Saturday, January 30, 2016

Living In the Dulcetly Stark Tones of Imminent Grief

“Most days I feel like I’m living someone else’s life. Like this really can’t be happening right now......
“I’d rather have it this way cause I really don’t want to be living this life.”
— Heather Miller
These are the words of a recently bereaved mother of a two-month-old baby girl.  There’s something very stark and all-too-real in these words; something tantalisingly hellish like, “This cannot be my life I’m living; this, what dominates my mind, and cavorts with my heart, and has taken over my life, is worse than I could have imagined life could ever become.”
This sort of experience of life — the death of a life that was — is an antecedent to new life in this same person.  But how are they to know?  They hold on in faith — that there is meaning in this — and even if that sounds insulting, that they can hang on in hope that this pain won’t be an utter and meaningless waste.
Living in shock of grief — which is waking up knowing the nightmare has recommenced — stretches your understanding for goodness.  Suddenly your world is stormed by terrorists who attack from within; mind, heart and sinew are cocooned in grief.
Living in the shock of grief is a rare place to be, and its timing is often irrelevant, because with calamitous grief there’s generally the sense of total devastation to connection to life.  The world continues to turn, but our shades are drawn and no light nor life can enter in.
The grief of losing an infant, and in this case an infant with complications, leaves us with a grief that’s most difficult to reconcile.  A pregnancy long sought for, and in some cases a decade or more, and what comes at the end of it is inextricable loss.  How can such things be?  Even as I communicate with this bereaved mother I have no words of comfort without sounding brash, cliché or false.  All I can offer are my prayers and kindness (which are enough, by the way).  All I can say is, “You inspire me… you’re so courageous to keep stepping through this.”  Yet that is enough to say.
An imminent grief is a grief all too real.  It leaves us feeling we’re living a life that’s estranged to our own.  We may feel all the goodness in our own life has died.  Waking from our slumber is about as bad as it can get at times, for at least unconsciousness is a brief reprieve from torrential thoughts and feelings of loss.
Although such grief appears to be rare in its occurrence, suffering like this is around, and probably within our social orbit somewhere.  Remind the person that their experience is real, and that, even though you can’t know the depth of their anguish, that it is real, and that you admire their courage.  It may not seem like much of an encouragement, but to someone grieving, to be called courageous is a great encouragement.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.
Heather Miller’s quote used by permission.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Revenant Blessing

THOSE who have experienced death — that death to their mortal pride — whilst they were still alive have lived the Revenant blessing.
A Revenant is someone who has approached their own death, so much so that it transformed their awareness, and it changed the way they see their life and life in general.
It’s a great thing to have approached death, or even to have apparently wandered through the experience, to the point of exploring the previously unacknowledged wreckage of that old life.
It’s a Christian’s experience, yet not all Christians have been blessed (yet) to experience what is harrowing at the time; a blessing afterwards.
You may read this as separatist, and if you do, hold out hope that if your death comes near you’ll have the poise or opportunity to hold it at safe distance.  Though it will bring great grief, there’s a blessing in it if you can suffer well all the way through to the end of the experience.  This may simply need to be borne in mind — should great loss come.
For, the return from death I talk about is from the loss of your own will to live, to fight, to take from this life, as you once did.  Once this mortification of our flesh has taken place there’s no competing fear for conquest and acquisition — we’re able to live life as it is without judging it as good, bad or otherwise.
It still sounds weird, doesn’t it?  I’m sorry.  I do want you to derive your 20-seconds’ value out of taking the time to read this.
I guess this is what I’m saying…
Don’t spurn the end of one life.  Loss comes.  Then, with a heavy ambience, grief.  There is purpose in it.
What God needs to do to get most and maximum value out of us, for his Kingdom, is he needs to end the striving of our will in order that he might commence the striving in us for his — for real and certain.  We say we’re his, but are we really?  Are we ready to die a fresh death?  Once we’ve lived a death to ourselves, we’re able to do it more and more.
God needs to take us to the brink of our own disaster, and if you’ve faced the end of your life the way it is or was, then you know what God’s capable of.
God resurrects us only from the depths of the death to our own prideful life.
God needs to take us there; deeply down into the fissures of a grave-like abyss — to end one life before he can raise us to a new life.
This is why there’s so much more hope for us having traversed hell.  Hell need only be a waystation on the way to God’s Kingdom.  And, as Sir Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going!”
If we’re going through hell, we do need to keep going.  We don’t stop there.  We cannot give up even one breath.
God resurrects to new life that life that tastes death to the old, dysfunctional life.
The Revenant blessing makes it possible to know this: when life seems impossible it’s possible to get through because you’ve done the impossible before.  You’ve seen God do it.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

