Friday, October 17, 2014

The Hospital Bed Revelations: #5: Crochet Like a Catholic

This post is part of a series written during a recent hospital stay for an episode of ulcerative colitis. You can read part 1part 2part 3 and part 4 by clicking the links. I'd love to hear your thoughts on healing, faith, long term illnesses, miracles etc so please leave a comment in the section below.

One of the first things I asked for was my crochet. If there was going to be a lot of sitting around waiting, I might as well have something to do. It's quite a conversation starter as people comment on how it's a skill that not many people take the time to do any more or how they always wished they were crafty or wondered how to do the stitches.

Picking it up one afternoon and wondered what it would be like to say one thing good about God, one thing about his promises every time I crocheted a stitch. A picture of the Catholic rosary came to mind. They use it for meditating on the mysteries but what if it was used to declare who God is? I had to pause to think about what I would start with, what I would commence my declaration with.

treble stitch
The Lord is good

I paused and looked out the window. Yes, he is good. No matter what my circumstances are he is good, he has not changed since yesterday and tomorrow he will still be good. What else?

treble stitch
He is faithful

treble stitch
He says he will never leave me or forsake me

Yes. He is faithful. He keeps his word, he is a promise keeper and he has said that he won't leave me alone. I can believe him. I choose to believe him because I know he does what he says he does.

treble stitch
I will live and not die

In the scariness of the unknown, of diagnoses with awful prognoses where everyone says you will die and not live or your life will be of poor quality or reliant on medicine for the rest of your life, yes, I will live and not die. My quality of life will be good and not awful. Somehow. Who knows how but God does.

treble stitch
I will declare the glory of the Lord

treble stitch
He sets a table before me

treble stitch
In the presence of my enemies

treble stitch
surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life....

I stitched for several hours like I have never done before. When I ran out of the promises I could remember, I got out the Bible app on my phone and stitched whispering each phrase of a psalm stitch by stitch, sometimes pausing to think about each statement, sometimes rattling through them.

I can't say that I've ever crocheted like that before and perhaps it will be a one-off. There's an Exchange that takes place however which makes me sit up and take notice. Instead of simply acknowledging the truth of God's word, something mysterious happens and you begin instead to live it, the truth of it enters your heart deeper than before and when you wake in the night you are less vulnerable to fears.

The truth of it is the Lord inhabits the praises of his people.  Where we praise him, there he is. His presence is real, tangible, mysteriously transforming. So why don't we praise him more? What is it to praise someone?

If I think about what it means to praise my child or my husband, it seems to be simply to declare all the good qualities we can about them to them, to ourselves, to others. We can't say enough good things about them, we rave about them, we talk about them all the time.

To tell the truth, I'm half afraid to post this post. It was such a special moment for me that my fear from way back in childhood of being labelled a holy joe comes back to haunt me. To experience a deep mystery of God and then to be misunderstood is difficult but then the truth of Ps 27 comes the Lord is my light and my salvation, of whom shall I be afraid? Literally. Of whom should we be afraid? What are their names? Who are they compared to God and what can they do?

So here I am, posting, confessing, that I now crochet like a Catholic.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Hospital Bed Revelations: #4: Remind yourself of The Rainbow

This post is part of a series written during a recent hospital stay for an episode of ulcerative colitis. You can read part 1part 2 and part 3 by clicking the links. I'd love to hear your thoughts on healing, faith, long term illnesses, miracles etc so please leave a comment in the section below.

Sometimes you need a rainbow blanket to remind you of The Rainbow
The hubster visited me the morning after being admitted and he had brought my crochet in the spare clothes bag. I’m halfway through my rainbow blanket, the wool of which was given to me for my birthday, one of my treasured birthday gifts!

