Monday, August 21, 2017

Moving Forward into the Past

MEMORIES hold the key to identity. What we cannot forget seems tied to how we see ourselves. Then, there is acceptance; healing wounds and thankfulness for joys of past.
I cannot explain it (though I would like to) but when I look at photographs of past I cannot help wanting to go back there. The past is a gift. I recognise the past was pivotal in making me the person I am today.
The photograph above, courtesy of the City of Karratha, reminds me of times spent. At this pub. Driving through the bottle shop, purchasing much liquor. (Drinking and sport were central to the [non-Christian] culture of this town and area in that day.) And though I don’t drink these days, I’m thankful for the experiences I had back then. It’s by no means an endorsement for alcohol, but it reminds me about one addiction (of a few over my lifetime) I have overcome.
I think of this town I was brought up in; the same town my eldest two children began life from. Locals who were there then tell me so much has changed, and in some ways that’s a pity, but the ground does not change.
Standing upon ground of our formation is sacred. One day I will return to walk the areas of my formative years. And I will want a week or two to really reflect and pray.
I’m so fond of those memories of old that seem to swell when we revisit old friends and their memories join with ours, as we all remember different details. Memories of old make for reminiscences of a full life.
***
Isn’t it glorious that God gives us each the opportunity to revisit the past? Some parts of our pasts, of course, could be horrendous. I’m personally unaware of anything I could not return to, but I know others can be affected. If it’s at all possible, we can return to those times of past that were pivotal in making us or revealing us as the people we are today.
I’m wondering whether it’s possible to move forward freely into a hope-filled future without having first reconciled aspects of our past that might continue to goad us. And how do we actually reconcile them?
We bear them, consciously. With help if necessary. We bear our memories and build them based in the truth of what we can remember. We learn to accept them. We accept those past versions of ourselves, for better, for worse. We accept others, for better, for worse. We reach acceptance, which is peace, for now. We conjoin peace with thankfulness.
I’ve discovered the past is pregnant with opportunity for healing, which birthed me into new life for the present.
First, I move forward into my past. I reconcile it. I take the journey forward into it. Leaving no stone unturned. Accepting difficult reminiscences. Knowing God holds me safely whilst there. Before returning to the present.
Moving forward into the past is pivotal if we’re to look back positively from the future.
When we’ve dealt with our past — neither denying it nor angry or depressed about it — hope, peace and joy fills our lives.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Life’s purpose lived through the eternal perspective

IMAGINE this. You see no point to life. Imperiled by pain and stress and fear, finding it difficult to go on, but for the thought tomorrow will be different, you decide not to give up. Somehow, deeper down, you know that faith tells you there’s reward for never giving in.
Little do we realise in these moments of torment that we’re alive, walking the earth, as eternal beings, imprinting ourselves upon the history of life. A bigger purpose fills our reality.
We cannot see. But what if we did see just a little beyond our present constraint? What if we could see the echo of our being throughout the realm that is yet coming; that what we do in this life, our responses to all the terrible things that occur to us, has an abundance of significance.
Faith speaks forth from the age of the ancients and it reaches further into the future telling us what we’re becoming. Our task is to connect with that which God has spoken.
We know nothing of what is to come, in the glory of its reality, and yet science (of simply one set of explanations) speaks of God’s majesty woven all through life.
Why then do we doubt the resounding goodness of the Lord our God?
What possible loss do we incur by believing upon the goodness of God; that we’ll be handsomely rewarded for the crosses we bear in this life; for the stresses, the struggles, the tumults, and the haranguing we’re required to endure?
No, there is no loss incurred at all.
What if every bad thing we bear in this life has a direct reward in eternity? Makes every pain and stress and fear worth bearing. Such faith transforms our thinking and peace is ours. And we have significant help.
My son is in the picture above, but he’s not seen because the foreground dominates. I know he’s there and that fact makes a world of difference to how I view the photograph.
We need to view life in the same way, and not be encumbered by the visible foreground of our struggles. We need to see God in the background; a view that isn’t possibly visible unless by faith.
But we may choose to see it.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Thankfulness when life is Disbelief

WHEN you’re overwhelmed of feeling, you don’t have enough minutes in the day, be thankful you have no shortage of purpose.
When life has you cornered, every which way defying sense and rationale, be thankful you have the mental capacity to attempt its comprehension.
When loss wreaks havoc amid a life you’re learned to say goodbye to, be thankful for the new life coming which one day you’ll be thankful for.
When cords of lament break over the bow of your typically rock-hard constitution, be thankful that God has His ways for getting your attention.
When relationships disappoint and people ghost you, be thankful that you’d not learn the depths in forgiveness otherwise.
When you bear the baggage of a life riddled with regret, be thankful that the best can truly be yet to come.
When decisions cast you yet again into the path of danger, be thankful that God is so gracious that today is a fresh chance at comfort.
When finances are low or non-existent and you worry for the coming hour, be thankful for the resources you have, and God’s provision, to get through.
When mental illness plagues you like nobody would bother to imagine or conceive, be thankful God has shown you how hard life is for many people.
When work is hard and you don’t know how you’ll survive it, be thankful that God is with you, especially in this.
When pain abounds and overflows in dilapidations of despair, be thankful that others that you love don’t suffer like you do.
When life seems impossibly hard, be thankful God asks not more of you than the godly who have gone before you.
When disbelief overwhelms for what you’re currently facing, be thankful you can keep walking through it.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

How can we be FREE when we cannot SEE?

