Tuesday, 21 September 2021

CARVED AND CHISELLED

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free”  Michelangelo

So much carving and chiselling and shaping - and pain.   Man, this last couple of weeks have been rough.  

I wonder how the angel felt while it was being carved from a slab of marble.    Of course, the angel didn't have a mind or emotions to deal with, which sounds blissful.   

Image courtesy of:   http://careerfuel.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/michelangelo.jpg

“The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.”  Also Michelangelo

I said I would write a part 2 to my post called 'Where Did She Go?' and hopefully answer the question, "Who are you, Kath?"     This is part 2 but I suspect there's a part 3, which is going to take longer to understand and write about.    

But in the meantime, I wanted to share what I DO understand, thus far, and the process to get to the angel in the marble, the sculpture that He put there to start with.  

"Who are you, Kath?"   I'm still not sure.   What I AM seeing is who I'm NOT, by a slow unravelling and sculpting that is both painful and precise.   It's a very vulnerable and disorienting place to be, this stripping away when there doesn't seem to be much decent  left.    I want so badly to just go and hide under my rock until He's done.   Relationships feel even harder when you're this disoriented.  Insecurities scream at you.   Nothing feels right or safe.

So, I'm trying to lean on Him, into Him, into His truths.    It's hard to do that when everything is shaking.   But the truths are there for the taking and for the leaning into.    So many times lately, they're leaping off the pages, from passages I've read a hundred times.   How did I miss that truth and this one, and then another?    

With everything that He chisels away, He replaces it with a new truth, a new understanding, a new strength, something much more solid than what was there.     So much of what I've leant on has been lies and half truths, all under a covering of shame.  Hence the shaking and the sculpting.

A few weeks back, while on the phone to a friend on a particularly rough day, she shared with me the picture that God gave her of a caterpillar in a cocoon, waiting to burst forth as a beautiful butterfly.  So, I went home and started doing some research.   

Metamorphosis is the process of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly.  That process is not for the faint-hearted.   If you want to read about it, you can find some helpful information here.

What goes on in that dark little place that we so glibly refer to as a cocoon is neither pretty nor pleasant.   The caterpillar essentially turns into soup!   And that's pretty much how this process is feeling.  This cocoon is feeling pretty dark and soupy and unstable just at the moment.   

In my researching, I discovered this very interesting correlation between metamorphosis and the Biblical concept of transformation.  

The Greek word metamorphoo in the New Testament, (which is where we get the English word metamorphosis, a rather unique process in the natural world), is translated transformation, and used only four times.   

Basically, metamorphoo = transformation.  

Two times the word metamorphoo is used when referring to Jesus being transfigured on the mountain.   

These are the other two times:

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.   Romans 12:2

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.   2 Cor 3:18 

So, the process of transformation, that we are called to, essentially equals the process of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly.   That sounds sweet and lovely.  It isn't.  Suffice to say that the caterpillar has to eat itself in the cocoon so that there's room to grow wings and whatever else it needs to be a butterfly.  It needs to digest the very structures that kept it crawling around on the ground.    Ouch!

What I'm discovering in this process of metamorphoo is a dying to so many things that were/are a huge part of me -my self image, my false identity, my coping mechanisms.    Honestly, I don't mind that those things are dying and some are already dead and no longer just buried alive.   I'm incredibly grateful for the freedom that is coming.   I very much mind the process, though.   

But transformation is what He's after.  Not behaviour modification.  Not pretense.  Not perfectionism.  Not self-improvement.    What He asks for is a holy surrender that leads to real change.  Inner change.  Hidden change.  Painful change.   Permanent change.  Liberating change.   

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.  Rom 12:1

Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.  Ps 51:6

For this commandment is a lamp, this teaching is a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way to life.   Prov 6:23

So, we have to grab hold of each thing, each lie and shame and regret and stronghold that keeps us crawling around on the ground, and release it to Him so He can grow new truths that will enable us to soar.    Gotta die to that stuff like the caterpillar, eh?   Ouch!  This dying is painful.   

The lifting of the shame is liberating and I'm grateful.   When all you feel is the weight of the shame, often referred to in the Word as despair or condemnation, you can't be free.   I'm not meant to carry that and yet so many of us do and think it's from Him.