After the hubster and the girls had left, I returned to the bed and saw it again with new eyes laid out over the bed. The Rainbow in the Bible features after God got so fed up with man’s sinfulness that he destroyed everything in the flood, saving only Noah and his extended family and samples of every animal in the Ark. After the flood God promises never again to flood the earth and he gives a sign of a rainbow in the sky to remind humankind of that promise. I often think of it when I see an actual rainbow but for me it is a reminder of God’s goodness, of his protection, that we are safe in his hands. A double rainbow for me reminds me of his abundant goodness and his generosity.

Seeing my crocheted rainbow across the bed spoke to me of God’s promise of his blessing, his favour, his protection and his love spread over my physical body.  I was so touched that I almost cried right there. We are literally physically covered with God’s promise, his protection. It is tangible and real, he holds our future in his hands and he has the safest hands.

I sit with it over my legs. I am determinedly not superstitious but instead I believe that there are certain things that speak forcefully to you of things God wants to communicate. Spending my nights and days lying in bed drifting in and out of sleep or staring out the window thinking, my fingers felt the soft wool and remembered: God is good, he is faithful, he is trustworthy, he has promised to keep me safe, his loving kindness lasts forever.

The Bible talks about Stones of Remembrance. The people of Israel used to make altars to God out of stones – one for each tribe of Israel – in places where there were important turning points, battles God had won for them, agreements and dedications they had made. Every time they would travel past one, they would have known what that pile of stones meant to them. The Old Testament is full of citations reminding us of the miracles God did for his people, the impossible victories that were given to them.

I’ve heard of people collecting pebbles and writing on things God has done for them and I love the idea of passing a tray of pebbles and picking one up, reading it, remembering how God came through for you. I imagine myself rubbing the smoothness of the pebble and reliving the miracle.  Yes, remember that time when God did this... or that... or the other. Remember? He can do it again. He will. His nature is good, his nature is loving, he can’t help being faithful or generous. In him there is only light, no darkness at all.

My blanket will be one of my stones of remembrance. I will always remember that his promise is as close to me as the blanket on my body, not some far off refraction but real, touchable, giving warmth, joy and reassurance, making a physical and visible difference.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Hospital Bed Revelations: #3: Every moment laid out

This post is part of a series written during a recent hospital stay for an episode of ulcerative colitis. You can read part 1 and part 2 by clicking the links. I'd love to hear your thoughts on healing, faith, long term illnesses, miracles etc so please leave a comment in the section below.

God sees every moment of your life even before you were born
I found this verse the other week every moment of my life is laid out before you before I was even born (Ps 139) and I have been meditating on it often since.  I think of it when I am overwhelmed by circumstances and feeling unable to cope with what I have to do.  I think of it when the unexpected curve ball arrives and my plans are forced to change.  I remind myself that God saw this moment, he made plans for it, he made a way out, he knows what comes next and he knows the end of the story before it even starts. 

I think of the peace that I have sitting here in the hospital tied to an IV, still visiting the toilet too frequently. Not an uneasy peace or a temporary peace but a different peace, a safe, confident peace that I am held by Jesus and that he has seen this moment before I was born. I know that this moment comes from the moments on Thursday and Friday when my friends were messaging me and praying for me and speaking words of faith over me. Those moments led to this moment.

I see the hilariously funny one where I was given a single room with toilet because someone had misunderstood what I had been admitted for and thought it was infectious when it wasn’t. Serendipity for me is just another word for God arranging things in advance.

I see the moment when the Indian Tea Man commented on my fast typing which led to him asking me what I do for a job and me telling him I work for a church and inviting him along and him saying yes, I’d love to, I’m a Christian who believes in healing too. We have a long conversation in which I feel guilty for taking up his work time but delighted to find someone passionate about Jesus.  Yup. Arranged in advance.

