Pandemic Panic

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Frankly, being in the middle of a pandemic is really bizarre. I vacillate between, ‘It’s totally fine, it’s just the flu, we’re all going to be fine,” to envisioning life in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. I begin chastising myself that we didn’t buy a 5-acre self-sustaining plot instead of this suburban dwelling where, if we had to live off the land, we’d probably survive three days on dead grass and the scraps of decaying afternoon snacks left behind by the boys.

I haven’t succumbed to the bunker mentality…yet, but I must admit, while I haven’t stockpiled the loo paper, I would be lying if I said I didn’t add a few extra cans of beans and some hand sanitiser to this week’s shopping list (if we do end up having to live off what’s in our cupboards, let’s just say the meals are going to get less and less yummy by the day).

I experience a level of generalised anxiety on a day-to-day basis, due to varying factors, and this situation has definitely turned the volume up, as I’m sure it has for many of you. And while I can remind myself that this is unlikely to take my family out, and we’ll survive the economic fallout as we have before, the reality is that a worse case scenario is always a possibility.

What amazes me in situations like this, is how it highlights where my trust truly lies. It first came to my attention five years ago when we first moved to the States; I was thrown off-balance by realising that my safety-net of a familiar government that would take care of me if I was in hospital or we lost our income, was no longer underneath me. I was forced to intentionally put my days in the hands of God – a place where I had previously thought they were.

Once again, I find myself feeling off-balance. The comfort of relying on the conveniences and necessities that I do everyday suddenly seems less certain. The assumption that all is well, is, well, not so well.

I like to picture it like sonar – I go through life sending out pings and getting my equilibrium from hearing the reassuring returning sounds from the places I expect things to be. When all is as I expect it to be, I swim through life with a sense of safety and certainty. But in times this like, it becomes all too clear that my requirement for peace relies heavily on external things – the certainty of health, ready access to food and utilities, a guaranteed paycheck.

I hear an invitation in the midst of all this uncertainty. It’s an invitation to surrender. An invitation to relinquish control – the control which feels so important for my survival, but in reality, is only an illusion. An invitation to remember that a certain quality or length of life on earth has never been promised. An invitation to remember that my hope lies in eternity. An invitation to remember that Jesus sits right beside me as I type this, and his love and presence is as close as it ever was. An invitation to accept the unknown.

So, if you’re cool-as-a-cucumber and feeling not a worry, good for you. But if you’re a red-hot mess quivering in your apocalypse shelter, maybe, just maybe, something really beautiful can come out of this for you. Maybe this is the start of a peace you never knew was possible. So why not join me as I pray, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Love you friends,

Deb x

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….

What if Freedom isn’t all it’s Cracked up to be?

Product-ConstraintsI have been eating up the work of John Mark Comer and Mark Sayers lately. They have a Podcast called, ‘This Cultural Moment’ (I HIGHLY recommend) in which they look at what it takes to be a disciple of Jesus in our current cultural climate. In the episode I listened to this morning (at 6.00am while hiking up our local mountain – which has to be mentioned, because I forgot to take a selfie) they mention that for human flourishing, three ‘tanks’ need to be full; freedom – as in freedom of choice, individuality, expression etc., meaning, and community. I’m sure one could argue for other tanks, like food for example, but at the risk of indulging my contrarian nature, I shall digress.

They go on to say that in our current Western climate, the freedom ‘tank’ is full to overflowing, and as a result, the ‘meaning’ and ‘community’ tanks are suffering. This got me thinking about how true I have found this to be in my own life. Parenting is a prime example; it is, as I often say, the very worst and the very best. In this framework, you could say that this is because while the freedom ‘tank’ is totally plundered by my tiny baboons, the loss is well made-up by the massive deposit in the ‘meaning’ tank…but you can’t have the meaning, without the loss of freedom.

Another example of this is prayer; I have found a liturgy of prayer to be extremely meaningful and peace-making in my life, however I feel the restraint of sticking with it and am legit tempted to grab my phone at regular intervals. My free time is, by my own choice, being used towards a discipline from which I reap substantial benefits, but it takes the loss of small freedoms in order to achieve the reward of meaning.