But He doesn't condemn - He convicts.  (Rom 8:1, Heb 4:12)

He doesn't humiliate - He brings low and then He exalts.   (1 Sam 2:7)

He doesn't push us down - He lifts our head and crowns us with love and compassion.  (Ps 103:4)

But something else is becoming obvious as well.   This blanket of shame that I have lived under all my life, has hidden MY sin from my eyes.      So, when He lifts that shame off, the light gets in and  I'm able to see MY part in those significant life events and traumas and relationships, MY part that compounded the problem.   That's really challenging because it's easier to blame it all on a someone or a something.  

In the middle of a painful unpacking, it's hard to admit (to yourself) that you added to it or even caused some of it.    But I can't move forward if I don't acknowledge ALL of it.   And I so badly want to move forward and be done with this valley.    As always, in His faithfulness and justice, He provides a way out and the promise is here:   

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  1 John 1:8,9

Those I love, I rebuke and discipline. Therefore be earnest and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and dine with him, and he with Me.  Rev 3:19,20 

Repentance is a gift.   It leads to renewal and refreshment.    We avoid it, we cringe at it, we don't often talk about it or hear sermons about it, but it's the only way forward from being stuck in patterns of thinking and behaviour, and stuck in cycles of guilt, fear, shame and regret.   It really is the only way forward. 

In our small group study recently, we realised that God doesn't talk much about regret.    He doesn't ask us to say sorry; He asks us to BE sorry - to repent.  He calls us to turn around, go in a different direction, be transformed and renewed, to receive mercy (for sin) and grace (power to live right).  

I want to be in that place of dining with Him that's mentioned in those verses.    I've known His discipline (the carving and the shaking) and His rebuke (specific conviction) and that place of intimacy is opening up more and more.    Like any relationship, it's built on trust and honesty, not on hiding.    I don't want to deceive myself or try and deceive Him.    In reality, I'm the only one believing the lies.  He knows the truth.   When His light shines on something, I can withdraw and justify, or I can stand and face it - face Him.   

When I seek His face, He is my light and He is my mirror.   I see my reflection in His face, all of it.  And it's not all pretty.  The rebukes sting.   But in that same face, I also find the compassion of a Father who knows I am dust and isn't surprised by any of it.   

Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice!   Have mercy also upon me, and answer me.

When You said, “Seek My face,”  My heart said to You, “Your face, Lord, I WILL seek.”  Ps 27:7,8

As always, a song to offer as a prayer.   

Here I am, I am ready to receive, everything You want in me, there is more....

Oh that You would find my faith an open door...


Saturday, 11 September 2021

The Lifter of My Head

You know, you can carry shame and not know it.   It's very, very real, like the air you breathe.   It becomes so much a part of your thinking, your demeanour, your identity, like skin-tight clothing, that you don't recognise what it is or how it works.   It's your normal.   You can't imagine being without it because you don't remember a time when you didn't feel IT and carry IT and 'know' these things about yourself.

At some point in your adult life, you realise that other people haven't experienced IT.  You look at them, often with deep envy, and realise that they honestly have no idea what it's like to feel this weight all.the.time, to have shame play a huge part in the way they view themselves, the way they relate to others.

Shame is like a garment you never take off.   It makes you hide and pretend and cover your other faults.   You work hard at being okay, at looking the part, at behaviour management, so nobody notices what you 'know' about yourself, that you are inherently faulty.   You hope they don't.  You pray they don't.   You keep parts of you hidden so they don't.   You even hide them from yourself.

Shame affects the way you relate to everyone, including close friends.  You always wonder what they're thinking, why they're being so nice to someone who's so dirty and broken, and when that's going to end, when they'll run out of 'nice', as many already have.  Shame destroys trust, undermines relationships, steals identity, damages your children.  

But your closest friends, the ones that can see past the facade, the glossy, acceptable stuff, the striving, the just-under-the-surface insecurities, the ones that push in there -  they see and they love you anyway. These friends are like gold - rare, to be treasured.   You keep expecting them to finally wake up and realise and disappear.  But, they see the gold in you and they give you grace and speak truth.  Sadly, that truth often bounces off the shame, but they speak it anyway, until you can receive it.   And The Good Shepherd  pursues you, relentlessly, until you will let Him have it and replace it with His hard-won dignity.

Shame can come on you because of what's done to you and spoken over you.  Abuse always brings shame with it, always -  because you're being used and devalued, instead of cherished.   Shame can attach itself to a family, so it is something you're just born into.  Shame is something you can pass on to your children, albeit unwittingly.   Shame can attach itself to you when you engage in hidden, addictive or sinful behaviours.   Shame can be something you absorb through trauma and never let go of.  

