Friday, November 29, 2019

Care for yourself because ‘you know what’ flows downhill

The authoritarian family structure occurs in more than families. Whatever we get we tend to give, and if we get fire and brimstone, guess what we give out if we’re not careful to stop the rot at ourselves?
If we don’t care for ourselves amid a torrent of abuse, we won’t care for those who are relying on us to show them the way.
The classic authoritarian family structure involves father not treating mother well, mother not treating older son or daughter well, and older son or daughter not treating their younger siblings well. Finally, the family pet gets mistreated because the youngest human in the family has nobody else to take out their frustrations on.
Damage begets damage, anger begets anger, and abuse begets abuse. Unless we say, “No, it ends here, with me; I shall absorb this and do better for those who need ME to be leader.”
You know the old saying: excrement runs downhill much like anything resembling liquid does with gravity.
This is why self-care is critically important. We need ways of receiving rejuvenation, replenishment, and revitalisation—especially in a world that seems bent on hurting us one way or the other.
Unless we resolve that the crap stops with us it won’t, and we as we receive it, we too will cover others depending on us in it—whether by intention or inadvertently.
We must make a resolve to care for ourselves—and not just our physical and mental needs, but our emotional and spiritual wellbeing too—if we would be determined to absorb the barbarism that comes our way, and turn that vitriol into something beautifully fragrant.
If we never make a resolve to commit to doing a whole lot better than we receive we will be no better. I was abused as an apprentice—for three years. I swore that as a tradesman I would protect apprentices. It was the reason I became a registered safety practitioner. It was what compelled me to enter ministry. I made the commitment early that nobody should suffer what I suffered as a 16-19-year-old.
If we love those who look to us for leadership and example enough, we will care for ourselves to such an extent that we won’t ever harm them. We will care for them in such a way as to give them the right of reply—the direct path to us apologising promptly for not caring well enough. We will judge our own success by how much grace and patience we give.
And in such ways, we may prove trustworthy.
It’s the only thing that matters; how we stewarded the trust that was given to us. The major trust we’re given is the lives of people within our sphere of influence.

Photo by Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash

Thursday, November 28, 2019

The forgiveness of self that comes before the forgiveness of others

In the complex array of emotions that occurs in a flash through the situations of life as they happen to us, bewilderment may follow, and anger is inevitable, because, whatever the mind cannot make sense of, it distrusts and condemns—without thought—and outcomes are often regrettable.
Suddenly there’s a flurry of action that we find, deep within ourselves, is unforgivable.
Suddenly, moments after we’re behaved out of instinct, there is a strong rejection of self, which ironically manifests in more criticism and condemnation of the other person(s). All because we cannot face what we feel is idiotic, but that which can be explained, if only we can be patient with ourselves, and “hear” ourselves.
If only we can unpack the fuss and bustle of what our mind was dealing with. If only we charted what was REALLY going on. If only we were fair to ourselves and saw that single trauma or that conglomeration of stresses and understood WHY we behaved like we did.
There is always a WHY behind the WHAT.
Usually the events of conflict in our lives get so clouded in the relational realm, we forget to go inward and really try and track why WE reacted the way we did. If only we can feel understood for how anger or self-pity or jealousy caused us to hurt others, and if only we can feel compassionate toward ourselves, then we would more easily empathise with the others we’ve hurt.
We all need empathy and it doesn’t do justice to just band-aid our own hurtful behaviours by fabricating our apology—as if the other person is the only one deserving of understanding; as if we’re guilted into saying sorry.
It would be far better to understand what caused us to behave hurtfully in the first place, especially if hurting others is abhorrent to us, as it is to just about all of us.
Indeed, let’s say we find it despicable that we’ve hurt others. We’re so full of self-condemnation that our inner being is traumatised that we, ourselves, don’t even get a hearing. We can’t expect the person we hurt to empathise. They deserve our apology. BUT we do need to endeavour to understand WHY we behaved out of character.
This is where God’s Spirit enters the picture.
God’s Spirit witnesses everything. If only we could utter the prayer, “God, how on earth did I do such a thing? Please give me insight for self-understanding, so at least in feeling like you’ve helped me forgive myself, I can ask the person I hurt for their forgiveness with my head held high enough because my angst is reconciled.”
We all need to be met by God who forgives our anger, frustration, self-pity, envy, etc. There are real and valid reasons why we desire things, and we can desire things to the ends of anger, frustration, self-pity, envy, etc.
We need to understand that when circumstances conspire against us, and we cannot think quick enough in the moment of stress, our desires too quickly become demands, and we lose control, and we say and do regretful things.
We all do it.
If only we can feel understood ourselves,
we’re readier to understand the other person.
It makes sense to reflect over behaviours we feel guilty and ashamed about. When we see why they happened, we experience compassion for ourselves, and then we more naturally feel compassion for others.

Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

When God’s love looks back at us

We look at ourselves in the mirror each day,
too tall or too short, not good enough, we say,
never really realising that what we’re doing,
is committing to something we shouldn’t be pursuing.
We peer into that glass not able to avoid,
the self-recrimination that leaves us devoid,
it should get us thinking, in a deeper introspection,
why is it really that we criticise our reflection?
The deeper we move into that kind of thought,
the less we relish the guilt we have caught,
but that moment of insight makes us realise,
to the God of our creation, we’re a prize.
We notice as we peer, no matter what we think,
there’s no way on this earth that to God we stink,
suddenly, there, a smile broadens gently,
as we realise afresh, God loves us intently.
Photo by Matthew Fassnacht on Unsplash

Friday, November 22, 2019

The only things we ever possess are the things we can give away

Okay, so I don’t get it, but it’s true all the same. The only thing we ever have in life is the thing we give away. The more we give with the heart to give, the happier we are.
Giving breeds gratitude.
The only time we get to feel alive is when our time is spent productively; when we walk away feeling, “Well, that was time well spent.” We gave our time away only to get what only a gift given away can get us.
Acquisition is the biggest lie of all. The more we get, the more we’ve lost. Check the treasures stored in your heart at the time you gave all you had to give and had no thought of anything else.
The emptier the wallet or purse, the fuller the heart, provided you have it to give. It’s no good having only $5 for bread and milk and giving it away. You starve. But many people have more money than they truly need, and they are miserable because money has a hold over them. When we live week to week, learn to give other things. Don’t feel guilty if you can’t tithe. Give in other ways.
Don’t feel guilty, because guilt is a thief.
Invest in emotions that give.
Live free of every prison of the mind.
Whenever we have something to give our heart blossoms.
Kindness. A smile. A listening ear. Sitting with the infirmed. Carrying objects from one place to another. Read a story to a child. Give away objects you don’t need. Wrap a gift creatively. Wash a windshield. Hang it, do the whole car. Give a compliment sincerely. Don’t hold back. Offer to give a foot massage to someone who would like it.
In the giving of gifts, God gives us gifts. The more we give, the more we receive. The more we receive, the more we want to give away.
Sing to someone, and if you can’t hold a note, hum a lullaby and make it cute. Share innocent humour with the anxious. Reminisce with an older person. Get reflectively philosophical without being opinionated. Offer to clean something. Run an errand with joy. Offer to give someone a ride somewhere. Do anything to go out of your way for them, and do it cost free in a pay-it-forward sort of way. Buy bunches of flowers so you have to give them away. Write notes of kindness and leave them to be found. Do your love, then disappear. Get someone scratching their head because of your unusual generosity. Let someone cut in front of you. Smile when you’re angry, even as you tell yourself to chill. Give someone the gift of your patience. Do anything that can only bless. And always be ready to say sorry.
As we give our lives away,
we get to keep ourselves.
We only lose ourselves
when we wrestle to control everything.
The only things we ever possessed were the things we gave away.
You get the idea.