When Faith of Night Rises

TAKE the situation of life that presses you into a corner you have not chosen, and would never choose, for yourself.  God is there.  The situation requires much more of you than you have in energy reserve.  God’s grace is sufficient.  His power is perfect in your weakness.  Still, you’re beside yourself in how you’ll negotiate this situation.  He’s already planned your way through, and your way out.  Then comes a final blow of some variety that sends you into the type of tailspin you cannot extricate yourself from.  When all seems lost, God comes through and turns disaster into a pivotal lesson you’re so thankful for.  These are the days of faith!
When hope vanishes like the day, the night of faith rises to get us through until the morning.  But in a figurative day, night winds on for an entire season; yet dawn is coming.  We know it and we hold on.
The Mechanics of Faith
Faith is in an inverse relationship to hope. There’s no faith required when hopes are strong.  Faith was born for a barren day.  Hope fails, then comes faith to take us through and over the cusp.  Faith proves a hope that seemed at the time to be hopelessness.
So hopelessness is not the end; indeed, it’s the very beginning of faith.  We ought to be glad, but we cannot be glad until we see faithfully through to the end — when our wafer-thin hope is vindicated.  And that is faith!
Because faith operates as an inverse to hope, hope is brighter when there’s seemingly no hope.  Such as it is in God’s invisible Kingdom.  Everything rests on faith.
When hope vanishes like the day, the night of faith rises to get us through until the morning.  And the very presence of night is our reminder to keep stepping by faith.  It really is that simple, even though it’s painfully hard.
The faith of night rises when we’ve been diligent enough to pray in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Prayer, through a conscious contact with God’s Spirit, knowing in the core of our being that God’s Presence is there, in us, and with us, is the way to ply faith.
When faith of night rises, rest assured, you’re on the right path.  The prayer of faith will keep us going, and will see us right through to brightly adorned morning.
It’s what our relationship with Christ was built for; for when the faith of night rises.
When all hope has vanished beyond the horizon, the faith of night rises and gets us right through to morning.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Most Important Knowledge You Can Ever Know

ONE thing that used to frustrate me no end was the times I’d have to endure know-it-all people who always want (and seem) to be right.  I guess it revealed to me my own pride, but these people don’t cause me as much of a problem these days because I see through the façade — certainly some, indeed much, knowledge can be known; much can be learned; a great deal of knowhow can be acquired… but some knowledge can never be known, ever!
This is a thing we begin to realise as we traverse our thirties and we certainly know it by our forties: some knowledge can never be known.
Like what to do to ‘fix’ grief.
Also, what do we do when our partner has an affair, or we’re betrayed somehow.
Knowledge cannot help an addiction; only the application of behavioural change can do that.
Or, when a key investment goes belly up, or a goal we have is constantly frustrated.
But let’s return to the most palpable of all the above: grief.  For grief, there’s no knowledge that’s knowable that can help.  There’s no way to ‘fix’ it in a way we can control it.
Sooner or later people who place a high price on knowing knowledge get to learn this truth, or they may tend to deny it, but only to their own detriment, for they don’t process their grief in the only way it can be processed — by letting it happen via the inverted strength of humility.
So it’s one thing that knowledge can’t help: grief.  There is nothing we can know that can make grief better.  There is no knowledge that can assist us heal our grief faster, more efficiently, or with greater efficacy.
This is where God gets us.  The best way to deal with grief is via the spiritual way, because grief, by its very nature, deals with loss that this life cannot reconcile.  What is lost is gone!  It’s not coming back, or at least it can’t come back the way we want it to come back.  All we can do to help ourselves is to accept what we cannot change — which is precisely one-third of the Serenity Prayer.
It’s actually a great comfort to me that when I work with people in ministry, there’s a sense that unknowable matters even the playing field for everyone.
Unknowable matters stand there to break us; they break us down to a point where our pride for knowledge can no longer protect us — if anything our pride for knowledge makes us look like fools.
Where this is most encouraging is in the 25-year-old I counsel, who has suffered much loss, who has peers who appear more successful and more well-adjusted to life.  But his peers haven’t suffered the indignity of coming to the end of themselves yet.  They haven’t yet come to that despairing place — the end of knowable knowledge.  But they will.  They will at some point.  And the end of us knowing our way out of the problem is the beginning of our actual dependence on God.
Yes — faith commences only when we come to the end of our knowledge.
The most important knowledge you can ever know is that some things cannot be known, only experienced.  Some things cannot be problem-solved.  Some things cannot be fixed.
Blessed are the poor in spirit.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Hope When Vision for Hope is Interrupted