But it doesn't have to stay that way, even if it's been that way all.your.life, as it has for me. 

My shame wasn't from something I did, but something that was done to me, and spoken over me, repeatedly, for years, by a parent who should have embraced, and reflected love and acceptance.  Instead I was repulsive to her, because of a skin condition I didn't understand and that she couldn't fix.  Shame became my belief system, part of my identity, part of the very fabric of who I was.   

I have not known life without it - until now.      But God.....

He redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion... Ps 103:4

I recently shared my childhood experiences with some close friends in a time of prayer, this condition that caused me deep shame, from a very early age, throughout childhood and adolescence.   Shame has been so familiar to me.  Others saw it and sensed it, especially in my adolescence, and it became a place of vulnerability that left me open to bullying and intimidation.   It was a huge part of my identity and 'leper' was not an uncommon word in my high school experience.   

Speaking out the words about that time in my life, which lasted years, and was dotted by specific traumatic incidents, was one of the hardest things I've faced in this whole healing journey.   Giving voice to those specific traumatic incidents, speaking out those images and feelings, was almost impossible because it felt like I would be cementing what I despised about myself.  I felt like shame was going to finally take me under.

Sharing that with friends who might finally realise how dirty I was, was a huge, calculated risk.  I nearly backed out several times.   Instead, surprisingly, the power was taken from it.     Yes, speaking out these things strips them of their hidden power, especially when those listening do NOT agree with your view of yourself as dirty and disgusting, words buried deep in my soul.   Their unflinching acceptance of me began the healing.   And the healing continued as the lies and the half-truths came to the surface and were skimmed off in prayer - powerful, healing prayer.   

During that time of prayer, this passage was read out.  

While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy.   When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, You can make me clean.”   Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” He said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.

“I am willing,” “Be clean!”  

Those words became life to me.  Life and power that blew away that shame that I've carried for many, many years, since early childhood.   It broke the power of something that was so strong and deep and debilitating.   It was like Jesus was standing right there, speaking those words to me!    Because He was, in the person of the Holy Spirit.   As Paul read those words of truth out to me,   I had a new truth - I was clean.    For the first time since early childhood.      Clean!  I'd never known that.   That shame was gone!   Jesus had shown Himself willing, and able, to clean and to heal.

And now, finally, surprisingly, I am free to walk with dignity, like everyone else.   It still blows my mind.   I didn't know it was possible for ME to walk with dignity, instead of a contrived confidence.  Perhaps thinking and walking as the beloved daughter, designed on that divine drawing board, might actually be possible as I walk forward from here.  

Ps 3:3 But you, Lord, are a shield around me,  my glory, the One who lifts my head high.

I can walk with my head held high, not in arrogance or self-righteousness, but in His grace, with the confidence and dignity that He bestows.  

Jesus came to restore our dignity.   That's what He did on the cross, that unfair exchange.    

I love the instead verses:   

to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,

the oil of joy instead of mourning,

and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendour.  Isa 61:3

I want to be an oak of righteousness, for the display of His splendour, free of shame.   So I will continue to hand over any remaining shame He shows me.   Just this week, He lifted another load of shame that I had been hanging onto, because I thought it was justified.  It wasn't, but even if it was, I'm not meant to carry that burden that was put on me over 20 years ago.   Because what I hold onto, holds onto me, and I have had enough of it.    Even shame that I deserve can be brought to Him.

So, I will approach that throne of grace and mercy with a real, God-given confidence, because He tells us not to slink to His throne, but to come, boldly, as we are.  And I will keep handing over and receiving forgiveness, healing, mercy, and His dignity - beauty for ashes.  

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.   Heb 4:16

God did not design or desire for us to carry shame.  These verses speak of dignity and honour.  

Isa 61:7   Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. 

Ps 34:5   Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.  

https://news.americanbible.org/blog/entry/corporate-blog/annie-vallotton-legacy-of-the-good-news-bible


The more I look into that great exchange, the more I realise it's about what He was prepared to offer for my redemption - all of Himself.     What am I worth?  His blood.  This line from a song jumped out at me this week -  Your blood, the measure of my worth............                Let that sink in.  I am worth the precious blood of Jesus Christ.    I am worth the price He was willing to pay.  And I am clean.   He is indeed my glory, and the lifter of my head.

