is different. It is more intense and more life debilitating than what I have known before.

So, while my psychiatrist and Dr work away at what is going on physically to top off my mental medley of needs, I am taking things into my own hands as far as I can.

This is my first adventure on the journey to greater health and energy. Perhaps I am in dreamland and it will not help, but I am going to go into it with all the gusto I can manage.

I have been inspired by the Whole Food Diary – a really fun and interesting food blog written, which I was introduced by my mentor, due to the fact her daughter writes it. This is an adventure into good food, that is healthy and good for the body, it is creative and interesting food that just looks too tasty on my instagram feed to ignore.

The paleo diet, from what I can tell (and I really am at the very beginning) is a diet that takes you back to the basics – hunting and gathering. Now, I am not going to go out hunting and gathering, but I am going to start to investigate what goes into my body. I think it could be interesting, and at the very least will give me a fun project in the making and at the best could even make me feel fitter and healthier. I am not really sure how much of this adventure I will share on this blog… but I thought I would share my first foray.

A foray that merely meant purchasing a book. I am yet to cook anything…..

Pressure, Expectation, Nehemiah

It has been a while since I last wrote. This was not for a lack of things to say, rather because working out how to say everything in my head was a task too great to muster. Also, because there are only so many times I can bear to repeat that same old tale of the ABCD.

The last couple of months have been particularly hard, and I have drawn myself away from God. This was not a deliberate move, it was more a ‘wedding to plan, furniture to paint, job to do, oh no I am sick‘ kind of business that just shunts him slightly into a place of constant, but silenced companion.

This has led to my being a hopeless friend – before some of you jump to correct me this is something I have felt. It has been a burden I have been carrying. I can’t really talk about it entirely in the past tense, as I still feel it now. However, there is more peace in the idea of putting it down.

I don’t say it for sympathy or praise or comfort. I say it because there is the burden of expectation. This is something I put on myself, of what a ‘friend’ should be. I feel, due to the fact I have been more absent, attempting life as a bit of a recluse, I am letting friends down. Not being available for them, being unaware of their need.

Recent weeks at church have been taking us through Nehemiah (legendary man – well worth more of a mention) and I was struck by the fact that he did not ever cave to the burden of expectation, or the pressure from others. He is a man so confident in God and in the task God has set before him that he goes about his business with an extraordinary strength.

I find my (real or percieved) social laziness, brings about a huge sense of pressure and expectation. I carry it, I cry about it, I wish I could be more how I think I should be. I certainly don’t really think to talk to God about it – I am frightfully busy after all.

Now Nehemiah’s task was not ‘being a good friend’ and in fact I don’t really think the desire to be a better friend and Nehemiah’s story are really comparable situations, as they are so different. What I have enjoyed though is the way he handles pressure and expectation.

The thing I really love about Nehemiah, is that so much of his strength comes from his confidence in God’s faithfulness. I don’t think God’s faithfulness, or anything of God comes into how I take on pressure. It often doesn’t occur to me as relevant. Nehemiah would send up one quick arrow prayer and then respond to those speaking. He didn’t ask God to give him detailed instructions for every step. He didn’t ask God to tell him how to do relationship. He studied God’s word, and he trusted in God to work through him.

For him God was at the centre.

It is so hard to remember to send up an arrow prayer when we are feeling under attack – whether perceived or real. It is often even harder to spend time with God when all is good and peaceful. However, reading Nehemiah, I find that he did not carry the weight of expectation. His enemies expected him to fail, his supporters expected him to succeed, or doubted he could just wished he would. This is the kind of pressure that would cripple most. Yet he didn’t stop. He waited when God said wait, then dived in with the knowledge that God would work and do his thing. There is no more to it.

There is a difference between what Nehemiah faced and my little problem of ‘I wish I was a better friend’ but he has inspired me none the less.

Finding time for God

I am too busy for my faith. It’s a controversial thing to say really, as I profess to be a committed and faithful Christian lady who loves God with her whole heart, and is grateful beyond words for Jesus and his saving death on the cross. However, I am too busy for my faith.

This does not mean it has gone anywhere, it means I am in a place where, quite frankly, I don’t have the energy to pray, read the bible, or talk to God. I am finding this current state of being exceptionally frustrating, mostly because the intensity of what I believe and the depth to which I believe it has not changed. I don’t doubt the existence of God, the fact that Jesus came to earth as man and died on the cross creating the opportunity for us to meet with God and have relationship with him. I believe it, I just don’t seem able to reach any sort of emotion about it.

It is a fantastical story, and Christmas has been a time of recognising just how huge the story is. However, despite the apparent absurdity of it I just can’t be bothered to give it the time it deserves. I can sit there and say that I miss it, but it doesn’t mean I do anything to change it. I am lazy.

The thing I doubt more than anything is myself. See the question is now in my head, how am I depressed? I know the story – it’s an illness, which means that it could happen to anyone. However, I have everything I want. I am happy and loved, and yet here I am, at the lowest I have felt in a very long time, with nothing seemingly able to shift it for over 2 months.

Am I just in dreamland? Creating some form illness in order to get away with being exceptionally lazy when it comes to coping?

