Archive for the ‘A little about me’ Category

new year new me

Some thoughts from John 1 and Isaiah 59.

Have you made any new year’s resolutions yet? A few years ago, I decided to be a little ambitious and made 21. Including to eat more vegetables and to read lots of books so I could sound clever, and finally, to be less ambitious. A few stuck – one was to take a picture everyday which I kept up until at least June. But mostly they all fell by the wayside, because actually, 1st January is just another date in the diary, there is nothing special and nothing magical about it. And as Christians filled with the Holy Spirit, we already have all we need.

Look – the one who takes away the sin of the world

Firstly, John is baptising great crowds on the banks of the river Jordan. He’s a bit of a maverick figure, and the religious leaders have already sent envoys out to find out what he is doing and why. He spots Jesus he very next day and says – “Look, this is it – this is the man I meant!”. He points to Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

This is quite interesting, because at this point Jesus hasn’t done any ministry and no one has really heard any of his teaching. And it’s still early days so there is no hint of the coming crucifixion which will take place at the same time as the Passover slaughtering of lambs. John is being prophetic about Jesus and stating an important truth – Jesus is the Lamb of God.

But what does this even mean? The Passover lambs were the ones who died and their blood was spread on the lintels of the houses, so that the Angel of Death passed over and the Israelite slaves did not have their first born sons killed. The lambs quite literally died so that the people didn’t have to. It is also playing with the imagery of God as shepherd and the people of Israel as sheep – but they were the sheep who wandered away.  And throughout the Old Testament, the sacrificial system worked around people bringing animals to sacrifice as they came to worship – mostly lambs unless you couldn’t afford it. The lambs had to be perfect and spotless, and they symbolised taking away the sins of the people. Jesus has come as the perfect lamb, the one who is at the same time God and human, and he alone can take away the sins of the whole world.

Everyone knew that something else was going to happen – that the Old Testament sacrifice system was only a symbol of cleansing because, quite simply, a lamb was never going to be completely perfect. So John points to Jesus as the real life person, not the symbol. Through Jesus we can all know forgiveness and be made new.

It’s through the power of the Holy Spirit that John can see who Jesus is. In fact, he says that the whole reason that John came to baptise people was so that Jesus can be revealed to the world. He came to help people looking for forgiveness, he came to point to the real deal, to the one who can make all things new. It would have been so easy for John to have pointed to his own powerful ministry that was bringing about huge change – so much so that it even had those religious leaders worried about what was happening!

When we share our faith with others, or even just as we talk to others, how eager are we to point to what God is doing in our lives? How much do we prefer to talk about ourselves and to make things all about us?

When we do that, we are, quite simply, just missing the point. We owe everything to Jesus – and he deserves all our praise and worship. It’s not about us! My first resolution for next year is to not have everything all about me – to make my life point to the one who came before me, and who has so greatly surpassed me!

Water vs Spirit

There’s quite a big difference between John and Jesus – John is all about water, about cleansing, about repentance. In fact, Christians today baptise with water – it’s a powerful symbol of us rising from death to life, dying to our old selves and becoming new creations. But that’s where it ends – it’s a symbol. Jesus here is described as baptised in the Spirit – the Spirit has come down from heaven in the form of a dove and remained on him. It’s interesting that a dove is one of the animals which could be sacrificed if you couldn’t afford a lamb, and so represents purity, lowliness and humility. John’s baptism was something any of us can do – but Jesus’ baptism was different and special.

Being baptised in the Holy spirit is something some Christians debate the exact meaning of today – for some there is a definite tangible moment when the gifts of the spirit are poured out, but this doesn’t seem to be what this passage is talking about at all. In fact, this passage links the Spirit to Jesus in a way that suggests once you know Jesus you also can be baptised in the Holy Spirit. And that the Holy Spirit is God with us.

Ultimately, water baptism, the one I imagine we’ve all had, is a symbol. It might be a special day, it might be a special moment, but it is just a marker that we have decided to turn to Jesus. But an encounter with the Holy Spirit is something which will change our lives forever. It doesn’t have to be weird and wacky, but it will be what softens us and makes all things possible in and through us. Knowing God’s Holy Spirit at work in our lives is the difference between trying to keep our new year’s resolutions by ourselves, and having the creator of the universe working inside of us to make all things new and make us into a better person. It may or may not involve eating more vegetables, but it will help us to be the people we are called to be – the way that God created us to be. The Holy Spirit allows us to fulfil our potential as people.