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life you inherited from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or spot.  1 Peter 1:18,19

Each time I take communion, I am reminded that my shame is no match for His cleansing flow.     And so I come, as I am.    Jesus, just as I am,  I come.   

Oh how I need Your grace

More than my words can say

Jesus I come, Jesus I come

In all my weaknesses

You are my confidence

Jesus I come, Jesus I come

I will rise, stand redeemed

Heaven open over me

To Your name eternally

Endless glory I will bring (oh)

Oh what amazing love


Tuesday, 31 August 2021

Where Did She Go?

 

When I look at this photo, I see a Mum enjoying her baby girl and her life.   She looks tired, but she seems happy enough.  Mother of two, a boy and a girl.   Where did she go, that happy person?

She was good at looking picture perfect, in the early years.   Being English, appearance was important.  Being neat and tidy, hair done, it was important.   Even if you were crumbling, you made sure you looked right.   But being English, her mindset was that you didn’t ask for help until you got your Ts crossed and your Is dotted.   You didn’t admit to faults or failures. And she was pretty sure you had to measure up before you came to God.    Perfectionism is no way to live.  It just stops us from being honest with ourselves and God, stops us from healing and growing.    The cracks were already showing.   

Not long after this photo was taken, she and I went to England for six months to see her parents.  Things were obviously already difficult because they begged her to stay, to not go home to her difficult marriage.  But she had left behind her three-year-old son, so she was compelled to return. 

By the time she returned, my brother was already showing signs of deep trauma, from the bits I've gleaned since, from people who knew us in those early years.   To this day, I don't know why and I'm afraid to ask.  Perhaps he remembers, perhaps not.    And our parents’ marriage was struggling but neither of them asked for help.











Where did she go, that pretty lady who had caught his attention in New Zealand? 











Where did she go, that happy wife? 

I think as we lost our baby-ness and grew more tiresome, her exhaustion kicked in, emotional and physical.   I think we were a constant reminder of how trapped she felt.    She went to work every day, one of the few mothers who worked full time.   She wanted to earn money so she could get away.  But she never had the confidence to do that, to believe she could survive without him.   She believed the lies that he constantly told her.   ‘Hopeless.  Useless.  Ugly.   Nuisance.  Never survive.  I will not let you go.’   Those words became her truth.  

Her words for us started to change too - dirty, disgusting, damn nuisance, noisy, pest....

Where did she go, that Mum who had delighted in us, her babies?

I remember being about three when the fights started, Pete and I sitting on their big bed, holding each other while they railed against each other in another room.   That's when the chronic asthma started for both of us too.  I daresay it was a load that weighed heavily on her insecurities about motherhood.    She felt guilty about whatever was wrong with us.  The asthma was a major guilt factor for her, along with some other chronic and obvious health issues Pete and I struggled with.    I know she was blamed for a lot of it.   

In the mix, there were some good days, some good memories, some peaceful times.  There was a Mum who was trying to love these children when she had been given little to work with.   Her own tank was empty.    Her own childhood had been one of neglect and rejection and abuse.      

Her own identity was shaky and built on falsehood and surviving constants attacks from a husband who was supposed to be loving and cherishing her.   

This is me, I was about one in this photo.  In just a few short years, that blissfully happy child was struggling.   Where did she go?   











 


When I was six, Mum discovered she was pregnant and didn't want to be.  She was getting a lot of pressure to have an abortion.  She didn't.  I'm grateful for that.  But the Mum who had managed to keep going, for us, even in the midst of her own internal struggles, was barely there any more.  Where did she go?   I think she was drowning in all the future fear, loaded on top of the weight she was already carrying, alone.  

Mum had always made a big deal about birthdays.  I think it was her way of making up for what she perceived as her failures, perhaps making up for what she missed out on as a child.  She spent money she didn't have on birthday presents.  But I remember coming home from school on my 8th birthday, to find her in bed, my baby brother asleep in his cradle.  She had forgotten my birthday.  Where did she go, the Mum who always remembered birthdays?  I'm almost certain she was suffering from postnatal depression but of course, I didn't know that then.  I came to resent that little brother, but it wasn't his fault.  He didn't choose it. 

Things didn't improve.  She became more withdrawn, less able to cope, more volatile.  As I got older, I was given more responsibility, mostly with the baby brother, who was turning into a difficult toddler.   And he became yet more evidence of her failures.   He was much less pliable than my older brother and I apparently were.   Every parenting failure caused her to withdraw even more. 