I see the moment in the middle of the night when a confused elderly lady in the room next to me cries for help and I hear the nurses struggling to reassure and calm her. My heart is distressed for her, distressed that I have to hear things like this and then it turns to the Moments Verse and I realize that I have an opportunity to pray for the voice of Jesus to whisper calm words to her spirit, to whisper peace to her, to give the nurses patience and loving kindness towards to her. I ask for the peace of Jesus to be so real you could cut it with a knife in that room.  A day or two later she is sleeping calmly for most of the day. I write a note to her relatives to let them know that I have been praying for but by the time I pluck up the courage to ask one of the nurses to give it to them, she has left the hospital.

In the room on the other side of me, I hear the shock machine go off. It really freaks me out. I don’t know if it is being used to save a life or just being tested. I hear someone groan and pray: God come into this situation. You put me here in this moment, you knew what would happen right now.

The delightful Catholic elderly gentleman offers me a newspaper then continues the conversation with me telling me that although he believes, his children don't. We talk about how God can change all of that and he works in some funny old ways. He tells me that everyday he tells his wife of the interesting people he's met on the ward and he'll tell her about me. These moments we can so easily miss when we have the opportunity to speak hope and life into people's lives, to encourage them to carry on believing that God can change any situation.

In the discharge room I ask how another patient is feeling, she tells me a heartbreaking story of hopelessness and terminal illness. I am so taken aback and shocked I have no words. I leave her a note to tell her we are having a healing service at our church and I would love to see her there. Who has these kinds of moments?

If every moment is planned by God then not only has he given us the strength to overcome our challenges but he intends for us to be aware of everything going on around us and to be praying him into those situations so that he can bring others his peace and transformation. It has huge implications for our lives.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Hospital Bed Revelations: #2: You can't do this journey alone

This post is part of a series written during a recent hospital stay for an episode of ulcerative colitis. You can read part 1 and part 3 by clicking the links here. I'd love to hear your thoughts on healing, faith, long term illnesses, miracles etc so please leave a comment in the section below.

You cannot do this journey alone
If you think that you can do your faith life in isolation from others, may I politely say that in my experience and in the words of Darryl Kerrigan from The Castle, you’re dreamin’ mate!

In the last couple of weeks, people would ask me how I was going and not feeling in the mood for half-truths, I would cheerfully tell most people, including almost mere acquaintances, that actually I hadn’t been that well .

I started feeling guilty. Was I always talking about this? Did people think I was being a real downer banging on and on about it? I just wasn’t in the mood for social pleasantries but perhaps I should just not talk about it. I started to find ways of glossing over it of moving the subject on quickly or I would put try and couch it in light and cheerful terms when in reality I was going home and spending large chunks of time cramped up on the toilet.

I’m not saying that you should bare your soul to the checkout chick but when the hubster suggested that I should follow Christine Caine’s example and just ask 5 close faith-filled girl friends to pray for me, it rang the Ding-Dong bell of recognition in my head. I could feel myself resistant to the idea, after all they have so many other people to pray for and their own things they are believing for. Deep down though, I knew it was wise and I couldn’t win this battle on my own.

The older I get, the more I realize that God very very very rarely, if ever, does anything outside of a team setting. Moses had Aaron and Miriam right beside him. Abraham started out with Sarah and Lot and his wife. Paul always travelled with a team of guys, Jesus straight away picked 12 fellas and within those had his 3 ‘besties’, if you can call them that. Even Creation was a combo Trinity job. 

Why do I think I can do stuff on my own?  Again it comes down to those tricksy lies. Well look at you, can’t even muster up a single grain of faith can you? Can’t do it on your own? Always relying on other people? 

We’re made to be in a team. When we’re seriously ill, it is hard to muster up faith that things will change, that God is good, that he has good things planned for you. It’s like sickness and disease bring a sort of hopeless lethargy over you, a discouragement and a depression that creeps into your body like a black haze that stops you seeing clearly and takes over your mind.  You know you believe in healing, you know God is able but when people tell you that God has healing for you, you just think yeah right!