 Photo by Buco Balkanessi on Unsplash

Thursday, November 21, 2019

… and the Award for Strictest-and-Best Teacher goes to, Mr King

My first day of Year 7 was uneventful, but I couldn’t say the same about my second day. I had Mrs Edwards for day one. Day two was my first day with Mr King. Both were deputy principals.
Soon after day two started, I passed wind. Loudly. In fact, I made a show of it. I had the class in stitches. Mr King, keen on setting an example early, told me I’d be following him to the office at Recess. There I lined up for 3-of-the-best. As he flexed his cane he bristled with anger. “Right, son, move over here!” I was adjacent his desk when he thrust that cane down toward my outstretched palm with all his might. At the very last moment, he intentionally missed and when that cane hit the desk it shattered. Then he let me have it: “Right now, boy, you better smarten up otherwise the next time it’ll be three on each hand.” Of course, I knew what that was like. I’d been caned a couple of times in primary school, first time as a 7-year-old, the year after I was kicked out of Religious Instruction.
I was no model student, and from Year 5 I’d discovered I had the penchant to be a pretty skilled class clown. This landed me in remedial class, and I was treated as a dunce. That was okay with me. But really, deep down inside, I think I did want to do better. I’d been told by several people, including a guidance officer, that I didn’t amount to much, so I think I rebelled.
As Year 7 continued, I discovered that Mr King was very consistently strict, which meant that, for me at least, he seemed also very consistently fair.
Something peculiar happened within this strictest of teacher’s interactions with me. He caused me to believe in myself. He worked me hard in the area of mathematics and somehow, he piqued within me an interest in this area. All it seemed I needed was a little belief.
The fact that I went from being a remedial student in Year 7 to being in the top class in Year 8 mathematics (a level I maintained through high school) was testament to one teacher’s belief in me.
I don’t think I’m the rare case here. There are some who will read this, and it will remind them of the teacher that most inspired them. I don’t really think about my Year 5 teacher who seemed to detest me (which meant it was a long and tough year). It’s Mr Mike King in Year 7 who leaves me feeling an enduring delight for what he inspired within me.
If you’re a teacher or a leader of children in any capacity, you’re not only sowing for the future, but you’re influencing young lives in ways you may seriously underestimate. You may think what you’re doing is of such little importance, or you may think it’s a waste of time working with smarmy upstarts. You may be buried in a workload that sees you nudging burnout. Maybe it’s the parents of students who are hard work.
One day soon, there may be a student or students (plural) who will be thanking God YOU taught them; that there was one crucial thing you said that caused them to believe in themselves. Maybe it was the way you smiled, or the fact you called them by their name, or the lunch you bought them when they didn’t have any money, or the hat you lent them when they left theirs at home.
Focus on the power of little things that certainly endure.
40 years on I still think very often about Mr King. The 12-year-old version of me needed a Mr King. All children need a Mr King kind of teacher who will inspire them to greatness.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Adversity is the story of opportunity of giant problems overcome

Every great story is great, not because there was no adversity, but because those adversities were overcome. This concept of the overcoming life is the gospel imperative.
Just think of your favourite movies and books and the narratives that are woven through them. Truly the greatest movies and books are filled with intrigue, as if the deeper the problems, the more impossible the odds, the greater the ending when the problem is resolved.
I know movies are designed that way i.e. to entertain; but, just think, when we face insurmountable odds, we need belief in a bigger ideal or we just despair of it all.
To make of our lives anything at all,
we must believe that goodness
will fill the narrative.
Your story is not just
about where you ARE.
It’s also about
where you’ll BE.
Anyone who knows even the tiniest amount about literature knows that you need a problem to make a story. The story doesn’t work otherwise. Not only would the story be boring, it wouldn’t make any sense.
Your life was designed
from the beginning
to make sense,
even if it seems
to make no sense right now.
This is not to say for one moment that every problem is good. Many problems that beset our lives are brought about by evil. God hates it. But God overcame evil, and God gives us power to do that in our lives through a divine overcoming power. This is no mirage of eventual disappointment.
Is any of this about minimising the problems of evil? No, just the opposite. Only when we reveal evil for what it is, do we begin to overcome it. We need to take the “D” out of the “devil” and call it for what’s left over: “evil”.
We can apply this to our own lives—to the stories God is weaving through our time on earth, and through the meta-narrative that gets sung in heaven one day. These threads only God knows the ending to.
If our lives were sitting on lounges watching Netflix and eating Doritos, and that was the sum of our life, from one aspect at least, we should feel short-changed. That’s not life. Sure, there are plenty of times when we’ll engage in insignificant activities that we can claim as restful, but these are not the times we were made for.
We were made for a conquest. We were put on this earth to experience true life. And amid grief, even amongst the pain, and even deeper in reliving trauma, we may find buried within those giant problems is our purpose.
Within the problem to be overcome we become motivated. There is no life without motivation. Life is movement. If it wasn’t for the problem we would lounge around all day. Within the problem is nested an opportunity. Very few people are genuine self-starters. And most self-starters are not born that way.
Your problems now are very relevant. They may have come about through evils done to you. They may have traumatised you. You may have been left shattered. But this isn’t to say you can’t recover from these adversities, to then use that wealth of painful life experience to right the plan of your life, even as you inspire others to do the same thing.
Realistically, we all need hope that we
can turn adversity into some sort of triumph.
You are writing your story, and you are writing it in live time, which is to say that today, even this moment as you breathe and consider these words, you write history. YOU!
Today doesn’t write itself. You have the pen in your hand and the keyboard at your fingertips. The circumstances will be as they will be. Of the things that you cannot change, there are so many ways to respond that are as if you are writing a different ending. All it takes is the belief of self to say, “No, it won’t be finishing the way you think it will. You’ll see!”