The happy, well-dressed lady almost disappeared.  Some days we caught glimpses of her.  Mostly she was just sad and vague, or violently angry.   She was suffering from manic depression and hypothyroidism, both untreated. 

I remember being deliberately happy as a child.  Perhaps I was trying to convince myself it would be okay if I pretended it was.  I was an extrovert and worked hard at being happy.   I had a strong personality and I was often angry, and it took over the sadness.   My older brother was an introvert, and just became more and more withdrawn.  

In all of this, my view of myself was becoming more and more distorted.    I was full of shame and believed many things about myself that were simply not true, but were being reflected back to me as truths, were spoken as though they were.    They were the lies I came to believe, but they weren’t the truth.  My identity was being formed by broken people.  As they say, hurt people hurt people.     

My granddaughters often ask their mother, as my own children have asked, 'Where was I before I was in your belly, Mummy?'.  

And I have replied to them, 'You were on Daddy God's drawing board'. 










Image courtesy of https://free.clipartof.com/details/2085-Free-Clipart-Of-Someone-At-A-Drawing-Board

And we were.   We all were on Daddy God's drawing board, before we were born into this broken space.

On Daddy God's drawing board, I was His workmanship, His beautiful daughter, His unique person, His delight, His design and His desire.   That was His blueprint.   That was who I was made to be.     

Where did she go?   Where did THAT person go?   Where did that person disappear to?

THAT person got lost in the environment of the sin, abuse, rejection and brokenness of not just her own childhood, but what was brought into her family from her parents’ separate childhoods and the generations before them.

The foundations of my parents’ identities were shaky and faulty.   The foundations of their marriage were shaky and faulty.   The foundations and framework of our family were shaky and faulty and damaging for all of us. 

So, where did she go?   The person on Daddy God's drawing board?    I want the identity I started with, even before I became theirs, the person I was meant to be.

I am His workmanship, His artwork, His design.  I want that identity, not the one they shaped. 

Where did she go?  How do I find her?   Who is she?  

Who are you, Kath?   I’ve had two pastoral people ask me that recently, both while they were praying for me.   Independently of each other, those were the words given to them by the Lord.   It’s a really confronting question, straight from the Holy Spirit.     

And both times, I’ve replied, ‘I don’t know’.   I’ve mumbled something about being someone’s daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend, grandmother, helper, neighbour.......  

But before I was any of those things, even a daughter, who was I?    

Outside of all those roles, who am I?  

Do I have an identity and an intrinsic value outside of the roles I play? 

Apparently, I do. 

For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvellous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skilfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.

How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How great is the sum of them!
If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand;
When I awake, I am still with You.

Ps 139:13-18

 

For now, I’m going to leave it there.   There’s so much more to say, so much more to ponder on.  There’s so much more for me to learn before I can even write about it.   

I need time to sit with this question, ‘Who are you, Kath?   I need time to sit with the above truths and others beside, to let them soak in deep and displace the lies and the shame and the guilt.    I can’t just know it in my head; I’ve done that for years.   It’s simply not enough.    It has to penetrate well beyond there, or I'm going to continue to live out of that brokenness.    

I have to let His healing oil pour into those deep crevices, because that’s where the lies and shame are hiding.   And that’s the painful part.   When the oil soaks in, the pain comes to the surface.   That’s the bit I’ve always held back.  Well, no more.   As hard as it is, the truth has to reach into those deep, painful places.  

He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds.  Ps 147:3

So, my heart is open before Him, as much as I am capable of doing that at any given point. 

I love these lyrics from Mack Brock.   Heart Wide Open.   Dangerous lyrics, but that’s the only way I know to move forward.  

My heart before You
I know You see me as I am
I'm met with kindness
That knows no end

You pull me closer
Oh, there is freedom all around
Here in Your presence
My walls come down
My walls come down

So I'm gonna worship
With my heart wide open
I don't wanna miss a thing
'Cause You take what was broken
And make it new
I'm gonna trust You
With my heart, with my heart wide open

There’s a Part 2 to this blog post, I just don't understand it yet.   Please come back for more. 


Saturday, 21 August 2021

He is my Rock

 



I woke up with this picture on Sunday morning.   I immediately knew what it meant.

This was my reality, from a fairly early age.  At the age of 12, after a violent altercation with my Mum, in which she made it very clear to me that she would no longer tolerate me needing her emotionally, I made the decision to become her stabiliser, the fourth leg if you like.   I somehow realised that she just couldn’t cope any more, couldn’t be strong for me, so I had to be strong for her. 

