Saturday, October 27, 2018

Nothing’s fair

Photo by Ryan Loughlin on Unsplash

In life, nothing is fair.
We either experience injustice or inequity or we experience undeserved favour. Either way, injustice.
People either think we are the best thing since sliced bread or they think we are villains. Of course, we know there are a vast number of people that think neither, but we don’t think of those people, do we?
If we charted all the days of our lives, by far and away the most significant finding would be that some days we don’t get we deserve, yet other days we get more than we deserve. Getting more or less than we deserve swings both ways; it works in our favour when at times we don’t get what we deserve, yet it is especially hard when at times we do get what we deserve.
There are some things in life that are fair, but we hardly notice them because they’re unremarkable.
I began writing this with the hope of a hopeful finish. But I think I just want to make the point.
Nothing is fair because life is either too easy or it’s too hard.
The peaceful life rides the choppy seas, good with bad, focused always on keeping craft afloat.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Quotes on Love amid Sorrow from Shining Gift of God

Image: Ray Brown.

Sarah and I hope you can be blessed by these quotes from our book on Nathanael’s life. Your copy can be ordered from here.
The quotes:
We live to be moved. Harnessing the inspiring emotions, especially those that rock us from the soles of our feet, is the height we love to experience, even though it might involve pain.
The power of love in community to hold us up in hard times. This is self-evident as I observe a community of nearly two hundred people interacting on social media, notwithstanding my direct experience of the church family for the provision of pastoral care.
Be open to learning about love’s limitlessness. Nothing teaches us so much as love. We all have exponential potential to learn about love. Where we are focused on learning, love will blossom in our hearts. Where we are purposed positively in love, we cannot help but learn.
Being vulnerable can make us so much more open to the vulnerable around us. Such vulnerability, when shared openly, forges the seamless flow of relational connectedness, where love surges like a torrent of wellbeing in the lives of those who partake. God is in that.
The privilege of vulnerability is not to feel unsafe, but to know that others are unsafe and together we may love one another without limits.
As we look to the Truest Guide we are taught some lessons we hardly expected to learn: the transcendent beauty of truth given in love; that love is known by truth’s courage to step out in faith because it’s right; that what is not easy for some to communicate (but that which is their job) is most willingly received, because we desire to do God’s will every step of the way.
Dark clouds looming
In the distance booming
Life’s storms in they roll
Our innocence they stole.
But His purpose rose above
In the storm we knew love
Buffeted by the winds, we hope!
The Lord is our strength to cope.
There is little to say other than to convey love. No ‘advice’ is worthy of God when God is dealing graciously with a soul in grief, intended for resilience, part the way through the journey. And ‘somehow’ is such a powerful word as to be inexplicable.
It is such an important thing to be not only a giver of love, but also to be a recipient. As a pastor, the default is to give love, but there is also the privilege of modelling how to receive love; to be thankful for the thoughtfulness and compassion of others.
Prayer transacts as love. It builds. It gives. It builds community. You may never know just how important prayer is until you reach heaven.
As we journey with a baby who kicks and grows and moves so much, this same baby has no future in this world. Yet, for what we are about to suffer, and for what our family will suffer, and those who love us, and our precious baby him or herself, we are right where God has mandated we be.
Grief is something I have experienced
It’s something I will experience, again
Whilst there is life and love there will be grief
To live a life devoid of grief is to live life in vain.
It sounds ridiculous: to enter willingly into the salubrious wonder of sadness. But it is what we must do as we journey with our grief and we make a pleasant requiem out of the love we have lost.
How will we live this life,
Within grief that unveils strife?
Where God has made love known,
And by love lost He’s principally shown.
Love’s cost is the pit of grief,
For love lost is compromised relief,
Yet through sadness is our only hope,
Being true in our sorrow we cope.
We are comforted by love. And love is all we need.
Sadness is not a thing to be feared. It has value, and, from a growth viewpoint, sadness is of far more value that frivolity. Sorrow connects us not only with the intimate heart of God, it connects us with those who love us, because we must simply reach out and take the love we need. Let’s not be afraid of sadness when it arrives. But, also, let it not define us, but refine us. There are many things that sadness can teach us, if we are patient and humble learners.
