Beautiful Things

I rugged myself up with an embarrassing amount of layers to sit outside on the deck for some air and a wee pray this afternoon. It was a brisk 7 degrees (Celsius – don’t worry my Fahrenheit friends, I’m not that hardcore), and as I sat there looking at the sky and the trees, and breathed in the gloriously fresh air, an old Gungor song that I used to love came to mind. I started singing quietly:

You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of us

Then I found the song online, and as I listened, tears sprung to my eyes as I felt an overwhelming surge of hope.

This time in humanity could be called many things – stressful, political, fraught, volatile, wearying…but I reckon ‘dust’ does a pretty good job of describing how things feel right about now. Like so many things have blown up and burnt down, and we’re sitting exhausted in the ashes, just waiting to see what else is going to catch fire.

And even in my own life, there’s definitely what could be summed-up as a dusty vibe going on (and that’s not just referring to the situation happening in the master bathroom). I find myself in a ‘what next’, survival frame of mind, on the defensive against the ‘rona, and the conspiracy theorists, and emails that let me know that my kiddo’s gotta quarantine from preschool, thereby stealing the few precious hours I had to work in peace this week.

And for many of you, it’s even worse. It’s family members who no longer feel able communicate in a civil manner with each other, it’s church families split down the centre, it’s marriages and families pushed to the edge with the added stress of loss of income or childcare.

And then there’s the weight of global warming, natural disasters, food shortage in poorer nations, and on and on it goes. It gets so heavy, and it’s so easy to find myself in a downward spiral of thinking that nothing’s ever going to get better.

But if I believe in redemption – which I really do, it’s my favourite word of all time – there is so much hope. Not that everything will turn out the way that I hoped and planned, but that out of this very dusty, very broken, very barren and wasted place, the Redeemer has plans to create a masterpiece.

The messy state of the world right now is not overwhelming or too much for Jesus (although heart-breaking, I’m sure) – He’s in amongst it all, like a faithful gardener, planting exquisitely beautiful seeds in the fertiliser made from our broken dreams.

You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of the dust.
You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of us.

Love you friends,
Deb xx

A Battle Weary Soldier

There’s something about the past several years that has caused a callus to form around my heart; I miss the me that was more trusting, less cynical, and softer. I miss the me that expected the best from strangers, and was surprised at, rather than resigned to rudeness or aggression.

In the naivety of my youth, I carried in my heart such hope. My rose-tinted view of the future gave me something to look forward to, even in the gloomiest of seasons. I was going to marry a MOG (man-of-God – insert eye-roll here), become a minor, or dare I hope, major, Christian celebrity, travel regularly, and have a general air of importance.

In reality, I married a very good man, had two really schnoopsie, but delightful kiddos, and ended up getting a counselling degree and writing for a self-awareness app – a profoundly fulfilling job. But somewhere in the midst of this existence, which I may add is genuinely better than anything I could have dreamed up for myself, the reality of life has seeped in.

The kind of reality that is so often ignored in Pentecostalism, where the message presented seems to suggest that if you just plug your ears and hum a worship song loudly, the pain of life will eventually disappear.

The kind of reality that comes home to roost when your husband gets impaled when you’re seven weeks pregnant. Or when you watch a beloved family member struggle with debilitating mental illness for years and years and years on end. Or when you finally fall pregnant after several miscarriages only to get a beautiful baby boy, but with a side of chronic migraine that doesn’t go away. That kind of reality.

And added to this, along with general pandemic related stressors, I have felt a genuine angst about people of faith throughout this season. There was a time when I would assume that Sister Mildred, who always sits in the third row, believed pretty much the same things that I did regarding the outworking of faith and the Kingdom of God. But if this virus has highlighted anything to me, it’s that there is a massive disparity in the way that I understand what it means to be a disciple of Christ, and the way that some others understand it.

I say this not to point the finger at any particular points of theology, doctrine, or faith, but more to highlight the despair and confusion it has wrought within me to see certain people that profess faith, acting in a way that I just cannot align with my understanding of the way of Jesus.