So I texted the best faith-filled girls I know, the ones I know who won’t take no for an answer, who don’t let doubt take a foothold. It’s not that my other friends aren’t but 5 was enough and I was proved right to take the hubster’s advice.  The very next day one of them was over at my house praying with me, sharing testimonies of miracles she has personally experienced, wanting to do my washing up for me, bringing me a huge box of fruit and veg which in itself was amazing because I hadn’t had the energy or capacity to go to the shops. And the other four, they were sending me boosting words of faith and prophecy and words of faith that made me cry.

It was these friends whose words gave me peace hours before I decided to get help at the hospital in a situation that could have created panic and anxiety in my heart.

In a word, I felt like even though I was battling my hardest to believe and stand in truth, I knew I was safe because these girls who are faithful powerful prayers were holding me up for real. Just like the four friends who climbed onto the roof of a house, dug a hole in it and let their friend down in front of Jesus.  You need faithful friends like that who will go to great lengths for you. You need Christ community. 

This is exactly why the local church is God’s hope for the world: however it flawed it may seem, this cracked vessel contains the glory of God and the glory of God is dazzlingly bright and beautiful.  It seems to me that the church is the jar of clay that the Bible talks about as being filled with treasure only picture this treasure as a very bright beautiful light. The cracks in the pottery widen and as they do, light streams out of the cracks to the outside world. The pot is the church and the cracks that are getting wider and wider are shining God’s glory. One day that pot will explode and God’s glory will burst out of the church in a glorious way. I don’t want to miss that. I don’t want to be looking at the pottery and devaluing it without looking inside or peeping through the cracks.

My faith-filled, faithful friends are God’s shining glory. They are the ones who rip out those weeds of doubt when you are unable to, they feed you with faith-filled vision and testimonies when you can’t feed yourself, they fight for you when you are too weak to crawl, they shield you when you have been mortally wounded and they call the Ultimate Physician to heal what no human physician can heal. No, I will not give up on community or the local church or humbling myself to ask for believers’ help. It is the Bride of Christ, the one he holds dear to his heart.

This post is part of a series written during a recent hospital stay for an episode of ulcerative colitis. You can read part 1 hereI'd love to hear your thoughts on healing, faith, long term illnesses, miracles etc so please leave a comment in the section below.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Hospital Bed Revelations: #1: Stop Lies Multiplying

I am in a quandary. Do I post or not?

For some reason I,who usually openly talk about things that make other people squirm with prudishness and guard their privacy, didn’t really want to broadcast on facebook or even tell my family that I’ve recently spent a couple of days in hospital. I’ve been wondering why.  It’s not because I find it embarrassing or hard to talk about, it’s more about the pity and the fuss and the thought that if I’m honest I might have a tendancy to facebook bad news when I feel blue and need sympathy.

And yet this time, I genuinely do not feel sorry for myself and I am aware that it is because of my beautiful friends holding me up in prayer and believing healing for me.  I feel completely peaceful and in the right place.

So why AM I blogging?

The answer to that question is in the Hospital Bed Revelations I’ve been having pre- and during this short stay. They have been amazing little nuggets of gold hidden all around me, precious beauties that can’t be kept secret.

I have been told I have ulcerative colitis. It’s been going on a while. It’s not very nice, incredibly inconvenient, long-term, on occasions frightening, draining, painful and frustrating. Getting the meds just right is an arduous process, remembering to take them extremely tedious and when I don’t, I find myself back at square one again.

This last month, especially this last week has been a descent into an episode of it and as it has got more and more draining. Enough of all that though.  As I was travelling through this, I noticed that my thoughts, which are usually determinedly faith-filled when I pray for others for healing for others, started to have little lies creep in.

Revelation 1 : Lies, if left, will multiply. Stomp on them quick.
Two Sundays I was talking to a fabulous older lady in the church who has fought plenty of her own great battles and won. We were talking about healing and she said: When I get a negative thought I cast it out straight away. I have to or else it multiplies.

‘Casting it out’ is a bit of Christianese I know but it has that implication of throwing a thought as far away from you and as hard as  you possibly can that I find particularly apt.