God will open up our hearts like a tin can and others’ love will pour into us.
We all need help in life, and we are benefited by the help of loved ones and from those who care for us, but courage is just as much, if not more, the help we need in our moment of need.
When a tragedy occurs, like the sudden death of a loved one, we are so shocked as to hardly reckon it possible that we could ever feel this way. We are blindsided by a sense of emotion that is incomprehensible. Where is God in this?
To give love is a blessing to both the giver and to the receiver.
We don’t really need people’s ministry to heal us, but we do need your love and encouragement to keep going.
There is just no easy answer to the question of God’s unconditional love that allows suffering. I say allow because we cannot imagine God bringing suffering into our lives – because we accept that God is a good God. It does us no good to imagine a God who is capable of bringing harm into our lives.
If we have faith to pray to God and share our innermost feelings, God will be real to us in that moment. And as we look back months and years later, we will see God’s providential hand in our darkest time and most desperate need. That’s unconditional love!
God loves us all and he hates it whenever we must endure such pain. But God knows, as well, that we can endure anything, through the grace of the Spirit, which is power beyond reason, hope when there isn’t any, and joy when it’s required.
If we are already deep down low, the deconstruction process is well under way. Let us unlearn all the things that hinder love, joy, and peace. And let us begin embracing those things that build others up, that give to others, and that bless others.
As we seem to be encouraging others, their love is such an encouragement to us.
There is no substitute for traversing life than faith outworked in love fuelled by hope.
God’s love is like that. It is the power to endure much pain in the hope it will mean something one day.
Pain is best seen also as a gift, because it opens the doorway into neediness; an acknowledged brokenness. When we accept we need people, then, and only then, will God bring into our lives the love we need in order to be healed.
We need others in our orbit in order for God’s love to be real. The Lord uses people with which to affect his love.
The living never make too much of life until they are faced with the death of a loved one. Then their mortality comes into view. And can there be any emptier loneliness than the loss of a loved one?
There’s something about a gathering,
Of those who mourn in grief,
Where love between them enjoins,
That’s how God facilitates relief.
Grief is a consequence of love lost.
Our best hope in the case of loved ones lost to death in Jesus is we may follow them into that good place.
Being carried is managed by the simple fact of knowing we are being carried by others’ love – their prayers manifest in the kindness of affection. We must, however, believe by faith that 1) people are praying, and 2) their prayers are making a significant difference.
Nothing can defeat us. We are made for this journey and in the sharing of it truthfully. As realities hit us hard we have everything we need to deal with such realities because of courage, humility, and the grace that is ever sufficient, notwithstanding the love of dear family and friends.
Sadness embraced opens the path to faith, hope, and love. Only as we call our realities for what they truly are – which takes courage and humility birthed out of wisdom – do we stand to be shown the way.
You were mine,
Yes, you were ours,
Vulnerable and kind,
Like the flowers.
Forgotten not,
Memories are good,
We love you a lot,
As only we could.
My loneliest times taught me what even God could not teach me otherwise. I learned the value of learning is kindled in the crucible of agony. Learning about God, life, truth, and love occurs most powerfully when we are in our deepest pain.
We all have to say goodbye to our loved ones, and this world, at some point. It’s not that far away. What sounds depressing is the very impetus we need to make the most of life now. With this outlook we can endure anything in this life.
The fact that we have experienced something very painful – but that which was made much easier by our faith in God and his abundant grace through the plethora of prayer we received – that others too have faced brings us together in love.
Grief is the child of love — and, in that way — love bears what grief brings.
If grief is the child of love, love must be strong to bear it. Love never gives up and never lets up. It continues patiently and faithfully no matter how unfaithful and impatient her children are.
Love suffers the bruising incredulity of loss meekly by soothing the pain through acceptance. Love wishes to do a work of acceptance in every one of us.
If life was fair it would not give us over to grief, but, then again, without grief there can be no love! And with no love there is no life.
How ironic that love is the best of life, loss is the worst of life, yet love causes loss.
God knows we would not enter into grief without having first committed our hearts and souls to a love we just cannot give up on.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