Saturday, November 16, 2019

The Chaplain

There are so many chaplains sprinkled around the world in many spheres of life. Here’s to each one:
There he goes, here she comes,
right on time, to render their care.
They sit with the weak,
and listen as they speak.
They stand at the work,
no burden do they shirk.
Prepared to pray,
they commit to stay.
The burdens they bear,
require them to feel and to share.
Integrity’s their gift,
their job is to sift.
Servant-hearted and fair,
all their moments are spare.
Bringing sense to a rift,
theirs is a peace to lift.
Leading as an exemplar,
their integrity’s beyond par.
Their role is as a slave,
what matters is what they gave.
God’s safe presence is theirs,
what speaks are their cares.
Their love is the Bible,
to read it with a disciple.
They’re a prophetic voice,
to give executive choice.
Trusted ally at all times,
they can see the signs.
Their service is humble,
they do not grumble.
They love all in their care,
and that example they share.
Availability’s their gift,
giving an ever-timely lift.
Their work seems easy,
but it’s not for the queasy.
Their perspective is wise,
seeing the one who contrives.
Though goodness they see,
in every he and she.
Relied upon everywhere,
their call is to dare.
Their role’s beyond vocation,
they just love their station.
When it’s to mourning they go,
they have empathy to flow.
But in joy they lark,
they can carry a spark.
Of all the people they know,
they believe all can grow.
A ‘believer’ in good,
they do what they should.
A good chaplain’s beloved,
Whether they’re father or mother.

Prayer of intercession for those shocked, traumatised, terrified

O God of all consolation
Who consoles us with a consolation that we often don’t understand or even see at the time, who carries us through the threshold of calamity even if it feels like we’re utterly alone, who convinces us to keep trusting even when we feel like it’s hopeless; come.
Come now, God. Come now into the ONE who is ailing and reeling; shocked beyond belief, traumatised this instant, terrified for what to do or even how to breathe.
You have shown me a sign in the ONE. And that ONE was two, no, now three, who needed this most desperate covering at a time when death descended like an almighty cloak of fear. Terror becomes the ONE right now, Lord, and they are betwixt and between, and utterly horrified for what they mind can now not unknow.
Come to their mind, Lord, come deeper within their thoughts and cause the safety of numbness; a spiritual elixir that they can neither explain nor reject. Help them be anaesthetised by a spiritual transaction that calms their gait right now. Help them not to depart into the darker realms of intoxification. Help them stay in this moment and bring them the help they so desire.
Be ever real in this moment as they reach forth for the care they need, and please, by Your Spirit provide the care they so implore You for.
For the shock, Lord, give a grace to the ONE that transcends their understanding. Give them a strange comfort that seems impossible given their circumstances. In their terror, give a peace that hardly warrants sense—that can only come from You.
You impress upon me, now, Lord that I’m to pray that they sleep. I pray it’s a rest that revives their hope that the weight of this trauma, too, shall pass. Even as they wake, Lord, may it be that the rest they had in their unconscious state prevails consciously, and that an external as well as an internal peace sponsors their hope.
Covenant God, all holder of life, I beseech You by the all-powerful grace that is Yours alone to give, to give it so generously that the ONE who needs it even as these words are prayed or read will get what they need and be spiritually triaged well.
I pray this in the name of our Messiah and Consoler,
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Thursday, November 14, 2019

How on earth do You call someone like me, Lord?