Of course, I had neither the maturity or life skills to do such a thing but I knew something had to be done.  It was really quite selfish in a lot of ways, because I was trying to avoid the fallout that happened if she got too stressed.   The fallout almost always landed in my direction, and that day it landed like it never had before, nor would again.

One of the best ways to avoid a major fallout, was to stop needing her to do things for me.  At 12, you’re fairly independent of needing to be fed, clothed, bathed, or even helped with homework.   You can also make yourself fairly useful around the place, doing what you can to alleviate the workload.  You’re useful enough to keep the baby brother somewhat occupied and safe.   You can sometimes even pretend to have an adult conversation and make it look like you know something, enough to alleviate a parent’s loneliness. 

It all sounds so noble, but it wasn’t.  It was survival.   And all these years, I thought it was God expecting me to do that, to be that for her, which I’ve secretly viewed as incredibly unfair.  I even said that to Him last week.  

Really, she should have sought help, but perhaps she didn’t know that she could.   So, she started to lean in on me.  And I enabled that, to the best of my ability. 

The year before the ‘crash’ that saw me step into that position, she had lost her father.  Only she didn’t get to say goodbye or go to his funeral because he died suddenly on the other side of the world.  I think her father’s death was the final straw for her.    She was in a difficult marriage, in a culture she didn’t understand, and suffering from the ongoing effects of hypothyroidism and manic depression, too frightened to seek help.   She was a very long way away from anyone she felt safe with (family) and it was before the days of easy phone access.  She didn’t drive and although we lived in town at the time, she was quite isolated.  She was working one day a week, and while that allowed her time with people other than us, it created its own pressures.   She was very needy and married to someone who wouldn’t tolerate it. 

When you’re carrying a huge load, and you feel so alone, and you have a capable daughter, you tend to expect far too much and allow them to step into a role they are not mature enough for, even if they appear to be.  I’ve seen it myself, seen it in myself.   It often happens about the time they’re as tall as you and start showing themselves to be really capable.  

After the crash that changed everything, I realised that crying was going to send that tottering table tumbling again very fast in my direction, so I stopped.   Not that I didn’t need or want to cry, I just didn’t.   I hid problems, hid needs, hid tears, hid pain, stopped asking for answers you should only get from your Mum.  I knew it would send that table tumbling again, so I hid my pain away. 

When Dad started the sexual abuse, I hid that too.   But she knew; she just couldn’t deal with it and I couldn't risk another crash.   She hinted that ‘it happens in families, women just have to suck it up to keep the family together.’  I knew what she meant.  So, I hid it.   I even hid it from myself for a long time, until it wouldn’t stay down. 

I was angry with her a lot in my late teens, early twenties, after I left home.    I sorted the raw anger, eventually, though it compounded into bitterness for a long time.     

I struggled to cope.  He struggled to watch me cope alone.  I struggled to let Him touch it.  He let me hold onto it, for a time.  

Finally, the grief of unmet needs, that’s been deeply, deeply buried all this time, made its presence felt last week.   I knew something was down there, but wasn’t sure what it was.   I knew He wanted to heal it, and I knew I didn’t want Him to touch it because it was going to be very painful.  I wanted to unpack it myself, understand it and then pack it back up.   But He said no to that.  Instead, after some wrestling, I gave Him permission to do what He wanted.  Once again, doing it afraid.   I gave Him control of the process.   And He did just that. 

I woke up one morning and I could barely function.  God, what is this?   And He just quietly said, as He does, ‘It’s time.’  

As that grief started to surface, the all-too-familiar anger kicked in.  Anger feels so much safer to me. But once again, the call came to not handle this with anger.    And once again, without anger, pain has no barricades to get past.   Up it comes. My goodness, it hit like a tsunami over several days.   I found myself just reeling in pain, though it wasn’t physical.  

So, we got through the next few days, wave after wave, hours apart, with little warning.   They say grief is like that.   From what I know of grief, it is.  But long-suppressed grief seems to have a power all its own.  

I guess that’s why He knew I needed to just let it go, not sift through it, not understand it, not even write it all out beforehand.     I had to trust His timing, His way.   And He honoured that and provided a way through.   He gave me people to minister to me with listening ears and with wise counsel.  He led people to pray through the watches of the night.    Just as importantly, people praying with me and over me – in everyday words, but also in words that we don’t understand, a prayer language that broke through all my resistance and allowed for deep healing and release, His Spirit ministering directly to mine.          