All of these things, plus some I’m sure, have caused a defensive shell to form around my heart – it’s a spikey and sad fence, designed to keep me safe, but all it seems to have done is eat at the glow within me.

And I want it gone. I want the slightly naïve girl back – but perhaps with a side more wisdom.

I don’t know how to do this. But I do sense the soft presence of Jesus starting to warm my heart, and I am convinced that he is the key.  So, I’ll sit, and wait, and accept his warming presence, and pray that my battle-hardened shell would slowly begin to get absorbed by love.

Deb xx

Deconstruction Discomfort

I usually have a reasonable idea of what I’m about to write when I start a blog – but today, I don’t have any anecdotes or well-formed thoughts, just the seed of a thought that’s been sitting with me for a number of months. So here goes.

I, like many of you, have over the past 15 years or so, been on a journey of ‘deconstruction’ (which, sidenote, is a word I’m so ready to be done with…perhaps we could give it a new name, something German sounding like ‘schnarffleffen’) – a process where I have never once questioned Jesus or God, but have unpacked the version of Jesus or God that was presented to me in my formative years.

Over this time, I have pendulumed between more liberal and orthodox views, and in recent years, I feel like I’ve reconstructed my faith in a lot of ways, and have come to a quite settled theological worldview. It is from this place that I am observing a wing of, what I can only call, ex-Christian spirituality. It’s a whole bevy of people that have come up through evangelicalism and have found that reality and their experiences don’t line up with the party line that they were taught. And as a result of this, they have adopted a spirituality that includes aspects of many religions, as well as still thinking Jesus is great.

I actually think I have a fairly open view of God in a lot of ways, in fact some would call me a downright liberal. Do I think that God is found in much more than the four walls of the church and between the two covers of the bible? Absolutely. Do I think that people encounter Jesus all the time but don’t know that it’s him? Yes. Would I be surprised to discover people from other religions and faiths having a relationship with Christ in way that they would describe differently to ‘Christianity’? Not at all. Am I okay with people referring to God as ‘her’? Sure.

But I think the whole ‘all spirituality is good spirituality’ thing sits a little uncomfortably with me for a number of reasons. Firstly, it all just seems so untethered. There’s no anchor. To me, Jesus is always the anchor – he’s the reference point, the bottom line, the litmus test. Does this mean that the teachings of Buddha or Confucius don’t hold some truth? Absolutely not. But everything gets run through the filter of Jesus.

Another thing that I find uncomfortable is the very important distinction between ‘God lives in me’ and ‘I am part-God’; a subtle but very important difference. In ex-Christian spirituality, I have observed a thought that essentially says, ‘I am Divine’. A lot of this is probably a knee-jerk reaction to the teachings of the church that have wrongly hammered into us that we’re all ground-dwelling worms that feed on the excrement of pond-scum. I guess the way that I think of it, is that I am not essentially ‘good’, but I am irrevocably loved and valued. I was created with love, care and intention, but I am also, let’s face it, almost incurably selfish. A lot of the ‘good’ things I do are at heart a mixture of wanting to follow the example of Jesus, and because I have learned that doing good things pays really good dividends…in friendships, reciprocity and good feelings. I am deeply loved and held, and I am also not Jesus.

My heart isn’t to throw anyone under the bus; I recognise that the undertaking of a deconstruction journey often results from the wounds inflicted by our church experiences and is deeply intertwined with our views of self. I also believe that such a journey is a necessary one. I guess what I’m trying to say here, is that I believe it is possible to deconstruct (schnarffleffen) our faith, while still remaining tethered to Jesus, and fully reliant on the pure goodness that only comes from him.

I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts and experiences on this one!!

Love Deb x

COVID Ramblings…

Scraps of paper

Before the world went nutso grando, I was all set to embark on the next glorious phase of my life; Mason was enrolled in daycare three mornings a week, I had taken on 17 hours a week of writing for Thinkladder (which BTW is excellent, and free, and you should probs download ASAP), Judah was at school every day, and I was enjoying working at my local Starbucks several mornings a week, sipping my coffee and being child-free and all profesh.

