In the beginning…

Recently, Isaac and I have been reading through the Bible he was given at his baptism. Isaac has a very real faith, so mummy decided it was time we started to look a little more at some of the great stories and events of the faith. And what an interesting idea that was…

We start with creation. Happily looking at the beautiful pictures of the Garden of Eden, discussing about how God made everything and it was good. So far, no problem. Then we got to the whole Adam and Eve shambles.

‘But mummy, if God made everything, why did he make that nasty snake?’

Holy hand grenades, start with the easy questions there kid! And so it’s gone on. Noah’s Ark. Moses and the plagues. Jacob and his delightfully fratricidal offspring. Joshua and the Caananites. Story after story after story that, frankly, makes God look like a bit of an arse. Today was Moses, and looking at my stunning, beautiful 4 year old and trying to work out how a loving God could allow the wholesale murder of innocent children nearly tore my heart in two.

I’m finding it really hard going. Yes, I know Jesus is coming, but let’s be honest, it’s still pretty grim reading, this whole Christianity thing, isn’t it? We go from there to Paul and his ideas on women, homosexuality, and various other topics, to the history of a church that historically hasn’t exactly been sweetness and light. From the crusades to the sexual abuse, from burning people who disagree with us to silence at all the wrong moments, we’ve ballsed it all up pretty mightily.

And yet. Actually in some ways I find that reassuring. Because somehow, despite screwing it up completely, the church survives. And it survives with a message of triumphant love and freedom that the world simply can’t offer. An impossible faith for an impossible species, called to partner with God not because of our own great worth but because of His great mercy.

As I read these stories, sometimes I get really angry. And I think that’s ok. Blind passivity in faith is never a good thing, and it’s right to question. It’s right to rage against unfairness and oppression. But I also feel just a tiny bit hopeful. Because I read the story of a people broken and unloveable, and yet somehow, hope still triumphs. The church militant still limps on. The candle never goes out completely. Easter is always on the way. Aslan is on the move, no matter how hard we try and keep winter going. Death never wins, despite how inevitable it seems.

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Impossible questions…

Why didn’t you intervene?

Will it be ok?

Why does a church following the path of the most loving person to walk the earth seem to spew so much hatred sometimes?

You created love, right? So how can it be suddenly evil if that love is between two people of the same sex?

Seriously, cancer. Why?

Ditto miscarriage. I thought you were supposed to care about all life.

Also, why the wasp? What possible purpose is that for?

Some of the many questions that fill my brain. Don’t try and give me the answers, I’ve heard all of them…some good and some frankly crap. But even the best answer is only really a guess.

Impossible questions.

An impossible God.

So why bother?

Because of the impossible. Because God with us, God made flesh, God in our weak human form, is impossible. It’s not normal. It’s not how the story goes.

And then that same God, brutally murdered, the Creator at the hands of the created. Dying. And then rising. Because all that stuff that weighs us down doesn’t weigh him down. It’s not impossible for Him.

Maybe we try too much to answer the impossible. It’s good to explore faith, but it’s good to acknowledge when there just aren’t answers, and the whole damned house of cards is about to come toppling down.

Because that’s maybe when we realise the amazing truth. God with us. He gets it. And though we don’t see it now, one day he will be the ultimate glorious answer to all our questions.

Come, Lord Jesus.

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Dear Ian…

So today finally saw the release of figures of those who have died on benefits in recent years. I am, to be honest, struggling to process this entire mess, but here’s my attempt.

Dear Ian,

Not your finest day at the office? I can’t imagine it’s been much fun.

I’d like to have sympathy, but to be honest, I really can’t find any. I can, however, find an awful lot of sympathy for some of your victims. Strong word?

Imagining living with crippling anxiety and depression. You’d like to be able to work, but merely getting out of bed is difficult. You struggle to get out of the house, because every time you do you feel so anxious you think you’re going to die. And in order to try and protect the tiny amount of money you have to live on, you have to face an assessment by someone utterly unqualified in your condition, who reads off a pre determined question sheet which doesn’t even begin to be relevant to your situation.