So my second New year’s resolution is to allow God to work inside of me. Again, to not be hugely ambitious, but to allow the Holy Spirit to work, to make me into the person God has made me to be 

Always and forever

It’s easy to get caught up in the moment of making resolutions and then land back to earth again with a bump. It’s equally easy to forget God’s goodness in our lives that goes on and on and on – and then we end up faltering at the first hurdle. John tells us that the Spirit came down to Jesus and remained upon him. And Isaiah mentioned in the first reading we had that “My Spirit, who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants from this time on and forever”. The Spirit has come – and he’s not going anywhere. We’re not abandoned or alone. And there is nothing we can do to stop the fact that the Spirit is poured out into the world.

It might be that not everyone is living by the power of the Holy Spirit – especially those who do not recognise Jesus for who he really is as the Lamb of God and why that might be so significant for them. But it is like a floodgate that has been opened that keeps on flowing through. There’s no going back. We’re in this for good, for the long haul. Sometimes it might even feel like the days of the Spirit working in power in our lives and even in our church are long behind us. But this promise holds firm – the glory days are still here and still ahead of us – because God’s spirit is remaining with us – he will not depart from our mouths forever.

My third resolution is going to be to try to remember this. Even when it feels like I’m on my own in the world battling against sin, the world and the devil, I’m going to try to remember that that isn’t true. That I have the God of the universe fighting alongside me. That those who are with us are so much greater that those who are against. And that the Spirit is here for good. Always and forever.

So those are the resolutions I’m planning to live by in the next year. Feel free to ask in July how I’m doing! I may decide eating more vegetables is a good idea, but somehow, I’m not sure that will change anything in my life. Firstly, everything isn’t about me – I want my life to point to Jesus, secondly to allow God to work inside of me with the Holy Spirit, making me the person he designed all along, and thirdly, not to get despondent but to remember that this is a promise forever. That God’s spirit is here, and is here forever. And I want to invite you to join me in this.

Over the summer, some big news hit the Christian world. Vicky Beeching announced that she is gay. She is a broadcaster, commentator, singer-songwriter who spent many years living and working in the US, and her music is sung all over. Shock waves reverberated all over Twitter and the trolls came out for breakfast.

The first comment I want to make is that in no way am I anti-gay. I believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and that it is only in that context that sex should take place but I believe that God loves everyone gay, straight and all variations in between. And for those who have missed the mark there, there can be complete forgiveness, because God loves us and wipes the slate clean. Cleaner than Daz.

But at the same time, when I heard the news, something inside me was really disappointed. Disappointed because Vicky is a good looking young woman who had as yet remained unmarried. Disappointed, because someone else in a similar situation had been outed “accidentally” on TV by a careless interviewer. Because these two had been some sort of proof that normal people didn’t have to marry young.

Because, as I’ve been getting older, gradually, the single friends have been getting fewer. Now it seems that everyone has somewhere to go, someone else to share with, and a new set of concerns and cares. Families are started, new lives begin.

And when you’re in that situation, it becomes easy to question whether there is something wrong. Whether there is a reason that no eligible bachelor has shown up in my life and whether that means that I’m just not particularly fanciable, or lovable, or even especially likeable. Or whether people might be looking at me, asking the question, “is she gay?”

But I had been at peace with my own singleness. People in my church are keen to match me with someone, seeing it as a waste that I am not married. I had rejected that, and tried to model attractive singleness. That I don’t need to be paired with someone else to be a complete human. That life has not passed me by simply because I don’t have kids by the time I’m 30.

It seems that gradually just as one by one friends have started to meet the love of the life, those role models for being single and living and enjoying life have also gradually started to be picked off, one by one. It feels as if I might be soon the only one left.

I refuse to believe that it is only through relationship with other humans that we are made complete – actually, it is only through being in relationship with God that we can be whole and healed and free. I dream of the day when I might have a husband and a family, but I know then that life will never be perfect and I’ll probably want the single dream after the 4am sick episodes and the smelly nappies and the unwashed socks.

Right now, I can go where I like when I like (as long as my job allows). I can stay up late or go to bed early and it is only me who has to deal with it. I can even use all the hot water. It is great being single. And it is also fairly normal – we no longer live in the world where unmarried women of twenty would be declared spinsters. But we need not to be a church which rejects those who are single and tells them that they are incomplete or unfulfilled. We need not to concentrate on families at the expense of single people.