When Mother Passes

Photo by Vince Fleming on Unsplash

It has been said that when a mother passes away there is a part of their child that is lost and cannot be recovered. Such is the importance of a mother’s love. And, yet, for those who believe in God’s eternity, there is a greater reuniting to be had.
At a recent funeral I was reminded of the impact a mother makes. When she is full of life and hope, which is lived out in her serving her family with a Proverbs 31 diligence, she leaves a legacy that even her death cannot vanquish.
And, still, her memory lives on through a grief that endures for the rest of her children’s lives.
They may soon accept that she has died,
but they never quite accept that she is gone.
Whether the relationship with our mothers was brilliant or abysmal or anywhere between, there is pain for the loss of the person who was responsible in the greater part for our coming into existence.
In many ways, we prepare for the day mother passes from the first day we consciously acknowledged her. As we were nursed and weaned and nurtured and let go of, all through the years, we were preparing to say goodbye. And the day does inevitably come.
Even though we are preparing for the parting from the very first moment onward, we are never truly prepared to say goodbye, and to face life on our own, without the presence of the only one who ever could play our number one nurturer.
As we interact with our mother, experiencing her humanity amid our humanity, acknowledging she is a real and an imperfect person, as we ourselves are real and imperfect, and even as we recognise she may press some of our buttons, of a sense, we are preparing to let her go.
Whatever years our mother has lived,
she has made an indelible impact.
It may not be a positive impact. Indeed, if her impact wasn’t positive it has still made ripples of influence. We may either miss our mothers so much, for who they were, or we may miss our mothers so much for who they weren’t. Either way mothers make a huge impact.
“Mothers hold their children’s hands for a short while, but their hearts forever.”

— Author Unknown

Monday, October 22, 2018

Beaten, she says, ‘It’s okay, just leave us alone’

It was an intense pastoral meeting in the office when the three of us were suddenly stopped. There was the screech of car tyres as the wheels turned the vehicle on a dime and it flew up the driveway.
Then we heard the unmistakable sound of a physical struggle. Shouting from a male voice, screaming from a female.
As if already sparked by the adrenalin that was already coursing through our arteries, we ran down the hall, out the front door and flung the doors of the car open. There hadn’t been a moment to consider how we would deal with the situation.
His arms were around her neck and then he let go.
She motioned to get out of the car, and he pulled her inside, all while we were telling him to stop. Then she said words I’ll never forget. Almost as if recognising the hopelessness of her situation, the adrenalin wearing thin, the result of flight taking over from any semblance of resistance, she said, with body language that betrayed her words, ‘It’s okay, just leave us alone!’
The car sped off as quickly as it had arrived.
We were left there utterly speechless. We were devastated that we, as pastors, couldn’t have done more to help the woman. We feared what would become of her, if not that very day, but on some future day where she might not simply undergo more trauma, but possibly lose her life. So many women do. According to the Red Heart Campaign, 65 women and 18 children have lost their lives due to violence in Australia in 2018.
It happens. This stuff really happens. How many of us have been in our homes and heard the worst kinds of arguments break out next door? Indeed, how many of us have borne personal witness to these events?
Somehow we need to break through the façade
that all is well in modern family households.
I can tell you from my own experiences of anger that my family wasn’t always universally safe. I say this for no other reason than to normalise what most men and women affected want cloistered in secrecy for the shame they bear — either as protagonists or victims. In my case, I’ve never hurt anyone physically, but the potential was there. Situations quickly escalate. Wherever stress is at fever-pitch, nerves are occasionally pushed too far.
Rather than call stress an excuse, we need to be honest about its effects. Only as we’re honest about these issues do we engage with and pique our awareness. Awareness is key. Awareness will get us into therapy. As men we need to be honest about our emotions, especially the negative ones that potentially spill over into violence.
As a counsellor these days, as well as in being a pastor and chaplain, I value incredibly the privilege it is to engage men in the topic of reconciling anger. It doesn’t need to end badly. There is hope.
We need to start talking about stress and anger responses in the public square.
We need to somehow unhinge it from the shame that causes deep secrets to be hidden.
And yet there are also many men (not most, but still many) who believe they have a right to abuse ‘their’ women. My wife and I encountered such a man recently who gas-lit his former wife a dozen times in our ten-minute conversation. This man scared me for what he was capable of. Absolute nutter. Yet… someone who could convince a naïve third party that he was such a loving husband.
The point is violence is in every street of every town and city of every nation, and women bear most of the brunt of it.
In the situation I described above, I wish we’d had the instinct to pull the guy’s keys out of the ignition.
We must be prepared to enter the fray. Especially as men. Yet, when we do, we must also be prepared to understand from the women’s viewpoint that we’re possibly making it worse for her. We need to be prepared that both of them may be violent toward us.
We need to remind ourselves,
we don’t live
her reality.
Her reality must be a living hell.
As men we need to pray we have opportunities to intervene and the instinct to act. These are our mothers, sisters, daughters, nieces, cousins and friends we’re talking about, most of whom wouldn’t hurt a fly.
Mostly, we need to understand why she says, ‘It’s okay, just leave us alone.’