And suddenly, though you always thought you’d rather die than step outside, the choice becomes a reality. Because you’re found ‘fit for work’, and your benefits stop.

Hyperbole? I wish. Just one of the situations faced by thousands of people under the benefit regime you authored and are, apparently, ‘proud’ of.

Now, I do realise that the statistics are not definitive. I’m not a statistician and I don’t have enough fingers and toes for most sums . I would however posit that if 2000 plus people die after being declared fit for work, something, somewhere, suggests that at least some of them may have been a little less than fit.

Here’s the problem. I’m sure your figures, of less people claiming benefits, do make you proud. But these aren’t figures. They’re people. Mum’s and dads and grandparents and brothers and sisters and partners. People being desperately let down by a system that’s designed to protect them.

I’m sure we do need to budget as a country, but budgeting by killing off the vulnerable feels just a trifle dystopian. It’s quite possible to make your statistics look great but still be completely and utterly wrong. Hitler was pretty proud of the figures he had after the Shoah, but that doesn’t mean that mass murder is ideal.

I’m aware that I’m angry about this, and maybe my comparisons are overblown. But my anger isn’t. How dare we, as a society, reduce people to numbers and figures and statistics? These are people, Mr Duncan Smith, the people your government promised to protect.

It’s too late for some of these people, but maybe it’s not too late for you. I’m begging you. Spend time with people, listen to their stories. Understand their hopes, dreams, and present reality before assuming that you have the only fool proof plan. Begin to see people as people. Because unless you do, I fear for our country.

Yours,
One very sad citizen.

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We need to talk..

I’ve struggled with depression since I was about 15, although it was officially diagnosed at 18. I’m 31, so that’s pretty much half my life. These days, a combination of friends, hugs, prayer and chocolate gets me through the worst, but there’s been times when that hasn’t been the case. 10 years ago I made several attempts at suicide in the space of about three months, and I’m very aware of how the story could have gone.

One of the main reasons it didn’t? At 20, depressed, suicidal, but desperate to get out of the house and away from the concerned eyes of my parents, I rejoined guiding. And there I met Luisa, who convinced me that there was so much more to life than I could imagine at the time. And with her support, I opened up to a few more people. And they didn’t think I was a freak, but loved and valued me for who I was, until I finally began to see a little bit of what they saw. And ever since, I’ve loved being part of an organization dedicated to empowering girls and young women, which still supports every member, regardless of any challenges they might face. It’s an honour to give back some of what I was given, which to me was truly life saving.

Which is why Girlguiding’s recent Girl’s Attitude survey is so appropriate. For an organisation dedicated to supporting girls and young women to be the best they can be, who better to talk about that tough subject, mental health?

The results are startling. From nearly half of those surveyed between 17 and 21 having received personal help for their mental health, to self harm being the chief health concern for young women, the survey shows a generation of girls and young women who are struggling. Why? Pressure of looks, exams, attitudes, hormones, peers…all sorts of things adding up to make life as a teenager overwhelming. And yet very few of those surveyed feel able to talk to adults about it.

We can do better than that. I’m here today because someone took the time to listen. To accept me for who I am, and not to solve me as a problem but support me as a friend. I’m so blessed. But whilst we continue to treat these issues as taboo, as somehow shameworthy, we create a broken generation with no hope of repair.

What’s the answer? I don’t know. But I do know we need to open the conversation. To kill the stigma. To make mental health acceptable. To ask the tough questions. To make a space where it’s safe to be real, to be honest, to be human.

I’m scared for our young people. I’m scared because in these answers I can see myself, and I don’t want that for anyone else. And I wish I had all the answers, and I don’t. But I’m glad Girlguiding are asking the questions. That’s got to be quite good start.