God, my Lord,
How is it to be,
somehow in Your plan,
You in Your calling
have chosen me?
Not as some aloof noble,
but as a normal woman or man,
to walk humbly with my God,
to execute Your redemptive plan.
What do you see that I certainly don’t?
Maybe it’s what I’ll do from what I won’t.
It could be the experiences within which I’ve been awoken,
It could be that You know just how much I’ve been broken.
It seems what’s nested 
deep within my person,
Is the substance of You,
that I sense in the hurting.
I really don’t know why,
it’s me You’ve located,
Apart from the fact,
I can’t despise anyone 
even if I’m hated.
But just like Isaiah,
when his lips were made clean,
I cannot help but say ‘yes’,
and You know I’m keen.
Whatever it is,
I know well this day,
I will face You and Your work,
without any delay.
So, give me my portion,
Your divine estate,
I’ll hold it for You,
I’ll hold that weight.
I’ll not take it for granted,
for in fear and trembling,
I promise to honour You,
as You do the soul mending.
Called not by strength,
nor by one’s own power,
but to be faithful for the length,
of God’s chosen hour.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Father, forgive us for the times we taught what we thought was right, but wasn’t

This could well be a prayer that includes being sorry for teaching, advocating for, or using as advice any of yesterday’s wisdom that, as it happens and as it could be revealed, now or in the future, was flawed and even possibly harmful.
There are so many examples of dogmas we’ve used that seemed wise and godly at the time (by yesterday’s standards) but have since been shown otherwise. The scary thing is, what we should have known at the time wasn’t so obvious back then, but perhaps in many cases should have been.
We judge yesterday by today’s standards and today’s judgement offers little sympathy, even though we didn’t have the benefit of hindsight back then.
I know and feel personally the burden of helping many whilst seemingly harming a few. You see, I write from the perspective of prophetic insight with limited wisdom. I don’t see all the ramifications.
But I’m not the only one impacted. Any pastor or leader who preached or led twenty years ago would not practice their ministry the same way today. Some of those practices were wrong. Some of those methods did harm. And where that shows up today, no matter how sincere we were back then, it’s incumbent on us to confess the error, even if it wasn’t entirely our fault, and even if none of it was our fault. The least we can do is say we’re sorry for harm caused, even if we had no idea about it back then.
In our intent to offer hope, we can at times quench the precious spirit of hope in those who bear a struggle we either don’t understand or aren’t mindful of. For good example these days, in a #MeToo era, is the heightened awareness of abuse and trauma. Whilst psychologists have been concerned about these for decades, society has only caught up very recently.
It wasn’t that long ago that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder wasn’t a thing. In fact, it was less than forty years ago in 1980 that PTSD became a diagnosable disorder. That’s one thing. Complex-PTSD is widely recognised now, and it has been since the 1990s, but not yet formally in the DSM-5.
Slowly but surely more people in helping professions are becoming “trauma informed,” but there is always a significant lag, which is sad particularly given the almost universal role of trauma within common human life. Damage is done in the “helping” today because many in the helping professions are still ignorant.
In balancing the burden of helping many whilst harming some, with the call to write, I fear for the times when my writing harms people (or even one) by being clich├ęd or by just being plain wrong because it doesn’t consider all the factors.
It’s a risk when one day it might work out there’s a litany of things I taught that weren’t right, to the degree they helped some but not all, especially if they actually do harm.
But this is the risk we take, as we step forth into God’s call, and offer to do our best. Sometimes our best won’t stand the test of time.
This is why now and always we must continually be aware of the harm we may do even in endeavouring to do good.
“Father, forgive us for the times we taught what we thought was right, but wasn’t. Help us acknowledge these failings, and the trauma caused, whether they’re our fault or not.”