Now, my dreams of freedom have imploded on themselves, and I have not one, but TWO little boys at home, and I have to try and navigate 17 hours of writing while forcing my reticent-Reginald to do his schoolwork. All that to say, you can see why it’s been a hot minute since I wrote anything…

But here we are, and while I’ve had a few thoughts over the past six weeks, there are none that I can be bothered putting into one cohesive blog, so let me treat you to my COVID ramblings – a mishmash of the infancy of several of my musings of late:

I really don’t like online church. Please hear me out – I am fully committed to always being a part of the church, I used to work for the church and would like to again one day, but one thing that I have had significant struggle with is the performance aspect of church; that haunting feeling that we’re putting on a show to appease aspects of people’s spirituality, without asking them to engage in a way pushes them toward discomfort and spiritual growth. Online church feels like the epitome of performance church. I know pastors are just trying to do their best, and do what they can at this time – this is in no way a criticism of these beautiful people that are just doing their best – it is, however, a series of questions for the church as a whole…what is the church really meant to look like? When we remove the queen from the chessboard (Sunday Services), how does the game get played in a functional and healthy way? How are we reaching, engaging and discipling people in an authentic and meaningful way outside of Sunday? Has Sunday become a giant crutch, bearing more of the load than it was ever meant to carry?

Another of my COVID musings is to do with facemasks…or rather the way they smell. Or perhaps, more correctly, the way my breathe smells in one. It took me about three weeks of shopping in a face mask to discover that the funny (not bad, just a bit odd) smell in my face mask wasn’t the mask, or even my breath…it was my NOSE! Did you know your nose has a smell? I can’t think about it too much or it makes me queasy. And if it’s made you queasy too, my humble apologies.

And along with thoughts on sinus scents and the church as a gathering, I’ve been giving some thought to my personal faith journey also. I have been on a journey of deconstruction of my faith for around 10 or more years. It was a necessary journey, but funnily enough, I’ve almost come full circle in my conclusions of so many things regarding faith, but I kind of needed to unpack everything to understand properly how it goes back together. When the pandemic started getting serious, it really struck me that in times of crisis, it really forces you to face the pointy end of your faith. Questions like, ‘Where am I going when I die?’, and ‘Do I really trust God with my life?’ are shoved in one’s face, and there remains in that moment not much room for ethereal armchair theologising. I have, along with my love of puzzles and desire to rollerblade, discovered the more simple, anchoring faith of my childhood that puts my hand in the hand of Jesus.

So there you go friends, there’s some thoughts for ya. Caleb always tells me that my mind is a scary place, so I hope you enjoyed a few minutes holiday in Debsville (since you can’t go anywhere else right now). I genuinely hope that you’re doing okay, and please feel free to message me if you’d like someone to pray for you.

Love you friends,

Deb xx

Dreams, Dreams, Dreams

Dreams

(Originally posted on Sheology.co)

If I’m to be honest, I have an ambivalent relationship with dreams. Second only to my dream of being the sixth, only female (and spectacularly mulleted) member of New Kids on the Block, my very greatest childhood dream was to be locked in the local Foodtown Supermarket overnight. While other kiddos were counting sheep, I would lie in bed at night and plot my route from the choccy biscuits, chips, pick’n’mix, fizzy drinks and chocolate bars. Needless to say, neither of these dreams was ever realised, and my childish dreams gave way to the more realistic dreams that maturity brings.

The most heartfelt dream I ever possessed was that of being married. My mum got married at 20, and for some reason I had my heart set on also getting married at 20 (Spoiler alert – I did meet the love of my life and got married one month shy of my 29th birthday). I remember a preacher once saying that the gap between expectation and reality is tension – and each year that passed my ideal age of marriage, the tension and sadness within me grew.

The problem was that my dream had turned from the proverbial dangling carrot – something providing hope and motivation, to a whip that taunted me with reminders of my inadequacies, failures, and inability to control factors which were outside of my control. I got my priorities out of order, and gave my dream the power to make or break me. In many ways, my dream became an idol and sat in the place in my heart reserved for Jesus.