Earlier that morning I had had one of these little lies creep into my thoughts and stick like glue. Sown by someone else accidentally over a year ago, my thoughts whispered - Maybe you’re being punished by God. As soon as I heard it I knew that it wasn’t true but it sowed enough doubt to make it seem plausible. 

When Shirley said what she said that Sunday morning, I had an aha moment and I knew I had to absolutely get rid of that thought straight away.  Other thoughts I’ve fought with this week have been 
Are you sure God loves you?
Surely he wouldn’t make you go through this for so long?
Doesn’t the Bible say he heals you? Where’s  your healing?
Maybe God wants you to suffer all your life so that you can bring him ‘glory’? That’s kind of selfish isn’t it?
What if your doctor knew you were believing for supernatural healing? He’d think you were ridiculous. Maybe you are ridiculous.

I could go on and on and on. The truth is that there is always a theme to these lies and that is the one which plants seeds of doubt in your mind that (a) God exists (b) He is good and his motives are pure and (c) that he can change your situation radically and miraculously (i.e. he is powerful and sovereign.)

I heard someone say something profoundly true once. They said, the enemy of your soul only has two gameplans – to stop people from coming to faith and to get those who are in it out of it as quick as he can. I would add a third – to discredit God’s character and personality – but that really relates to both points.

Unless I do something about these lies when they’re just tiny seeds, as Shirley says, they get stronger, they take root, they become ingrained in me and terribly hard to uproot.

I am learning to find responses to those lies that are biblically based just as Jesus did when he was tempted in the desert. His response was always a comeback verse and my challenge is learning to do that too.  Statements like

I have loved you with an everlasting love
I will never, no, never forsake you
Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world
For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future 
He sent forth his word and saved and delivered them from all their destructions
Many are the troubles of the righteous but the Lord delivers them out of them all

I absolutely love the Christine Caine article I read a few weeks ago on this subject. If you’re interested and have time, you can read her story of healing here.

I wrote this while in hospital over a week ago now and as I wrote more and more, I realized I couldn't put them all in one post so I'll be posting one a day until they run out and adding links at the bottom of posts so that you can catch up on any that you missed. I'd love to hear your thoughts on healing, faith, long term illnesses, miracles etc so please leave a comment in the section below.

Click the links to read other posts in this series.
Post 2, Post 3

Thursday, September 25, 2014

When Spring is at the wrong time of the year and other ramblings

Sometimes life just takes some good old hard work.
I ventured out into our garden this week and decided that it was all just too overgrown and something needed to be done. Spring is supposed to be here, the annoying plover who was squawking aggressively from the roof next door has thankfully disappeared and looking at the clover that was pushing a foot high, I knew it was time for some gardening graft.

As I pushed the lawnmower round the garden like a pram, it very satisfyingly ate the overgrown weeds and clover into a nice trim length. A big effect for a small effort. I wondered why it had taken me so long. It seems though that it is one in a long list of things to do.

We seem to be at that point in the year. The last push of term 4 is almost upon us, the year is marching towards the last quarter and people are starting to talk about how many days/weeks til Christmas as if they can't wait to get there. I can. I am not ready for Christmas at all. There is far too much to do, far too many miracles I want to see happen before I'm ready to finish 2014.

And I think I am still not quite right ways up, living here upside down in the southern hemisphere. Spring is still supposed to be March and September should be autumn. Spring for me is the start of new things, it's the time when you have plenty of energy at the beginning of the year, not when you're doing the final endurance sprint to to wind things down to December.  I am all of a muddle.

The other day I wondered to myself what God has been taking us through this year and I realized that there was quite a lot of structure to it... particularly in the area of financial discipline.