SUCCESS in life takes on a new perspective when loss has consumed our world.  Suddenly what we took for granted as ‘normal’ and just ‘so-so’ in life seems unattainable, even for a time.  What was is now so distant, and glimpses of the beauty of life are so infrequent and fleeting we may question whether we ever had them at all.  Our memories of good act as betrayers of what joy we had.
The following is an observation from a fellow sojourner; it — with the above picture — speaks cogently about a season or way of life that we would never in a pink fit choose for ourselves:
“Sometimes this is the only view of the sky that you have. It doesn’t mean that it’s not there, you just can’t see how big and beautiful it is from where you’re standing.”
— Jodie Fairclough
Sky is palpable as a metaphor for vision, as an assurance of hope, even as we do not yet see it.  This image shows us how blue the sky is, but there’s much of what the buildings conceal — the beauty of an open blue sky — that we cannot see.  We know it’s there, we’re just not blessed by the experience of it; at least just now.
Such a hope is tantalising, it’s frustrating, and it’s wonderful — all at the same time.  Tantalising because we know what’s there, frustrating because we cannot yet have it, and wonderful because we know it’s coming.
That is an accurate portrayal of hope: the vision of assurance of things not yet seen.  We have it but we don’t.  We believe in our hope by faith, and it’s in faith that we are tantalised, frustrated, and imbued with wonder — again, all at the same time.
Hope’s task is to believe in the inherent goodness of the panorama of the sky, and to know it exists in all its sky blueness.  Hope endures the frustration because it juxtaposes the existence of wonder for what is coming.  And hope says, “It is coming!  And it does not tarry.  Wait with me while it comes, and enjoy even the prospect of excitement; that it’s coming.”
See how good hope is?
It gives us the capacity to live the abundant life as we believe things will turn out, and, I can tell you, it’s amazing how often that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  The vision for hope may end up slightly different (or even massively different) in actuality, but hope gives us strength whilst we wait.  And there’s the trust in hope.  Hope is something that deserves our trust, because, quite frankly, if anyone else was living our lives we’d not allow them to live our life without the trust of hope.  We know we deserve the best, as everyone does.
Believe in the sky.  It’s there.  And whether it’s skyscrapers or clouds that conceal this blue wonder that takes us into space, or not, it’s still there, and so is hope.
There is always hope.
And getting back to the reflection quoted above, grief outbound of loss positions us in a groaning standpoint.  There’s always the potential, though, to move from where we’re standing.  There’s always the opportunity to see that our viewpoint doesn’t change reality.
The sky is blue.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Three Mandates for Being Mindfully Joyous