I know the answer is no, but the longer this goes on with no improvement to my health despite my life getting better and better the more I feel like a fraud. This feeling has helped me to retreat. Church (this is any church, not a particular one) is where I feel the worst. I cannot sit still for the length of a service without getting anxious, so often I find a reason not to go. You feel slightly foolish if you are getting up and down 3 or 4 times in the length of time a toddler can sit still, and can’t help but feel people will be questioning your attentiveness, ability to listen and how committed you really are.

I have pulled back from a lot of my friends, not because I don’t want to see them, but because contact just seems like such an effort. How can you say ‘I can’t be bothered to call you’ without it offending? I am planning the wedding, and enjoying it mostly, and then going to work – and enjoying that. Then spending time with Mike and my family and that is all I can muster.

In the midst of all of this frustration, irritation, laziness and exhaustion I just don’t feel like going to God. What will he do? He will comfort me – he always does and I will come away feeling stronger, but no better. I am tired of being strong. I want to be weak or I want to be free and ‘better’ whatever that means.

I don’t really know what I want to say here. I don’t think I have a huge point to make. Other than the fact that in the midst of it all I know that there is hope to come. I don’t know what it will look like, or when it will come, but despite not talking to God, not spending time with him I know he is there. He is just sitting with me in silence.

20140106-141936.jpg I am looking forward to when I have the energy to find time for God, but in the meantime I will just get on with each day knowing he is with me and waiting patiently, with huge love as I plod on in frustrated depression. I do get the odd little glimmer of hope though. Whilst walking in the garden I came across this snow drop. I like flowers, they talk to me of a creative, imaginative and excited God, full of colour and delight. Seeing this just sitting amongst some very young grass in the middle of the winter, having survived the storms over Christmas spoke of hope to me. In the dark there is something that can bring the tiniest bit of light. Perhaps even enough to get you through a day.

Just being honest…..

Honesty and honour are a couple of words that I am a big fan of. I love honesty – I think the more honestly we live our lives, the better we get along. Honour is essential – if we act without honour to those around us we risk causing them pain, becoming known as untrustworthy and as someone who is dishonest.

So are they the same thing? I would say no. Much of the characteristics that are demonstrated when we are honest and honourable are very similar, however, as the title of this blog could suggest, they are easy to misuse.

What does it mean when someone says ‘I am just being honest’? In my experience it means that you are saying something that you know will upset someone, but want to say it anyway. It is a self justification for being unkind, or a way of getting away with saying something more aggressive than people will otherwise tolerate. Other phrases might spring to your mind, but another that has been pointed out to me is ‘with respect’, which translated means ‘I am about to disrespect you’. I suppose one could be greatful for the warning.

I am thinking about this at the moment because I have seen ‘I am just being honest’ used on more than one occasion on twitter and facebook over recent months (by more than one, read several). It has come, largely, from Christians and I feel that perhaps we need to reassess how we communicate if we feel the need to make such statements publicly.

Social media always has the potential to go further than perhaps we would like it to. It is a public forum where people can see what we are saying to each other. This requires that we are considered in what we post, not with the intention of hiding who we truly are, or of putting on a front, but because, if we want to live in such a way that glorifies God, then this has to encompass every area of our lives.

In 2 Corinthians 5:18 Paul says ‘God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation’, if we therefore have the ministry of reconciliation should we not watch what we say to ensure we do not cause conflict?

This does not mean losing all provocation from our social media interactions – Jesus himself was provocative. Questioning why we are being provocative though would be pretty helpful, is it for the benefit of the reader, or is it to prove a point? If our only goal is to prove that we are right, are we not perhaps causing a conflict where there does not need to be one?

Romans 15:1-6 talks about how we should behave towards each other,

‘We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. 2 Each of us should please our neighbours for their good, to build them up. 3 For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” 4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.’

The question is, how do we live out such teaching on social media? If we are writing things for the good of others, not to please ourselves, then perhaps sometimes in order to prevent ourselves getting into a place of public argument and statements of ‘I am just being honest’ and is something we feel really needs to be said, would it not be better placed in an email? A direct challenge to the individual who spoke, rather than publicly might have more of an effect.

On the occasion where we are saying something to challenge someone, or cause a justified provocation publicly there is cause to be considered. How do we phrase what we want to say? What is the target audience, and what is it that we are hoping our statements will achieve?

The thing about social media, is it is so easy to send a quick fire response. At this point we start digging a hole, that often we then start frantically trying to back track out of, hence the phrase – ‘I am just being honest’.

Accepting the point that we are redeemed by the death of Jesus on the cross, that we are sons and accepted for everything we are, that our sins are paid for and we cannot separate ourselves from God means that we can speak from that position of security. From that we can choose not to take offence, and we can choose to understand that everyone comes from their own experiences that have shaped their view of the world. Having the grace to think about this before responding, and deciding who we are trying to benefit in responding could help us all.

I must say, I do love a bit of theory and bible – however, putting it into practise is the slightly more challenging aim! My brilliant mentor mentioned the phrase – ‘every encounter needs to be redemptive’. Perhaps this is the line by which we judge what we write. I for one am going to give this a whirl. Correct me where I get it wrong…..

I have written this after conversations with various people including my wonderful mentors Charlie and Jenny, and the amazing Vicky’s. Just for the sake of giving credit where credit is due and all….