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Idols…

Today saw a mighty miracle, at least in the life of a church-going mum with an active 4 year old.  Are you ready for this?  I actually got to listen to an entire sermon!  And given that two of the three readings came from Joshua and John, my two favorite books in the Bible, I was pretty glad it was this sermon in particular.

Jill was talking about the Joshua reading – where Joshua tells the assembled Israelites to choose between worshipping the idiols of their ancestors, or worshipping Adonai, the God of Israel.  They respond that they will worship Adonai, because of all He has done for them.  She was saying that these days, we’re unlikely to have to choose between worshipping physical idols and God, but that we often have idols which get in the way of our focus on God.  And as she spoke, it pretty much hit me like a hammer.  I know exactly what my biggest idol is.

It’s no secret that pregnancy has been an issue for us in the last year and a bit.  Two miscarriages in a fairly short period was pretty gutting, and the reality is that although another baby is possible, it isn’t likely to happen any time soon.  I don’t know why I find this quite so hard – I guess it’s partially because pregnancy seems to strike at the very core of being a woman, and when my body can’t do it, or do it well at least, somehow it feels as if it’s me that’s failing.  I guess the other part is that I’ve always dreamed of a bigger family, and it hurts to realise it’s less likely.

The problem is that it can become my focus.  When I get stuck in those patterns of “I’m such a failure”, or I allow the desires of my heart to become more important than my relationship with God – it’s an idol.  The hard part is that it’s so easy not to realise that’s what’s happening  – after all, why wouldn’t God want us to have another?  But when that becomes a key point of my faith, and my faith is dipping every month, I’m not thinking about the incredible blessings and grace God has and continues to lavish on me, but what I haven’t got, and that becomes the highest thing in my life.

We’ve all got them, I suspect.  Those idols that can distract us from God.  For me, it’s that temptation to find my fulfillment in the size of my family, rather than the size of God’s incredible love for me.  And the worst part of it for me is that I’m not always sure that I want God to be the highest focus.  I pray prayers like “I love you…but”.  Or, “I’ll do this –if”.  Hardly faith filled!

The good news, for me and for anyone else who struggles like this, with an idol that needs to be smashed, but where your deepest fear is that if you smash it, you smash some part of you – is that God s a God of forever tries.  He can make my tiniest, messiest offering, and make it into something great.  So when I come to Him and I pray “I want to want you most.  But it hurts!  Please give me strength?”, He can take my reluctantly proffered loaves and fishes and multiply them until I’m gasping in awe at His magnificence.

I have idols, and they need smashing.  And I fear that surrendering it all to God – taking my pain and my hearts desires to God and leaving them there with Him is going to be an ongoing and painful process.  I do believe though, that He’ll be there with me.

It – whatever it is for you – and for me – and for everyone – it’s going to be beautiful.

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Mummy guilt

Today was the birthday party of one of Isaac’s best friends.  We got there, and he was having a whale of a time.  Until I had to leave for work, when he burst into tears, and I had to leave him crying
 
I left him for the right reasons.  He was with people he loved, and I knew that he would be playing 5 minutes, if that, after I left.  Had I taken him home, he’d have been in a worse state.  I had to get to work and I knew if all else failed, the daddy cavalry could get to him in about 2 minutes.  I know all of that in my head, but in my heart?  Full on Mummy Guilt.

And I bet I’m not the only one who gets it.  Breastfeed?  Guilty for wanting your body back.  Formula feed?  Guilty for not breastfeeding.  Working?  Guilty for leaving little one.  Stay at home mum?  Guilty for not working.  Store prepared food? Guilty for not cooking.  Home cooked from scratch?  Guilty for feeling tired of it. 1 child?  Guilty that your child doesn’t have siblings to play with.  More than one?  Guilty that they don’t have enough attention.

Whatever it is, whatever the choice is, guilt.  Guilt guilt guilt.  Because none of us are capable of being Supermum, and it hurts.  We want to parent brilliantly, sensitively and imaginitively, all the while looking calm and composed with nary a hair out of place.  And sometimes – in my case, more often than not – it just ain’t happening.