The point that I take away from all of this, is the reminder that the constraints we face in life can actually be for our benefit. I know that sounds like some form of heresy given the world in which we live – a world in which unlimited personal freedom is Mecca. The problem is that we so often can’t enjoy the beauty and simplicity that God has provided for in this life, unless we have something with which to contrast it. I have never enjoyed sitting in my back yard, breathing the clean air and watching the trees so much as since I have battled with chronic illness. The restraint of physical symptoms has allowed me to find meaning and beauty in things I once took for granted.

Creativity is another such area which flourishes under constraints. We have a buddy that wrote and produced one of the most creative, intricate and peaceful albums I have ever heard using just his voice and one old electric guitar. The limitation of instrumentation brought his creativity to a remarkable place. Similarly (although not comparing my cooking to the aforementioned album), the elimination of grains, sugar and carbs from my diet due to health, has caused me to get really creative with inventing meals that are within the confines of my diet, but still taste delicious…(well, I think they’re delicious, however getting Caleb to try one of my keto ‘treats’ is like pulling teeth – and I gave Judah some of my keto ice-cream once, to which he responded, “Mum…is this an actual treat?”)

So, let’s be encouraged today friends, that whatever constraints and limitations we find around our lives, it’s possible, just possible, that our lives wouldn’t actually be as meaningful without them.

Love you,

Deb x

A Journey of Freedom – Part I; The Beginning

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For those that know me, emotional wholeness is something I am extremely passionate about. It’s what led me to study counselling, and something that I could discuss ad nauseum – even at 11pm when exhausted from a long day. Just ask Caleb. He loves it. One would think that I would for sure have blogged about it by now…but I haven’t. It may seem surprising, but it’s a topic so dear to my heart that I couldn’t do it justice in one pithy blog, and no-one wants to read an 11-page diatribe on the subject, so I’ve demurred until now. I’ve decided to write a wee mini-series about the subject. I want to share a bit of my story, in the hopes that may be of some help or encouragement to some of you.

In the Beginning

By most standards, I had a pretty good childhood. There was no significant trauma, my parents loved us and each other, there was always a roof over our head and healthy food (read, not nearly enough treats), I had a good education, friends, and a church family. But I was always plagued by what I guess I can only describe as a feeling of unease; ‘the dread’. It’s like there was this cavern deep within me that sent unsettling and frightening echoes into the atmosphere of my life from time to time; a small, very scared, dark voice. From a really young age I can remember thinking, “I want to be free”. I just didn’t know what from.

‘The dread’ impacted more than I realised at the time. Probably the most obvious impact, was that I found it intolerable to experience solitude. I loved my alone time, but I always had to be reading, listening to music, watching something, playing a computer game or sleeping. I slept a lot. If I allowed myself to be undistracted, ‘the dread’ would start to beg for my attention, and it was way too freaky to focus on, so I had to stay busy. I remember my dad once saying that I was too future driven. I now know that it was because the present was too painful, and my constant hope was that the next conference, camp, holiday, project, outing, opportunity or potential relationship might hold the key to freedom.

I say ‘potential’ relationship, because ‘the dread’ impacted that area of my life too. I always had a crush on some poor probably not-so unsuspecting guy. I cringe now to think about how intense I was with those crushes, my wee heart was right out there on my sleeve, and deep down I was looking for something to soothe the disquiet within. The cruel irony, is that the odd time that someone began to return the interest in any way, I ran for the hills, freaked out of my tree. ‘The dread’ badly wanted attention and affection, but it couldn’t handle either.

My life was far from a social failure, but even though I had what many would consider an enviable circle of genuinely amazing friends, I was plagued by the feeling that I was never really ‘in’. On top of this, I would experience these super unfortunate bouts of blushing. Not the rosy, sweet, feminine, pinch-your-cheeks sort of glow. Oh no. This was the ugly sort of mottled scarlet that started somewhere at the base of the neck and spread with horrifying rapidness to my whole head. The sort of fire-engine red that has people asking if you’re okay and getting ready to seek medical attention on your behalf. I hated it. So. Much. I knew deep-down that I was a confident person, and it killed me that I had to leave conversations, or stop speaking out loud in class when I felt it happening.