CONSTRUCTION projects will inevitably prove one thing: no matter how good the instructions are, there will always be re-work. This I found out afresh as I assembled a basketball goal set recently.
I quickly got to thinking there’s so much complexity in a set of technical plans, that even someone with a trade ticket like myself is bound to miss details. And several times I did — only to pull apart and fix what I’d put together.
This specific illustration is real to life.
Our minds and hearts and souls cannot absorb the wisdom that God has set into motion in our individual contexts. We don’t have a chance of absorbing all the truth before us, because we simply do not see.
We do not see why our dreams falter and why our losses are meant to define us. We can only see with our eyes, and we do not like discomfort of any kind — we cannot see its use unless we believe it’s beneficial, i.e. by faith.
We do not see the reasons why there are roadblocks ahead — whether literal or figurative. We yell at the drivers ahead of us (or if we’re more refined we fume) without having the foresight that there’s a delineable cause of the delay ahead. It’s not just their ‘poor’ driving!
We do not see the life experiences, the hurts, the reasons for others’ dysfunctions, and we’re so quick to judge and criticise. The dualistic (either/or, win/lose) mind is our perpetual nemesis. Because we do not see. We do not hold opposite tensions well. We don’t see how our influence impacts on others negatively, because we cannot see the effect it has on them.
We do not see the faults of those we favour, and we downplay our own faults, proving once again that we do not see. And yes, everyone plays favourites. Because we do not see.
We do not see how much we do not see in communication; we’re laden with assumptions. The outcome is conflict, and conflicts are more likely to confuse our relationships into irreconcilable differences because we just do not (or too rarely) see the purpose, process or goal of conciliation.
We do not see the problems of others we would otherwise envy. Everyone has problems no matter how much we deny them. Comparison and curation of image are two sides of an insidious cycle in our social-media-dominated world.
We do not see how important it is to invest in some lives and not in others or in activities that reap little reward whatsoever. Because we do not see we lean on our own understanding.
And we do not see how technical plans actually translate into a finished machine. We’re destined to ‘have a go’ only to find out we got it wrong… again!
We do not see God. We cannot see Him in His entirety in life. We try to see Him, but we do not see Him in life, or in our lives, anywhere nearly enough as He is there.
Because we do not see, we’re destined to need to learn. And that fact has its purpose. God has designed life full of learning opportunities — humility producing moments.
If we wish to be free
we need to first acknowledge we cannot see.
That compels us to trust God
for the insight and foresight we do not yet have.
Bible verse for reflection:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
— Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)

Humankind’s commonest handicaps – #1 we CANNOT see

CONSTRUCTION projects will inevitably prove one thing: no matter how good the instructions are, there will always be re-work. This I found out afresh as I assembled a basketball goal set recently.
I quickly got to thinking there’s so much complexity in a set of technical plans, that even someone with a trade ticket like myself is bound to miss details. And several times I did — only to pull apart and fix what I’d put together.
This specific illustration is real to life.
Our minds and hearts and souls cannot absorb the wisdom that God has set into motion in our individual contexts. We don’t have a chance of absorbing all the truth before us, because we simply do not see.
We do not see why our dreams falter and why our losses are meant to define us. We can only see with our eyes, and we do not like discomfort of any kind — we cannot see its use unless we believe it’s beneficial, i.e. by faith.
We do not see the reasons why there are roadblocks ahead — whether literal or figurative. We yell at the drivers ahead of us (or if we’re more refined we fume) without having the foresight that there’s a delineable cause of the delay ahead. It’s not just their ‘poor’ driving!
We do not see the life experiences, the hurts, the reasons for others’ dysfunctions, and we’re so quick to judge and criticise. The dualistic mind is our perpetual nemesis. Because we do not see. We don’t see how our influence impacts on others negatively, because we cannot see the effect it has on them.
We do not see the faults of those we favour, and we downplay our own faults, proving once again that we do not see. And yes, everyone plays favourites. Because we do not see.
We do not see how much we do not see in communication; we’re laden with assumptions. The outcome is conflict, and conflicts are more likely to confuse our relationships into irreconcilable differences because we just do not (or too rarely) see the purpose, process or goal of conciliation.
We do not see the problems of others we would otherwise envy. Everyone has problems no matter how much we deny them. Comparison and curation of image are two sides of an insidious cycle in our social-media-dominated world.
We do not see how important it is to invest in some lives and not in others or in activities that reap little reward whatsoever. Because we do not see we lean on our own understanding.
And we do not see how technical plans actually translate into a finished machine. We’re destined to ‘have a go’ only to find out we got it wrong… again!
Because we do not see, we’re destined to need to learn. And that fact has its purpose. God has designed life full of learning opportunities — humility producing moments.
We do not see God. We cannot see Him in His entirety in life. We try to see Him, but we do not see Him in life, or in our lives, as He is there.
Bible verse for reflection:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
— Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Why our thoughts are the most dangerous thing about us