We've learned

  1. Faith - that God is our source and other people or jobs are merely conduits
  2. To give to God and to others even in tight circumstances
  3. To save even in tight circumstances
  4. That it is important, no matter what our financial situation, to continue to invest in our personal Christian leadership development.
  5. That life needs joy moments and these have to be created and planned in.
I'm still pondering that. Still mulling it over. It has most definitely been a year of learning discipline and my brain, like always when you do intense learning, hurts. I'm hopeful thought that after a period of intense learning the pedalling gets easier and the wind begins to blow in your hair and refresh your spirit. You begin to breathe and feel the joy of having accomplished something, learned something new.

In the busyness, in the push push push of learning, the endurance, the aching muscles, the digging deep in the garden of our hearts, I was reminded that when life to be the busyiest, when you have the least time, that's the time to sit and just enjoy God. It's quite possibly the only way to get through it. To sit with a cup of tea and just soak up the sunshine of his presence before you do anything else, before you even attempt to launch yourself into the day.

I'd love to hear your reflections on the last three quarters of the year. What have you learned? What has this year been all about for you? Has it been a year of coasting downhill, feet off the pedals and enjoying the wind in your hair or has it been a long slow uphill push where your muscles ache?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Total Surrender

Sometimes two separate thoughts from two different people join up to make a powerful impact on your thought life.

A couple of weeks ago the hubster was reading Bill Hybel's book Courageous Leadership (which by the way is well worth taking the time to read) and we talked about a quote he read there about Mother Theresa's life. Mother Theresa made some personal private vows early on in her life.

One was to refuse God nothing that he asked of her no matter the cost to her personally, to give him carte blanche, and another was to do whatever he asked of her without delay.

Now skip back a couple of weeks to a women's event where Pastor Cathy Green was speaking. Cathy talked about a moment of revelation for her that came when God asked her to give her sorrows to him. She talked about how she realized she didn't want to give her sorrows to God even though the Bible says about Jesus dying on the cross Yet it was our grief he bore, our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God for his own sins! Is 53:4 TLB.

As Cathy thought about it, she admitted to herself that she didn't want to give Jesus her sorrows because if she did they would be gone forever, she feared they would be forgotten and her pain with them. She shared how as she was thinking about this, she remembered the verse You have seen me tossing and turning through the night. You have collected all my tears and preserved them in your bottle! You have recorded every one in your book. Ps 56:8 TLB. 

I was so touched by her revelation that every single tear that we shed is written down by God, it is recorded and remembered by him. He has collected them, he counts them as precious.

When my little sister was around 4 years old, the age Little Bun is now, I was 17 and I remember that Dad, when she cried, would sit her on his lap and hold his big work-hardened, rough hands out in front of her and he would say ooh wait a minute, wait a minute, let me catch those tears, they're precious they are, they make my hands soft. Can I have them please?

As the hubster and I talked about what it meant to surrender everything to Christ - our hopes, our dreams, our fears, our insecurities - to give them wholly to him just because he asked for them, and as I thought about Cathy's revelation and the picture of my Dad collecting my sister's tears, all three came together into one beautiful picture of Abba Papa, our Creator and Father.

He sees yours and my struggles, our pain, our tears of frustration, our fears of not being good enough. He sent the only son he had, Jesus to take them off us, to make a way so that he could collect our tears and record them in his book. He remembers every struggle we've ever had, every heartbreak. They are no forgotten, he has recorded even the ones that time has swept away from our memory and he counts every one of them as precious.

I find that supremely beautiful and encouraging. It does however require us to surrender them.  Ps Cathy Green is a remarkable lady, completely soaked in prayer and often very honest, in a beautiful funny way. She commented to a friend that her bottle must be very big and her straight-talking friend replied: Oh no, it's very small. You haven't surrendered any tears!

Mother Theresa's challenge, the example of her life, is huge. Do we surrender everything to Jesus? Do we hold our grief and our sorrows back from him? Do we hold our dreams back from him, afraid that he won't give them to us? Radical living means radical surrender.


I'd love to hear your thoughts please leave a comment.