I really wasn’t sure how to get free from this stuff. I just knew that my life was not peaceful, and that somewhere in the recesses of my soul, was a small, caged girl. She felt powerless, unlovely, alone and invisible. She was trying to get my attention, but it was too unbearable to listen, so I ignored her, until she got so distressed that I could no longer avoid it.

I’ll continue the story soon.

Deb xx

The Sound of Silence

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I was chatting with a friend the other day about just how busy life can get. I remember thinking how busy I was when I was in high school. And though it was full, for sure, it was just a so much less responsible life. It was busy, but less weighty. I had to take care of school, church and youth stuff, part time work, and friendships. I didn’t have to take care of paying bills, looking after a house, fostering a marriage, raising a tiny human, buying groceries and cooking meals. And did I mention finding matching socks when folding the laundry? Damn you socks.

But it’s not just the stuff we do that makes life busy. It’s the noise. Social media. News. Music. Chitchat. Clutter. Entertainment. Games. Books. Advertisements. Fluorescent lights. The things that fill our senses, minds and souls day in and day out. It’s wearying.

Being relatively new to the country has afforded me a unique opportunity to be more considered about what I decide to add to life. I really don’t want life to be so full of stuff that I don’t have margins. Space for people, energy to play Duplos with Judah, room for spontaneity. I am increasingly aware that if I want life to look this way, then it’s going to have to be intentional.

I’ve always considered peace to be something that kind of falls on you. You know, like the dove when Jesus got baptised. I pray and it just descends, fluttering its sweet comforting wings (but not pooping on my shoulder). I’ve prayed for peace a million times for myself and others, and it always goes something like this; “Lord, let your peace that passes understanding just fall on _____ now.” You know the one. But what if peace is something we have to create space for? What if peace doesn’t so much come to us, but we go to it?

I guess my hope was that peace would imbue whatever I was doing in life. And I’m not saying it can’t, by the way. But I always thought of it as something added to the craziness of life; something to make me feel calm whilst I go about doing whatever. However, what I’m discovering, is that as I’ve become more deliberate with liturgical and contemplative prayer, peace is waiting for me. It’s waiting in a secret garden. It has a bench for me and Jesus to sit on. Beautiful green grass, a big leafy tree and a river running right through the middle of it. My liturgy is like the path leading to the gate, and then I enter the gate and just sit there. It’s so colourful and vibrant, that almost always when I open my eyes again, the world around me looks a little pale in comparison. And it’s completely full of peace.

I’m not gonna lie, I get a bit irritated reading some of the authors that write about this stuff. Not because they’re not amazing, and encouraging, and right. But because they’re often 50 plus male theologians. Likely at a time in life where they don’t have small kiddos and suffer sleep-deprivation. Not tied up with a work week that leaves them physically exhausted at the end of the day. Even Jesus was able to just take off into the wilderness for extended periods of time to pray. I would love that luxury. Please, send me to the wilderness by myself! But, my life is my life. And if I want to experience peace, then it’s my responsibility to create space for it. In small ways, this has meant that I find myself turning the radio off in the car more often. Allowing silence to settle around me. In bigger ways, it has meant carving out half an hour everyday to pray and sit with Jesus.

I read recently that silence restores our souls. And after just experiencing the relentlessness of daily life, my soul gets bedraggled. It feels likes it’s fraying at the edges. It has trouble holding itself up. It needs restoring. Not just for me, but so I am ready and able to be who God’s asking me to be in this world. I need to give from a place of rest and peace, not striving and strain. I may just need to say no to a few things in order to be able to take an intentional journey to a place of peace; to the Person of peace.