We live in a cultural climate where oftentimes our hopes and dreams are given the same sort of gravity as the quest for the Holy Grail. In some circumstances it is even considered noble to sacrifice everything – our relationships, obligations and moral code, in the pursuit of our aspirations. Yet, when we allow the pursuit of our dreams to surpass our pursuit of Jesus, they become the breeding ground for dissatisfaction and blind us to the joys of the present. I could kick myself now for allowing myself to waste so many of my child-free, care-free, responsibility-light, and time-rich years wallowing in the misery of my singleness.

Taking a moment to get a little curious about what is driving the pursuit of our dreams is an excellent way to ensure they stay in healthy perspective. The answer to the following question can bring us huge insight: “When this dream has finally been realised, I will feel ____________.” Because when it comes down to it, a lot of the time that we are chasing ‘dreams’, we’re actually chasing a feeling. We want to feel accomplished, vindicated, satisfied, secure, loved, smart, acknowledged, happy, settled, or any combination of a million different feelings. It’s not bad to want these feelings, heck, I certainly do! We just run into trouble when we look for any of these feelings from a source other than the complete love and contentment that is offered to us in Jesus.

The feelings that come to us when a dream is fulfilled are lovely, but ultimately temporary. When we see a dream realised, we enjoy the feelings for a while, but the underlying need in our soul is only temporarily satiated, and it gets hungry again – so off we go in search of a differing feeling/dream in the hope that we will find a more permanent satisfaction.

The beauty of putting our quest for Jesus above our quest for anything else is that He has the resources, ability and desire to meet our deepest needs. When Jesus is meeting the cry of our heart, our dreams are free to become a life-giving, motivating, colourful and enchanting part of our story.

And in fact, I have discovered that when I am chasing first Jesus and His Kingdom, he provides me with the fulfilment of dreams that I never even knew that I had. One beautiful example of this is my job writing for a counselling app – not only would I never have dreamed that a job like that even existed, I also get to work from home, helping people from my kitchen table, while earning enough to pay for lovely little luxuries (like holidays to New Zealand) for my wee family. Jesus, in his kindness, knows better than I do what will feed my soul and light up my life.

It’s best to remember that our dreams are there to serve us, not enslave us. So, friends, let’s put our dreams in the correct place in our priorities, and allow them to put the icing on the cake of our lives of pursuit of Jesus. Because he will never leave us empty, or dissatisfied – He will fill us with the contentment, satisfaction and joy that we are seeking.

Love you friends,

Deb xx

The Importance of being Important

(Originally published on Sheology.co)

Important blog

From as early as I can remember, I have wanted to be important – like celebrity grade important. The best way to achieve this, of course, was to become a popstar; and what better way to understand the inner workings of the popstar world than being the president of your very own New Kids on the Block fan club? (Full disclosure, there were only two of us in the club, and yes, I took the attendance register each meeting).

I know that being famous is probably every second kid’s dream, but for me it signified something deeper and more painful. I really did think that I needed to do something to achieve significance. Despite my parents doing the very best that they could, I never felt very important in my childhood years, and this led me to believe that if I could only minimise any negative feedback by being as good as possible, and maximise any positive feedback by doing what I thought others would praise, then finally I would feel like I was noteworthy.

The desire to be important became a major driver in so much of what I ended up doing. As a teenager and in my early-20s I had a group of friends that were like family, and we spent years together doing youth ministry. Every six months or so, a new hobby would take a hold of the group, and a bunch of people would suddenly be into touch-rugby, tennis, Settlers of Catan, 500, etc. In an effort to tick all the right boxes I ended up doing things that, upon reflection, were just desperate attempts to feel significant; things like, running, for example. Marathon running had become the flavour of the day, and despite my janky knees and near-death feelings when I run, I started training for a race (I made it to 10ks before sanity finally took hold). I also bought a half-set of ladies’ golf clubs and starting ‘playing’ golf, purchased a tennis racket despite my obvious lack of talent in this area, joined a gym and became an aerobics instructor, feigned an interest in music that I really didn’t like, and no matter how awkward, I also tried to wrangle invites to social events, because being seen as significant mattered that much to me.