Together, we can be God’s family on earth. Young and old, single, married, male, female, and everyone. Sexual relationships are not the be all and end all of life, even if they can be rather nice. And most of all, my identity is that of a child of God, not in my gender, sexual orientation or my marital status.hearts

I have a patchwork quilt I made a couple of years ago. A patchwork quilt is supposed to tell a story. It is supposed to be made of all the special and beautiful and significant fabric that you can find. They are supposed to be carefully and exquisitely designed. Some families have passed quilts down for centuries. Some are made with baby dresses or bits from other blankets. Mine wasn’t.

In some places, prisoners have made patchwork quilts as something to do, and something to teach them the art of sewing. There is a link between captivity and creativity. And those quilts began to restore those prisoners into human beings with purpose and imagination. They now had something to do with the hours of solitude that their confinement gave them. Those quilts also told a story.

Now, I’m not so sure about mine. I used odd bits of fabric that I had, some I bought especially. But I didn’t really believe that I could do it. I wasn’t sure I really wanted to invest lots of money into a project I wasn’t sure I could finish. I didn’t really have lots of money anyway.

Somehow though, that quilt charts a difficult story in my own life. It charts the time  of rejection by my mother (and loss of sewing machine, so needed to be finished by hand). It charts the subsequent year and descent into depression and the dark places. It charts God meeting me there at the bottom of the pit and gradually showing his light into the hole and bringing me to the surface gradually and surely. It charts eventual reconciliation and restoration of a broken relationship, even if it will never be completely perfect. And it looks good on my bed and keeps me warm.

It may not be the finest fabric or a complex design, but my quilt does its job. It tells a story. It reminds me that even when I feel like a prisoner in the darkest place there is hope and creativity and imagination possible. It shows me that I can do it – maybe it isn’t perfect but I made a quilt of my own, and that is a great place to start.

Finally, it demonstrates that even in the darkest places, even at our most hopeless, we still have a story to tell. We still matter. We are made in the image of God, and so we are born to create, elegant or exquisite things or not. And even in the darkest places, we can still believe and trust in the God of hope.

There are times when I feel a little lost. I look back and wonder how on earth I have come to be in that particular place, at that particular time. How on earth did I end up holding this particular responsibility? Did I really say that I love doing x?

It does has its benefits. It means I can be a bit more vague when it comes to making decisions. If I’m not sure who I am it means that I don’t have a set standard of ethics to frame my choices. It means that I can sit back and let others do the hard work and be responsible. It means that I can love my green trousers one day and hate them the next.

Sometimes this can be classed as growth. The idea that you can look back with the benefit of hindsight and ask yourself “really?” Changing is not a bad thing. Especially when it is being transformed into the image of Christ.

But Christians talk a lot about identity. As forgiven people, we find our identity in Christ. We are no longer characterised by sin or the things we have done, but rather by what Jesus has done for us. We are new people. Such good news.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Brilliant. This means that I don’t have to worry about the old labels I had for myself. Self-harmer. Crazy person. Loner.

So why do I? Why did I tell someone yesterday that I considered myself to be mentally unstable at times? Or, even worse, why did I worry that they thought that I was? Do I still see myself as a self-harmer, or someone redeemed by grace?

I wonder whether these labels are easier to handle than facing up to the reality. The reality that I have become a new person, and that I do have choices to make about how to live my life, because that is what grown up people do. I think decisions are difficult sometimes.

There is also the fact that, by considering myself to be a self-harmer, it means that I am allowing myself the possibility of relapse. If I really felt I needed to. Maybe. When desperate. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Again, there are positive aspects to this. It means that I am more likely to seek the help I need from friends and others. It means that I am constantly relying on God for my strength not to cut myself. And it means that I don’t take my recovery for granted.

But to what extent will I be able to recover fully if I stay like this? Does it mean that I am defined by the bad things and the relapses rather than the redemption of the Cross and God’s love for me? How do I think God sees me?

Important questions from a slightly panicked heart.

I choose Christ. I choose to be defined by Him and not by a pair of scissors.

The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.’  (Zephaniah 3:17)

And this is so true.

 

Shame

Posted: April 2, 2013 in A little about me, Hope
Tags: , , , , , ,

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Sometimes, I want to hide everything. I worry so much about what people will think of me when they find out what I’ve done to myself. People either don’t understand at all or, even worse, want to help. “why don’t you just think happy thoughts?” Or they think it is something they have said or done – and often it is.