SPENDING a Sabbath-moment resting in the glory of God; he speaks!  He speaks through his Spirit into my soul when I slow down enough to breathe — and ask.  What better ask is there of a soul desiring God, asking with no particular intent other than, “God, speak!”
Here’s one ‘program’ of thought his Holy Spirit ushered through me:
Three ways to enjoy today:
1. Be intensely grateful for yesterday.
2. Be intently hopeful for tomorrow.
3. Be interested in the present.
Being Intensely Grateful
Gratitude creates joy and the more grateful we are the more joy we can experience.
When we focus mindfully on even one aspect of yesterday we are grateful for, we practice an intensity that infuses thankfulness for that one blessing.
Being intensely grateful entreats the reality of eternity.  It draws us into God’s realm.  It makes us available to the experience of his Presence in our moment.  Being grateful with intensity makes it possible that we might weep for just how good God is.
Joy is consummate when tears flow, and chins quiver, for how good God has been.
Being Intently Hopeful
We cannot control many of the things that occur to us in this life, but we can be intently hopeful overall.  We can institute such control over our future as to be expectant that goodness will lead us and be our rear guard all the days of our lives.
This is not about an absence of loss; it’s more about knowing God is with us even in spite of the grief we experience.  We see that we can be hopeful even in the presence of pain.  Indeed, the legs of hope are stretched and ready to run when we’re most pressed by life — that’s how it ought to be.
Being intently hopeful notwithstanding the circumstance stretches us out into the farthest reaches of faith.
Being Mindfully Interested
So much is achieved toward the bounty of joy when we simply commit to being interested.  Being interested is being mindful — the fullest engagement of our minds on the living to be done in the moment.
Each moment calls us to a certain situation.  Ours is to allow the moment its time; even (especially) if the moment is something we’re not enjoying.  Being mindful is the practice of stripping away distractions that would dilute our focus on the present.  Activities we don’t enjoy will be more enjoyable.
And the truth is, with God, we can bear the moment.  Actually, when we’re mindfully interested in our moment — no matter how good or bad it is — God takes us out of ourselves, he makes us reflective, and we gain the perspective of the Lord.
The present moment is pregnant with possibility for the Presence of God to meet us.
Life is enjoyed simply in being intensely grateful for yesterday, intently hopeful for tomorrow, and in being mindfully interested in the present.
The opportunity to glorify God is salient in being thankfully joyous, and the blessings of God are potent when we do just that.
Today’s purpose is to magnify the glory of the majesty of God.  There is no better way than by an uncomplicated joy.  And the more we’re bound to the constraints of struggle or suffering, the more glory goes to God in seeking to practice joy now, anyway.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Why Chasing Your Goals Will Only Frustrate You

DIETS, exercise programs, weight loss, smoking, drinking, bad sex, drugs, gambling, complaining, stuttering; all things we either want to stop or control.  Then there’s the things we want more of: spiritual growth, resilience, the ability to forgive, the capacity to save money, etc.  These are all noble things to aim for, but it seems to me that goal-setting and goal-achievement are entities that don’t necessarily get on.
So many goals that we set are never achieved; not even close.
But blessed is the one who doesn’t give up!
This is not a meaningless article.  My intent is not to discourage you from goal-setting.  My purpose is to open up the idea of the power of enjoying the process over the vision of the outcome that’s sought.  There’s a subtle shift required in our thinking.
We have to devote ourselves to a vision for the present that sustains us in the present.
If we’re sustained in the present, and we behave in a way consistent with our goal, we only have to string more successful present moments together.  Ultimately we’ll have reached our goal without even needing to think about it.  Of course, we’ll still obsess over our goal; it’s the way we’re wired.
But why do we miss out on the joy of the process; taking in the joy of the moments that take us in the direction of our goals.
More About the Problem
Many of our goals are either unattainable — as our ability to shift attitudes and behaviours takes more time than that — or unfulfilling for the most part, because they’re often unsustainable — again, because our attitudes and behaviours haven’t made the sort of leap that sustained goal achievement requires.
At the root of our problems is the limitation of our capacity to change.  We can only change so much at a time.  That’s because we have only so much focus to deploy, and as focus wanes and we creep back into those old tired habits, we gradually fall back into the only way we’ve possibly ever known.
But a new way is possible.  A new way is the focus of process away.
Concluding on the Solution
The way we prevent slippage on the road to enjoying successful goal achievement is to stop chasing the goal, and to start enjoying the moment.  But many of these moments will involve pain; of going without, of getting used to a new way of thinking and acting, and of enduring reminders of failure.  But a focus on the momentary process will sustain us in the moment.
Enjoy every mile on the road to your goal, then you’ll succeed at your goal.
More than that…
Enjoy every mile on the road to your goal, then you’ll not only succeed, you’ll be a success.
To do what is said above means we must enjoy the actual behaviours we need to engage in that will get us there.
When every painful step taken is enjoyed as its own victory, the goal is not only being achieved, it becomes irrelevant.  We have transcended the goal; this is the abundant life.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