Saturday, October 20, 2018

So, it appears you are normal after all

Years ago, a guy by the name of John Ortberg wrote a book called Everybody’s Normal Till You Get To Know Them. I have often joked that we are all normal until you get to know us, because I truly believe ‘normal’ is overrated.
The trouble is we tend to have a default that says I am not normal.
The proliferation of such a story within us simmers away and it purges some, perhaps much, of our potential.
2016 was a crisis year for me. For reasons that I cannot go into here, I felt as though my character was under severe attack. It coincided with my reading of Dr John Townsend’s The Entitlement Cure. I read that book cover to cover and felt that it highlighted a weakness that I had — that I was overly sensitive to needing to be understood, to be respected, and to be praised. I truly wondered whether I was narcissistic.
For nearly an entire year I sat on a desolate island of brutal character reformation.
I am glad I sat there. I am glad I allowed God to clamour through my soul. And in all good conscience I needed to be there.
But two years on, I find I have a different perspective. I am able to judge myself more accurately. Two years beforehand I thought I had serious character faults that I needed to mature beyond.
The 2018 me can see that the kind of perspective that the 2016 me didn’t have. Only now can I see that there was a latent effect of grief that I hadn’t taken into account, but should have.
Now I know that the over-sensitivities that were piqued in the 2014–2016 period were due to external factors (losing Nathanael and other difficulties I am not at liberty to publicise) impacting upon my highly-sensitive personhood. It is only now that I know that being a highly sensitive person is normal.
It just seems that I am one kind of normal person.
It did me no harm to sojourn through the desert of 2016 — the worst year of my life.
God carried me through a year where he stripped me back and began the process of rebuilding me.
I felt in that year I had so many critics, yet I still don’t know the truth of who was for me and who was against me. It seems to matter little now. The main thing is that God got me through, and I’m better today, and I see better than I have for years. And it seems that everybody else benefits from the benefit I have received from God.
What I have learned is that I’m normal.
You may not think that is remarkable. But perhaps you might ask yourself, am I normal?
You are. You most certainly are.
No matter what you have or don’t have, you are about as normal as the next person, no matter how abnormal you might be geared to think or feel you are.
For years now, it has bothered me that I’ve been a highly sensitive person, until I realised the strength in such a predisposition.
It is easy to be criticised for being a highly sensitive person, yet that is an unbalanced view.
There are such advantages personally, interpersonally, and for others in being a highly sensitive person.
The truth is the world needs more highly sensitive people, and that we may be the hope of the world. And perhaps God’s kingdom would flourish all the more if only more highly sensitive people would come to see themselves as normal rather than as abnormal.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Killing the Fight Tree

Photo by Johann Siemens on Unsplash

Some knowledge is too much for us, yet some knowledge is so imperative it cannot be understated. This article is about both kinds of knowledge.
The knowledge that is too much for us is the knowledge that God has ever tried to protect us from. Why do we judge and condemn people? Why do we see that people are wrong? Why do we fail to forgive people? Why do we even find ourselves in situations where we need to forgive people?
It’s because we ate from the fight tree.
… the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…
Eat from that tree, God said, and you die.
Adam and Eve were infamous for eating from the one tree God told them not to eat from. Look where it got them. They decided they wanted God’s power of discernment. They desired the knowledge of good and evil, good and bad, right and wrong. They ate from the forbidden tree. They both ate. They both wanted power. And they ruined themselves, and forever more consigned us all to a place where we would fight because we saw we were right and, in seeing we were right, we saw that the other person was wrong. Our vision was tainted, and our hearts were sullied.
We could not see like God, because we were spiritually dead.
We died because we insisted we needed to see like God.
Eating from the fight tree relegated us to death, yet, as we kill the fight tree in us by eating from the tree of life, we live again. We enjoy peace on the earth, and it begins by making a fresh commitment to peacemaking.
Being a peacemaker is not being a doormat. On the contrary, those who live at peace contend with every force of war, both within themselves and without. They see any nuance of the fight tree in them and they kill it by calling awareness to the discord and the indifference between them and the other person; any and every other person. They insist they can love everyone, even those they’ve been in heavy armed combat with. They believe that relationship trumps every issue that feels important.
Those who kill the fight tree that rages inside them have a massive vision for what love can do inside a human being.
We kill the fight tree in us when
we eat from the tree of life.
We kill the fight tree in us when we believe in reconciliation more than the bondage of bitterness, when we prefer the discomfort of challenging ourselves and another person over our comfort to maintain the status quo, and when conflict is viewed as an opportunity to glorify God, to serve others, and to grow to be more like Christ.
Killing the fight tree is about advocating for the relationship over our hardness of heart. Such a purpose is the meaning of life; to bring the light of peace into every dark corner of existence.
When we kill the fight tree in us, we stop seeing others as competitors to goodness, and more as those who are loveable, but who also struggle being all they would want to be.
When we eat from the tree of life we give away what we cannot keep to gain what we cannot lose.
When we eat from the tree of life, we see conflict as the opportunity for God’s Kingdom to come, on earth as it is in heaven.
This existence is always a choice between life and death. Allow the fight tree to flourish and we die. Kill the fight tree and then we live. Will you live or die? Will you be kind and compassionate and seek understanding, or will you compete with and seek to control the other person.
Over to you.
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
— Romans 12:21 (NRSV)
There is no justification in heaven for insisting we are right on earth. There is only justification for those who pledge allegiance to God in Christ, and not because of what we had done or for what we can add; quite the contrary.
Fight less, love more.
War less, peace more.
Compete less, cooperate more.
Condemn less, accept more.
Judge less, understand more.
Fear less, trust more.
Tell less, ask more.
The world begins to change when peace starts with us.