I think though, that that is only part of the story. I think there is part of me that has been ashamed of what I’ve done. How much I’ve worried people. How something that just seems so wrong can make me feel better.

So I worry about telling people who I really am. I think about the label “self-harmer” that I’m happy to employ myself but I don’t want others to use. I don’t want people to know about the battles that rage inside of me.

But actually, this is so wrong. Because there is nothing that I haven’t already brought to the cross of Christ. God made me to be the person I am warts, thunder thighs, self-harm and all. That doesn’t mean he is happy for me to hurt myself, or not to be the person he has made me to be and all that. But it does mean I can be free of shame.

And also, there is nothing that I have ever done or will ever do that is so bad that it can’t be dealt with by Christ on the cross. And the same goes for everyone. Yes, I have to turn to Christ. But I do because he is the only one who can help.

The Gospel shines its light into even the darkest places. And that means I have nothing to be ashamed of.

One question I puzzle over a lot is whether everything in my life matches up. A few years ago, I auditioned for music colleges all around the country. One liked my playing enough to offer me a scholarship. The next day, I went to practice, and I was suddenly racked with fear. What if they discover that I can’t really play my scales? That I don’t really play as well as they think I do?

Scales apart, it does seem important that people know the real you. That you don’t change in personality or in actions or in morals when you are with different people. That what you say and what you do matches, and especially with what you believe.

Now, is is something I find very hard to do. I’m very good at hiding. I’m totally pants at asking for help, and even sometimes turn it down when it is offered. do you want to borrow my hairdryer? Are you sure? Really? (True story. I gave in in the end and borrowed it. But only after about 5 mins of the above.)

The time I spent on anti-depressants gave me something I could relatively easily tell people was wrong. Yes, I’m feeling a bit low at the moment, and I’m taking some pills to help that. But no. Hardly anyone knew. Hardly anyone knows that when I do get low, something bad might happen and I might go back down into that place of darkness, where the sun sure doesn’t shine.

On the contrary, on the outside, things look fine. Work happens, shallow friendships are made (with a few deeper ones as well), it is easy to be Little Miss Perfect. But it always seems that there is so much at stake.

I pray that my words might match my actions. I pray that my actions might match what I believe about Jesus, who lived among us as a vulnerable person, who came to serve and die for us. Who was perfect, but also human. That his power is made perfect in our weakness.

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About a week ago, I decided to go for a run. It was a bit on the windy side, but a good battle, until I was on the home straight, and suddenly, the ground was no longer beneath me. I fell over a stone. It hurt. A lot.

A semi-helpful passer-by who was out with his family on a walk, stuck out his hand to help me up, said “You’ve probably twisted your ankle” then walked off. It still hurt. In fact, I was so breathless that I couldn’t really say the ground felt like the most comfortable place at the time or even ask him if he could help some more.

So I hobbled home before I got cold, and hoped that the wind would hide the tears of pain. As my ankle swelled up, it became obvious that I would be condemned to lots of sofa time in the next few days and all my wonderful plans to travel the country and do lots of work would completely fail. And I’m not a very good patient.

By the weekend, it was obviously not improving as fast as it should, and so I decided it might be a plan to have it checked over properly, and got a lift with my Dad to the local treatment centre, where after about an hour, I was heading back home with some painkillers and some slightly conflicting and confusing advice. Although it was a minor injury, it was no big deal (ok, so no sympathy there then), I should sit with it up but still do minor exercise and even run if I wanted to, in fact I should (er? really?) and there was absolutely no committal about whether I should drive or not.

Understandably, I was a bit hacked off. I mean, really? I had gone wanting a set of answers as to how long I had to mope about the house for and came out with nothing.

And I said as much to my Dad. He pointed out though, that part of the reason I had gone was to check it wasn’t broken and get advice on treatment. Which I got. And some painkillers to boot. Was I really just complaining because they didn’t make enough fuss about it?

And the short answer is yes. Not everything is about me. The overworked nurses were doing their best and dealing with crap along the way. And I have had a lot of sympathy and allowances made elsewhere. So I think one of my prayers for the new year will be for some proper humility. Of the godly, and patient sort, that puts me in right relation to my Creator and to the rest of the world. And that stops me getting stroppy because people don’t do exactly what I want them to do. Hmmm.