You Breathe, There’s Hope

A GOOD friend and I went to see The Revenant (2015), and we always go to see such movies to be inspired.  We were not disappointed.  But this article is not about The Revenant, nor is it about anything other than the hope that remains in us, even as we live and breathe, so we don’t give up.  Yet we may need more than that idea to know how to keep going when we feel everything in our lives should be torched.
Storms blow into our lives and they can render us obliterated, yet that will only be the case when we look at all the evidence of foliage strewn everywhere.  If we’re able to keep our focus on the trunk of a tree that stays founded in the ground, we have the best chance of survival.
These are truths we know to be true, though they’re every bit as vibrant in fantasy land as anywhere.  Litanies of comeback stories fill our newsfeeds every day.
But many hope for a personal manifestation of a comeback story that proves real and remarkable.
Here is what I hope to leave you with: the drive to keep going.
I have a personal struggle.  And although many of you would think it’s not much of a struggle on the scale of things, it’s something that’s continued to hound me.  It doesn’t matter what it is, but those close to me know.  It seems like a last frontier thing, but it’s also pivotal for my ongoing health and wellbeing, particularly as I have goals to live deep into my 90s.  But, despite the fact that I’ve still not overcome this thing, like I’ve overcome so many things, I’m still breathing; my death hasn’t taken me yet.
Here is a word for me that might also be a word for you.
Don’t give up on that beautiful and bold dream.  And don’t focus on the negative thing when a positive focus will get you through.  Live bold in the belief you can do the thing that seems impossible to you right now.
God is a Lord of restoration, and while there is breath in you, there’s hope.
Hope forward of the impossibility, and move forward into hope that speaks of possibility.
If you’re willing to press in and grow, God will be willing to augment growth.
Whatever he has spoken to you is a fait accompli with his help; but you must obey him, one day at a time.
And still, at the end of the day, when you’ve stopped breathing, you’ll truly know the abundance of goodness in God.
If you’re in a storm, focus steadily on a fixed point to get through, and while you’re breathing, don’t surrender your breath unless God wants it back.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Empowered By the Truth of Entering Into Your Own Story

“As much as others may need to change, or we may want them to change, the only person we can continually inspire, prod, and shape — with any degree of success — is the person in the mirror.” 
 Kerry Patterson
“The accent changes, but the script sounds the same to me,” was what U2’s Bono said, during the Zoo TV concert in Sydney in November 1993, as he interacted with television in a live music concert with his band.
We establish stories about what’s going on in our lives and we hardly ever think to challenge those stories for truth.  We don’t fact-check them enough.  And therefore we have hurt-scripts running in the background, the subconscious mind informing the conscious mind, which leads to massive discontent.  Not every hurt inflicted against us is backed up by a surreptitious script, but many are.
Let me illustrate:
Sometimes I’ve thought of myself as unfairly judged due to the amount of innocent mistakes I’ve made.  Then, suddenly, I find myself saying about myself: “I’m prone to making a lot of errors,” when, in fact, it’s better (and more accurate) for me to say, “I don’t make any more mistakes than the next person, and when I do make a mistake I’m quick to reconcile the matter, and that’s acceptable.”  Regarding other people, the negative script might be, “They’re an uncaring person and they really don’t have my best interests at heart.”  A better, more accurate script might be, “There may be some good explanation for why they appeared uncaring.”
When we challenge the scripts we run, checking them against information that must be known, we’re able to quieten that raucous and stressing voice inside us that wreaks havoc.  That is the voice of the enemy.  Satan wants us to be confused and overwhelmed by scripts riddled with lies.  Whilst these scripts secure us ‘safely’ in our victimhood, they do nothing for our real peace — or theirs!  And forgiveness is impossible when these faulty stories run unreconciled.
The scripts we run in our minds go toward the stories of the beliefs we hold about ourselves, and sustaining negative stories holds us up to our own contempt.  It’s better to get onto our own side and start to discipline ourselves in our thinking to conform to the truth — sorting the wheat (knowable information) from the chaff (assumptions).  The Bible helps us in the area of Romans 12:1-3 and 2 Corinthians 10:3-5.
Growth in wisdom is reliant on separating out the wheat (knowable information i.e. facts) from the chaff (assumptions we dream up).
The disciplined mind is safe and steady and still.  The disciplined mind checks fact from assumption.
The disciplined mind is empowered by its truth by entering into its own story of fact, and the jettisoning of assumption.
Careful is a spiritual person to nurture stories of belief for health.
What we think of ourselves deeper down has more of an impact on what we think of others than we realise.
The safest state of consciousness is the steady reception of reality, as truths of fact are acknowledged and assumptions are abandoned.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.