Somehow, when that pain was released, there was this quiet, solid peace and a strength from Him that He was placing deep within, not my own contrived strength that had been there before.  And with this new strength, a new revelation, not of being strong for Him, but rather strong IN Him.

‘See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?   I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.’  Isa 43:19

When you live your early years as the fourth leg, it deeply impacts your understanding of God and your relationship with Him.  You assume you have to be strong for HIM.  You assume that He needs you to do that.   You underestimate His willingness and capacity to be strong for you.   You underestimate Him.   What a revelation it was to realise He didn’t give me that role or that burden.      

Instead, He said to carry burdens WITH Him, not alone.

These recent thoughts from a dear sister, who’s been struggling with chronic illness and a lot of pain, came at just the right time. Thank you!

“…….. at its worst, I cried out to Jesus, I sensed His presence and I could see it in my mind as he came and sat beside me on the lounge and lifted the yoke that was so heavy and placed part of it on his shoulder and said ‘I am here to share this with you’.   I immediately felt the heaviness lighten, it did not go away, still had to go through it.   But Jesus is right there, sharing it with me, sharing that pain and the illness and he stayed.   I believe he wants you to know that, trust in that and I believe he wanted me to tell you that he will carry you whenever necessary.   He feels all of what you are feeling, especially at the hardest moments.” 

I will learn to carry the load WITH Him.   And I will learn to let Him carry me.  

These words that He gave me on the very first day of this year now make so much more sense. 

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from HIM.

Truly, He is my Rock and my Salvation; He is my Fortress, I will not be shaken.

My salvation and my honour depend on God; He is my Mighty Rock, my Refuge. 

Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our Refuge.

Ps 62:5-8

My paraphrase:  My soul can and will find rest in Him; my hope comes from Him, not me.   He is my Rock - He holds me up; I don’t need to hold Him up.   He will save me; I can’t save myself.   He is my safe place, where I am secure, not shaken.    My purpose, my identity and honour come from Him, not a role I play.   I can hide in Him, my Refuge, not hide from Him.   I can pour out my heart to God and know He will not crumble or lash out.   I can depend on Him because He is stable and predictable.  I can trust in Him at.all.times.  

The understanding of those words, finally, makes all the pain worthwhile.  

From here, a song of commitment to trust Him in the process, with the process, of continued healing.   I’m so grateful for grace being poured into those still-raw spaces and grace to practise a new way of walking.   When you’ve walked with a limp all your life, you have to relearn how to walk well.   Perhaps that’s the subject of another blog post.  

It wasn’t meant to be this way

Broken beneath the grief and pain

There’s nothing left here

But into my dust, You poured Your grace

Lifted my head and spoke my name

You’ll see me through this

You are the Maker of my heart

You are the Healer of my scars

God, I WILL trust in Who You are.  

Monday, 9 August 2021

Ashes for Beauty - an Unfair Exchange

 

Has your child ever dropped a bowl on your tiled floor and you've watched in horror as it breaks into a thousand, jagged pieces? 



If it's a Kmart purchase, you probably don't really care.  You clean up the mess and move on.

But what if it's precious?   Perhaps you've had it for years.   Perhaps it's the gift your old friend gave you before she passed away.   Perhaps you made it and now it's irreparable. 

I get it.   At times, I've cleaned up and moved on, and other times I haven't.  I've ranted about carelessness and mess and all that.   Really?  Yep.

If you wanted to punish the child for said carelessness and make a point, then you could demand they fix it.  But can they fix it?  No.   They simply can't.   No amount of wanting to on your part or theirs could change it when it's this bad.   You have to just pick up the pieces and throw it all away. 

Of course, if the bowl smashed into a few large pieces, perhaps you could both pick up the pieces and mend it.   Get some super glue out and stick it back together.   The Japanese do that.  They pick up the pieces and they mend the item.   But not with super glue to hide the cracks.  They mend it with gold so you can see the cracks.  The scars add to the beauty of  the object.   The scars are obvious and lead to questions and conversation.  The precious object now has a story to tell - a story of redemption.    This art form is called kintsugi - literally meaning 'repaired with gold'.  In the hands of a skilled craftsman, the broken object is transformed into something even more beautiful and loved.