Am I a bad mum?  Intellectually, my answer to that is no.  I’m merely a mum, like the vast majority of other parents.  Some days it seems to come naturally.  We dance, read, cook, take trips out, make stuff.  I’m on fire, and Isaac’s loving it.  Other days, I feel like crap, and all I want to do is to sit on the sofa and eat chocolate. And actually, if I were to take a survey, I suspect most parents are very similar.

The thing is that I am not and never will be perfect.  No one is, outside of Christ.  And no-one expects me to be either – the only person in the world who expects it of me is myself.  God, the one who made me and knows me and my capabilities intimately, doesn’t expect me to be perfect.  So why do I expect it of myself?  And what do I do with the guilt when it does come?
 
I guess I have choices here.  I can choose to wallow in it, to tell myself again and again what a bad parent I am, and to strive even harder for perfection.  More pain, more gain, right?  If I only try harder, I’ll get it right.  The danger with that is that I end up in an ever more depressing spiral, constantly beating myself up for mistakes, and missing out on all the grace filled joy of parenting my beautiful little man.

Or I can choose to believe, despite the way I feel, that the promises in the Bible about God’s grace and God’s love apply just as much to me as they do to everybody else.  And that means that I need to take Perfect Mummy and shove her off the nearest available building.  She’s a myth – she simply doesn’t exist.  The truth is that I am human, and I will make mistakes.  I will let people down, and I will even occasionally put the television on to babysit whilst I grab a loo break alone.  It’s ok to be human. Because I can’t be perfect, but I’m covered by the One who is.

God doesn’t call me to be perfect.  He calls me to be me.  So when I make mistakes, I need to own them and make them right.  But after that?  After that I can walk free.  Free in the knowledge that I’m not Super Mummy, and I don’t have to be.  Isaac doesn’t need me perfect.  He needs me as me, making mistakes and modelling forgiveness – not just to him, but receiving it too, and healthily dealing with the guilts. Because actually, I can’t get it all right. And, with God, I really don’t have to.

Super Mummy needs to die so real mummy can live free.  Much healthier for me and my family.  Rock on, real ones. You’re beautiful.

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It wasn’t meant to be like this…

You had plans. All the plans. To change the world, to get that job, to marry that man.

To be happy.

And then life happened. You got that diagnosis, and now all those plans lie in ashes in the furnace of the local oncology unit.

You thought she was the one, but it turned out so badly. She had issues you could barely dream of, and you thought you could love her out of them, but now both your lives are destroyed and it’s hard to see the light anymore.

You thought you’d put the past behind you, and then one comment, one sermon, one moment, and it all came rushing back, and you wonder now if you’ll ever be free.

It was never meant to be like this.

And you look back at those plans you made in an earlier, easier life, and you wondered how you could possibly be so naive. Back then, you wanted to change the world, and now, changing the sheets just seems like too much work. You’re tired and grieving, and the only light looks like just one more train to knock you over and run you down, until in your heart you begin to wonder if death is easier after all.

It was never meant to be like this.

He was meant to be the king, the promised one, the Messiah. They’d followed him for three years, sharing in his life, and the faint glimmer had blown into a full blown fire of hope that now, now at last, they’d be free. Now the Romans would be trampled and the way of liberation would be open.

And there he was, hanging on a tree. The death of a common criminal. And as he died slowly, over those three agonising hours, their hopes and dreams died too.

We know the end of the story. Easter is coming. But sometimes it seems so bloody far away, and Good Friday seems endless.

Emmanuel. God with us. Not God making it better. Not God smoothing the path and making the way straight and raining down skittles from heaven.

God with us. In the muck and the crap and the rubbish of everyday living. In the brutality and the drudgery and the hopelessness and despair.

And it doesn’t make it better. It rely doesn’t. Life is still shit sometimes. People die. People betray us. And dreams die.

But there is one that won’t ever die. The dream of being known, loved, cherished. Of not being alone.

Emmanuel.

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