On top of this, I became a pro at recognising what spiritual attributes would be most lauded in the church I was part of. Read the bible in year? Sure, I’ll read it four years in a row. Go to the early morning prayer meeting (at an hour so ungodly I don’t think even Jesus was up yet)? I’ll be there smiling and radiant. Attend church morning and night? I wouldn’t skip it for anything (except perhaps a ‘both ends went in the night’ situation).

As I left school, my drive for significance followed me everywhere I went. When I was at bible college, I had a part-time job in the office at our church preschool. It was the perfect job for me. I loved every minute of it; my cosy corner office, the best boss in the whole world, admin tasks that filled my love of order, treasured co-workers, and the glorious background noise of playing children, made even better by the fact I was not responsible for a single one of them or their poopy nappies. But when I finished bible college and was asked to be the Worship Pastor, I decided that it really would be best if I went full-time at the church, despite the fact I could easily have filled the role in three days per week. Because it was surely more important to be in full-time ministry. I have thought about that job and regretted that decision so much more than I can convey.

Fast-forward through a wedding, a counselling degree, and a change of cities, I found myself pregnant, and determined that I would work from home once the baby arrived. Except he arrived with health difficulties and literally couldn’t nap without being bounced…which meant that my hands were only ever free for long enough to stuff some food in my face, or push the pram for endless hours around the streets of Christchurch.

Then, once we had emigrated to the States, I developed chronic migraine during my second pregnancy, which continues to this day, and it meant that I spent the better part of two years in bed, yelling at my kids, using the TV as a babysitter, and trying somehow to convey to my friends that if I went out for an evening, I would pay for it by spending the next two weeks bedridden.

It was over this five-year period that my drive for significance began to unravel. It’s really difficult to prove your worth when your hands are constantly occupied by a screaming infant, or when you’re a useless lump of pain languishing in a dark room with an ice pack strapped to your head. It’s not easy to use your body to signify to the world at large that you’re disciplined with food and exercise, when you take a drug that gives you the gift of an extra 20lbs that doesn’t budge.

I will never forget one night, lying in my bed in between sessions of throwing up and howling at the moon, racked with pain and feeling desperately low, when I suddenly became aware of the unmistakable presence of love in the room. I was, by all objective measures, the most useless I’d ever been since I was a toddler, but the richness of love, the colour of scarlet, filled my room, and for the first time, I began to understand that my value is not based on my performance.

It took some really, really hard life circumstances for me to begin to understand this message. And I wish I could say that it’s a fait accompli, lesson learned, doneskies. But I can bet you that I’ll be 95, living in a rest-home, and finding a way to let Ethel and Bob know that I can still make it onto the loo by myself. The deepest and longest held beliefs are the most likely to be lifelong lessons, but I am so relieved to find myself somewhat freed from this strife for importance. My current job, for example, is writing for a counselling app, where every day, thousands of people read the words I have written, but nobody knows it’s me that wrote them – and it brings me so much joy!

I am slowly learning that my innate value cannot be judged, or measured, or earned, or rewarded. My worth was a gift that was sown into the fabric of my being when I was created.

Love you friends,

Deb x

PS. The irony of writing a published blog about wanting to be important is not lost on me, so you know, feel free to comment, or share, or wait…..no, maybe not….

That Attitude of Gratitude

Peanut butter

I’ve been thinking about gratitude lately. It used to be one of those buzz words that annoyed me. I felt like it was the sort of word that people would throw out there to minimise people’s pain and use as a kind of silver-bullet-cure-all for any ailment from depression to the hot runs. I found it to be the domain of the Pollyanna types that lived in a Technicolor world that seemed so far removed from real life. And maybe it’s because in the church I have had many experiences where the message I received was that I should be grateful for areas of my life where things didn’t seem fair. Which kind of felt like someone leading their dayglo tambourine parade past my wheelchair and telling me to get up and dance – invalidating, and insensitive, and patronising.