Deb xx

Let us Pray

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Prayer and I have always had a somewhat ambivalent relationship. Naturally, having been a Christ follower for many years, I have heard a LOT about the subject. I’ve always known one should pray. And I love Jesus so much. I really do. But I’ve always found prayer so boring. In my teen years I did everything a good Christian should do with regards to prayer. I had a wee book with a list of things to pray for everyday, complete with colour coding for each category. Or maybe it was a ranking of importance in case I ran out of steam halfway through. But either way, I found it to be a dry and life-sucking experience. I even timed my prayer times at one point. Because that’s how much I felt like I had to make myself stay in the prayer zone. And it was indicative of how much I didn’t really want to be there. I’m sure it even crossed my mind at some stage to make space amongst the shoes in my wardrobe to literally have a ‘prayer closet’.

As my journey continued, I experienced a freedom from the legalism that had previously marked my faith. I was no longer acting under the compulsion to do a list of things in order to feel like I was achieving status as a Christian. This was, of course, not an overnight thing, but a process over many years. The result of which meant that I no longer felt like I HAD to pray. I remember reading Anne of Green Gables for the 121st time, and one particular part of the story standing out vividly. Marilla has finally decided that Anne is going to be allowed to stay at Green Gables. In order to avoid the rest of the town knowing how much of a heathen she is, Marilla has handed her a card with the Lord’s Prayer on it, and sent her to her room to learn it. To which Anne responds, “Why must people kneel down to pray? If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d go out into a great big field all alone, or in the deep, deep woods and I’d look up into the sky – up – up – up – into that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I’d just feel a prayer.” This was exactly how I felt.

So no-one is more suprised than I am to find myself following a daily liturgy of prayer. What!!? Yes!! I know!! My good friend Joseph recommended a book called ‘Water to Wine’ by Brian Zahnd. I started reading his journey from a hyper-Charismatic faith, to one that is much more eclectic and includes elements from many other expressions of the Christian faith. Much of what Brian speaks of resonates with much of the journey that I’ve already been walking for quite a while now, but not in regards to prayer. He speaks of prayer as soul formation. He points out that the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, and Jesus was like, “Here you go…” Jesus did not say, “Just feel a prayer.” He did not say, “Just let it out, tell God what’s on your heart.” That’s not to say of course that those things are wrong – they’re not. They’re awesome. And needed. But just probably not the fullness of prayer as it’s understood in a biblical context.

As I read this stuff I felt my defences rising. I was thinking, ‘I like what you’re saying Bri-guy, I even respect where you’re coming from, but liturgical prayer is not for me.’ But it nagged at me. Then I thought about it. Lots. I realised that I have been surreptitiously indoctrinated by the Pente theology that is always after the ‘new’ thing. When I was a Worship Pastor, I am embarrassed to admit that I told people we didn’t sing hymns because the bible says to ‘sing a new song to the Lord’. Good one Debs. As I pondered, I realised that there was so much flawed logic in this thinking. There are any number of amazing, invaluable, really old things. Like the bible. Or mountains. God Himself is extraordinarily old.

Another argument against liturgical prayer is that it’s a prayer that someone else has written, and that flies in the face of the thinking that prayer should flow from the heart. However, we sing worship songs every week that other people have written. I, for one, am very grateful that we do. Can you imagine the immense pressure every week if we lead worshippers had to get up and improvise new songs from the heart each week? Train wreck. Even though someone else writes the songs we sing, they are no less heartfelt when I sing them.

The first time I prayed through the liturgy, I was totally floored. I had never experienced the presence of God in prayer like that before. I was flooded with joy. And relief!! I don’t have to make up words anymore. There is a space in the liturgy to pray my own prayers, and to sit with Jesus; it’s just surrounded by Scripture and the prayers of people like St Francis of Assisi. And Jesus. No biggie. Brian Zahnd mentions that people often refer to liturgy as ‘dead’. Which he says is just bad English. Liturgy is either true or false, and the heart of the person praying is either dead or alive. So, he says, pray a true liturgy with an alive heart. So I am. And it’s amazing. I’m adding my voice to the countless other Christians gone before in petitioning God with rich and resoundingly true words.

You know what’s happened since I started praying this way? I look forward to it. Like I need it badly. And I’m not in a rush to leave. And my soul feels anchored in way that I’ve not experienced before. A restlessness within has been quieted. And for that, I’m immeasurably grateful.

Deb xx