Here I am with so many broken pieces, that I didn't break.   There are too many pieces to find and put back together.   I can't find them all, nor understand them all, though I want to.   It's a painful mess, staring me in the face.   And I honestly don't know where to start.  

I know where I WANT to start.   I want to start by ranting at the person who caused it.   And there's more than one of them.  I want to have that conversation, make that phone call, send that letter.   And I've done that before now.   To no avail.  Just made it worse.  Made it harder and more painful.  Made them even less able to fix it and more inclined to lash out in their own defence.  And the brokenness is still there, glaring at me, compounded by guilt and regret and broken relationship.  

Once again, God asks me to surrender something.   He quietly and gently asks that, instead of ranting and needing it to be understood and fixed, if I can simply leave it with Him.   How incredibly unfair!   If they can't fix it, they could at least listen to how painful and wrong it all was and still is.   That much is the least they can do, surely. 

But even that is too much.   Just like ranting at a child for dropping something precious on your tiled floor is too much.    It's too much.  It doesn't help.  It doesn't heal.   It doesn't fix anything. 

It's not enough to forego asking them to fix the unfixable.   More than that, I need to forego the demand for justice or even understanding.    In my pain, I must not rant to the one who broke my heart, but I need to leave those broken pieces instead with the  One who can not only gather them up, but make something beautiful out of them.   And what grace is that, that I am not even being asked to gather it all up and fix it myself?  

But they will never understand how much it hurts.    How can they?   Each heart knows its own pain.   They will never really understand how much damage there is, any more than I can recognise how each tiny piece goes back together.  So what to do instead of what I want to do, what my heart thinks it 'needs' to heal?

Let Him have the ashes, the brokenness, and the demands for understanding and justice.  

While I hold all those ashes, my hands can't hold His beauty.   And while I hold hot coals, my heart will continue to be in pain.

Instead of the ashes I hold in my hands, He promises to create beauty.  Beauty for ashes.  That's the promise, the exchange that's offered.   It isn't fair, but neither was the cross.    That gracious promise of exchange was purchased by the precious blood of a sinless Man on a grossly unfair cross.  

The promise is conditional because it's an exchange.   ...........to bestow on them a crown of beauty INSTEAD of ashes...   And that means I have some choices to make. 

I cannot receive the healing promised without relinquishing the ashes.    I need to forego some things.   That's what forgiveness is.   It's a foregoing.   It's letting go of all that is unjust and painful and wrong.   It's not even insisting on gathering it up for later.    It's simply letting Him have it, to do with it what He will.  

'But', you say, as I have many times, 'someone needs to pay for it all - for the wrong, for the damage, the heartache'.  I've cried out to the Lord for that very thing - for payment, for justice.   'Somebody needs to pay for it!'   And He quietly but firmly whispered to me,  'Somebody already did - it is finished!'

Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.  John 19:30

Surely He took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered Him punished by God,     stricken by Him, and afflicted.   But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him,  and by His wounds we ARE healed.  Isa 53:4-5

And indeed it is finished, it's done, if we'll let it be finished.   Can we trust Him with it all?   Can I trust Him with it all? 

So, if it is finished, can we let the healing begin?   IF we'll receive the beauty for the ashes we've grown used to, that tangible evidence of wrong done that we hang onto and wear for others to see.    In Old Testament times, people sat in sackcloth and ashes to show that they were mourning for someone or something.   There's a time for mourning.  But then there's a time to rise up and put on a different garment, a new demeanour, and to move forward, and leave it behind us.  

Instead of ashes, can we be content with scars, golden scars?   Can we let Him do His redeeming work in us, as He puts the pieces back together - better, stronger, with a beauty that points to Him, the Master Craftsman, the Redeemer?    

Jesus came for this:   to comfort all who mourn,  and provide for those who grieve in Zion - to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.  Isa 61:2-3

Ashes - what was done TO us?   Or beauty - what He can do IN us?

Can we trust ourselves instead to Him who holds healing in His hands?   Can I?   

I simply must, or the last part of this chapter will be my reality.   And that is far worse than the ashes.   

For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel:  “In returning and rest you shall be saved; In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.”  But you would not.......  Isaiah 30:15

..............Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly.   “He himself bore our sins” in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by His wounds you HAVE been healed.”   1 Peter 2:23,24

Once again, a beautiful song

I came to You with my heart in pieces
And found the God with healing in His hands
I turned to You, put everything behind me
And found the God, who makes all things new