But I’m seeing things differently these days. The really beautiful thing I’ve discovered is that gratitude has started creeping up on me. Instead of wielding a stick and trying to force gratitude, it’s been tapping me on the shoulder and delighting me with an infectious smile and a warm hug. I don’t think it’s just a spontaneous lucky break that it’s started happening, but as a result of engaging in practices that have taught my mind and spirit to look for the lovely. For the past several months I have been regularly meditating, practicing mindfulness, and becoming more present in my body. As a result of this I’m seeing joy in the small things I once took for granted.

I was putting the groceries away after a trip to the super a while back, and as I was putting food in the cupboard, I was overwhelmed by such immense gratitude that there was plentiful, healthy and delicious food to feed my wee family. I found myself holding the peanut butter in both hands, close to my chest and with tears in my eyes, whispering, “Thank you peanut butter.” (And it winked at me and whispered back, “You’re welcome Ma’am.”). Then I began thanking each item of food before it got stored away. Me of five years ago would be reaching for the barf bag about now, like, seriously, how cheesy can you get? But it wasn’t cheesy, because it wasn’t rehearsed or forced or staged, it was a genuine expression flowing from heart, and it just felt like the right way to respond at that moment.

The more we allow gratitude to win our attention, the more we will become aware of how much there is in our lives to be grateful for. Our brains are super cool – we have a thing called a Reticulated Activating System (RAS) that acts as a filter for the innumerable amount of data that we receive. The RAS is attuned to whatever we deem important, and it will filter out other data, and present to our attention the things that we have trained it to present. A perfect example of this is how when you buy a White Ford Explorer, it suddenly seems that every second car you see is a White Ford Explorer – your RAS has been taught that this particular car is now important, so it filters out all the other cars on the road, and zooms in on the pertinent vehicle. As we become more grateful, we will train our minds that this is important to us, and it ends up becoming an ever-increasing cycle of goodness that adds colour and music to our lives.

Allowing gratitude to become an active part of my life has genuinely brought me so much joy. Genuine gratitude doesn’t try and keep the lid on my grumpy-groozleness, or ignore the despair I feel when my head starts hurting again, but it contrasts those moments with such rich and fragrant and fresh and life-giving joy. I feel like I’m coming alive.

 

Love you friends,

Deb xx

The Coolest Nun You’ll Ever Meet

Vintage-Holland-Mold-Praying-Singing-Nun-Figurines

I was thinking about writing the third part in ‘The Journey of Freedom,’ but as I thought about what I wanted to write, so much of it came back to one person. A nun. Her name is not Sister Mary Clarence unfortunately (I used to pull Judah’s onesies ‘til they stopped over his wee head and say, “Sister Mary Clarence, is that you?” It was the BEST game), but her name is Sister Marie (pronounced Ma-rie). I met her in 2012 when she became my counselling supervisor in Christchurch. She was roughly 70, always wore a woolly cardy, and was one of the most remarkable people I have ever met.

I don’t know about you, but I have always found nuns absolutely fascinating. I feel like I have so many questions about the monastic life, especially regarding habits…like, are they super uncomfy?!. I never really got to ask Sister Marie these questions, not because I think she would’ve minded, but because she was such a consummate professional, and we were there to talk about me, not her.

The order she belongs to is one that is specifically devoted to serving the poor in the local community. She started her professional career as a teacher, and then re-trained as a counsellor in transactional analysis. She worked out of the Salvation Army in the lowest socio-economic suburb in the city and would ask between $5-$20 an hour as a donation. One of the things that I loved about her, is that in order to preserve people’s dignity, she would hand her clients a plain brown envelope to put their donation in; no-one ever need feel embarrassed if they could only afford $5.

It was Sister Marie that helped me get a handle on anxiety. I had experienced several episodes that were like constant mild panic attacks that would last for sometimes weeks at a stretch. My breathing was shallow, I felt dizzy, and unable to come down off the edge. It was horrible. Sister Marie helped me to understand that anxiety was the culmination of years of feelings that I had not allowed to be felt; left to their own devices, they banded together and took my attention by force. She taught me that if I stopped pushing anxiety away, and instead, stopped and listened to what it was trying to say, it would no longer need to arrest my daily life.