Acknowledgement to Peacemaker Steve Frost, a person who truly deserves such an illustrious designation. Killing the Fight Tree is one of Steve’s terms.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The double-whammy of Anxiety AND Depression

Photo by ivan Torres on Unsplash
My graduate training in counselling came at an interesting time in my life. It helped me overcome my social awkwardness, and ended up being the catapult into pastoral ministry, which is what I always wanted to do. I had to try to become a counsellor to be converted to being a pastor who counsels.
But first I needed to deal with my social awkwardness, which was not borne of a lack of ability, but the lack of passion to deal with people. Now I simply love working with people. What I tackled and overcame in 2012 was the miracle for me of that year. You only need to ask my wife. I changed overnight.
But that is not what this article is about, albeit that I mention social awkwardness, which is often a marker of anxiety.
In the counselling program I undertook, I’ll never forget one of my wise lecturers referring to the condition of mental ill-health that comprised a combination of anxiety and depression. She called it a double-whammy. It is so apt. And it’s so apt to describe grief in such terms.
We could call this double-whammy the state of dread. That is the kind of existential experience that is devoid of hope, and it feels like life is worse than death.
Such a feeling of dread sees not only nothing positive in the present and future, but overwhelming doubt that both present and future are even liveable.
I have heard so many people who had never before experienced this double-whammy of anxiety and depression, piqued often by grief, who had then come to experience it, disbelieving the calamitous intensity of the lived experience of pain beyond measure. That is close to a good description. We had never before contemplated that the lived experience of life could involve so much brutalising pain.
The double-whammy of anxiety and depression is a simultaneous death in the moment combined with the death of hope for the future in a despair that clings like the odour of smoke after a hot fire has charred the remains of everything combustible.
I have experienced anxiety without depression, just as I have experienced depression without anxiety, and yet, having experienced them in combination, I would say that the dread that evokes panic attacks that consumes already depleted resources, seemed almost unfair. It is too much. And the product of this experience is that it drives us into the kind of despair that threatens our lives.
Our world needs more empathy for people affected.
It’s a pity that only those who have suffered this kind of double-whammy condition can really attest to how brutal it is.
Encouragement I offer to those who are in this kind of double-whammy land:
1.     Recognise that it won’t always be this way. This, too, shall pass. The mind needs to tell the heart that there is hope. The mind needs to inspire the heart to believe the truth: that change does inevitably come.
2.     Be gentle with yourself. The words of Desiderata have often been a comfort to me. You are not alone, you deserve to be here, and you belong here for such a time as this.
3.     It may sound a weird thing to do at this point, but you could do worse than ask God, “What is there to learn in the dread of this situation?” Such a question could lead you nowhere, but it could also lead you into a healthy state of curiosity, and even of passion to understand what so many people struggle with. God is gracing you with understanding, for understanding cannot come in this arena without experience.
4.     Envision a time in the future where some of your goals are realised. Crystallise that picture. Own what it is that feels good. Understand what it could be that would make the difference.
5.     On a strong day, don’t be afraid to look backwards, to unpack the mystery of your history. There is always more healing to be done. But acknowledge that it takes bravery, and from dread bravery for extracurricular ventures is in short supply.
6.     Try to engage with your humour. Humour isn’t everything, but it can be wonderful to alleviate anxiety.
7.     And go see your doctor or find a doctor who is empathic. Get medical support and be open to a multi-disciplinary approach.