Sister Marie also taught me that in order to face the terrifying abyss of inner pain, I only needed to tip-toe up to the therapeutic window, take a peek, and tiptoe away again. With a trusted guide, the trips to the therapeutic window became less scary, and eventually, the carnage I witnessed became less and less alarming, and I could begin to make peace with it.

One of the biggest lessons I learnt from Sister Marie was one of her favourite mantras, “The only way through the pain, is through the pain.” It carried weight when she said it; the weight of someone who is qualified to say such a thing because they speak from experience. She told me that when she started her counselling training, she committed thoroughly to working through her own issues, aware that she could only lead people as far as she herself was willing to go.

But more than what she taught me, it was who she was that left such an impression. Up until that time, any notable moments on my healing journey were reasonably dramatic…punctuated by loads of emotion and quite instant tangible results. The journey I took with Sister Marie wasn’t like that. It was slow, and steady, and peaceful. Much like Sister Marie herself. I have never met anyone more grounded, secure and unflappable. She was very kind, but I also got the impression that she could be faced with the scariest, meanest person in the world, and not back down an inch. It was as if through a lifetime of silence, liturgy, devotion and surrender, she had discovered who she was and what she was called to do. There were no qualms, no ‘what ifs’, and no striving to climb the ladders of success, self-promotion or chasing ‘something out there’. She was completely settled within herself.

Those many mornings spent in her sparse, yet cosy, office were a game-changer for me. Sister Marie, in her humility, groundedness, kindness, and honesty, allowed me to see that the while the flash-bang of emotional healing is wonderful and a such a gift, the long-game of quiet, consistent plodding in a healthy direction is just as necessary. I want to be like Sister Marie when I grow up.

 

Much love,

Deb xx

Stepping off my Soapbox

image

I love being right. It’s one of my favourite things ever. The allure of things such as quiz nights and games like Pictionary is the chance to be rewarded for rightness. It’s something inherent in my personality, I was always very black and white in my younger days. It’s something that must have made me insufferable at times – you know, that kid that’s raising their hand so high to answer a question that it looks like they’re about to pop a fufu. As with most characteristics, there is both a shadow side, and a strength side to this. Along with my moral policing of my friends, it also meant that I had a hunger for truth and a conviction to live out what I believed to be right.

I recently listened to a podcast called ‘The War is Over, if you Want it to be,’ by Brian Zahnd (Word of Life Church – I highly recommend, btw). Amongst other things, he highlights the current social media climate, pointing out that it seems that for many of us, rightness trumps relationship (no pun intended). Ouch. That got me. Although my black and whiteness of yesteryear has long become much more nuanced, I realised that my mind has been following some really unhealthy tracks in this regard. I often feel genuinely justified in thinking that it’s ok to disregard authentic relationship with people that act in a way that I perceive as wrong. At times I almost convince myself that Jesus stands on my side and would back me up 100%. Which is pretty sick.

It’s not that rightness doesn’t matter; I believe it really does. But things get a bit blurry when the issues we are willing to battle over are often a matter of perception. Do I believe in absolute truth? Yes. Absolutely. However, none of us individually have the all-encompassing global view and insight on any one issue that would constitute complete understanding.The irony that strikes me is that if younger me got the chance to meet me now, we wouldn’t see eye-to-eye on so many things. So many. I was passionately convinced of so many things that I now know were just plain wrong (like my conviction that I had a future as a gymnast – despite the fact I couldn’t do a cartwheel or touch my toes).

My best friend at primary school was from a Mormon family, and I remember us having a conversation one day trying to figure out what the differences between our faiths were. After a short discussion, she said that their bible had Mary Magdalene in it, while I said I thought ours was just Mary. End of discussion. Sorted. And on we went with our merry friendship. I LOVE that! What mattered was not who was right or wrong, despite the fact that we obviously didn’t really have a handle on our respective religions; what mattered was that we were buddies.

When you look at the New Testament, it’s so very clear that Jesus was much more interested in loving people first, and from that place he taught truth. He was happy just hanging out with people, regardless of the fact they were oftentimes societal outcasts, and most certainly not your average pew-dweller. In fact, you only see him getting super shirty with the Pharisees; the people who were obsessed with being right. Let this be a lesson to us all – and a red flag next time we’re tempted to start standing on our righteous soap boxes at the risk of breaking relationship.

Our search for truth is vitally important; but not nearly as important as our quest to live out a Kingdom life by loving people the way Jesus did.

Much love,
Deb x

Row, Row, Row your Boat

image

Some of our very favourite people were in town recently for a conference. They popped in for lunch, and over tomato soup and toasties, we caught up and discussed some of what they had heard at the conference. One of the speakers had just shared a message about seasons of obscurity, which struck a chord for our friends, but also for me. I’ve been thinking about it ever since. It feels like there’s nothing quite so obscure as being a stay-at-home-mum. I don’t get paid. My kid pretty much only says ‘thanks’ because we’re trying teaching him to not be a snotty brat, and he knows he doesn’t get what he wants unless he uses his manners. When I clean the house it takes all of 36.5 seconds for it to get undone again. Nobody gives me high fives for creatively arranging the afternoon-tea plate.

I have to stop myself from longing for the day when my as-yet-unborn son is old enough for kindy and I can get on with some ‘real’ work. Work where I get remunerated for my time, where I get to be part of a team building something valuable, where my ideas count for something and I receive recognition for my efforts.

In a bible study this week, I learned that the Greek translation for the word Paul uses as ‘servant’ in 2 Timothy alludes to the rower of a big ship. You know those big old ships that had a whole heap of slaves at the very bottom of the boat? Now surely THAT is the very picture of obscurity! Stuck in the bowels of a filthy great ship, no windows, no idea which direction you’re going, and breathing the meaty sweat of a shipload of smelly dudes. So unappealing, yet this is the kind of servanthood we’re called to. One in which the work we do is not for our own glory and gratification, but for that of our Captain Jesus. Now mercifully, God does so often give us tasks and work that ARE enjoyable and fulfilling. But we need to be careful that we don’t fall into the trap of using our gifts, abilities and daily tasks to meet inner needs for significance and love.

I quickly learned in church life that if I could be ‘good’ at doing Christian stuff, I would get plenty of encouragement and admiration. I felt significant if ‘important’ people recognised my hard work, so I got real good at doing what it took to gain that affirmation. When people were falling off the bible-in-a-year bandwagon left, right and centre, there I was still going strong four years in. I was the moral police amongst my group of friends at school, correcting a swear word there, casting disapproving looks at anything that, in my holier-than-thou opinion, may tarnish the good name of the Gospel. In fact, looking back now, the true miracle is that I had any friends at all! (I’ve since thanked some of my old friends for putting up with me. For real.)

This way of looking at the world was unfortunately encouraged by many a sermon and youth conference; where the altar call was all too often given only for those felt called to ‘full time ministry’, or to be a businessperson for the Kingdom, and occasionally, if you were lucky, a full time missionary. There was never a mention of the person who wanted to be a P.E. teacher, chef, artist, builder, bus driver, stay-at-home parent, shopkeeper or accountant. The clear preference of the cultural climate was that one should aspire to something with social prominence. Or in other words, minor Christian celebrity. The upshot of which meant you had people auditioning for the worship team who couldn’t sing to save themselves, and a dearth of volunteers willing to help with the kiddos.

What I’m slowly learning over this season of my life, is that it will never get more significant than a moment spent singing a song to Jesus on my back porch, just the two of us. Or making a meal for a family in need. Or sitting with my son while he takes an inordinately long time to squeeze out a wee treasure on the potty. ‘Cause the thing is, Jesus is the prize. He is it. And we get Him whether we’re manning the oars or captaining the ship. We are significant because He loves us, not because of what we do. And that, my friends, is true joy!!

Love you,
Deb xx