I THINK, therefore I am, said enlightenment thinker RenĂ© Descartes. In at least one sense that’s profoundly true. Our unconscious thoughts and our unguarded conscious thinking are attributable for the mental maladies we possess, rippling out into our feeling states that can send our emotional wellbeing into a world of turmoil.
Proverbs 4:23 says we ought to guard our hearts, for it’s from there that our lives spring.
Everything we are, all we do, and everything we become seems to stem from our thinking. It is the absolute source of who we are. Our thinking drives our feelings. A circular pattern develops.
Some of the dangerous patterns of thought we enter into include; either/or thinking (if one is right, the other must be wrong); destructive thinking (“I’m useless, no-good, idiotic, worthless, helpless…”); narcissistic thinking (“I’m too good, look at me, and worth more than anyone…”); and, conspiracy thinking (“I don’t trust anyone…”)
Thinking is powerful because it leads us to take actions in accordance with how we feel. There are dangers in acting out of thoughts that are untrue. The fact is we’re bombarded by unhelpful thoughts all the time. Thinking is only an ally for us where it leads us to act according to the truth.
A good response to dangerous thought patterns is become aware of them, and then, with intent, decide to change our minds, or to literally repent, or turn from that thinking.
So, the AA plan kicks in. First, we must become aware of our thoughts, auditing them to determine if they’re destructive or not. Second, we can then choose to act on our awareness to conform not to the patterns of worldly thinking, but to renew our minds.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Jesus Key to Wholeness and Healing

JESUS’ foundational teaching, underpinning everything of the character of God in Him, pivoted around reconciliation — bundled in myriad forms of the Hebrew shalom. Completeness, sanctity, forgiveness, acceptance, inclusivity, not least formational and foundational, the reconciling of humanity back to God.
Let’s focus on the concrete term of forgiveness to ground the concept of reconciliation:
“Forgiveness comes as a struggle for a way of life.”
What on earth can this concept mean? Forgiveness is the hardest thing we will encounter on this earth. This is because life binds us within relationships. Bitterness is a common human temptation and experience. It is a challenge for every human being to overcome. Hence the Saviour’s message. What Jesus came to preach we have to take to heart and apply. It works.
Forgiveness is the struggle we enter when we want Jesus’ way of life. And Jesus will complete us through the struggle, in the learning and application of surrender.
The truly broken people I meet have the same story — rejection early in their lives they couldn’t seem to ever reconcile. It seems a cataclysm they cannot resolve. And they stay broken. They cannot surrender it to Jesus. It’s the opposite for those who have wrestled with and overcome their brokenness. Theirs is the dimension of wholeness and healing, to every corner of their lives, because they forgave. Because they made an ongoing practice out of reconciliation in every part of their lives. And yet, the paradox is this: we, you and I, are at times broken as we are at times whole. Forgiveness comes as we struggle for a whole way of life.
Jesus is the key. The Man. His teaching. The topic of forgiveness. The concept of casting away the world’s faulty and broken logic, of ‘justice’, for a bigger dream. A dream only God can found and ground within us. And now is the time. Now, while blood pumps through your arteries, whilst oxygen courses through your body to nourish your cells so those neural pathways might make those connections. Now, whilst familial brokenness wreaks its cancer through our and others’ lives. Before death takes a person beyond the reach of our reaching out.
Now.
A person. A situation. A bitterness unreconciled. Identify it now as God’s Spirit puts His finger on it.
Transcend it.
Ditch the fallacy that it’s your right to hold them to the wrong. Embrace the fact that forgiving their wrong is your key to making it right.
If forgiveness comes as a struggle for a way of life of wholeness, we could agree we want that way of life whatever the cost. And we know in faith that God’s blessed shalom stands as the reward for giving up every shred of resentment; that the person and situation be utterly unshackled from the moorings of our antipathy.
The vision we may have is one of us blessing them with a love we have never previously given to anyone. For, this love is the love of God giving to this person what they can only imagine is God-inspired. We see in this vision the actual melting away of grief even in the action of giving our love away.
Forgiveness is a daily process, a practice never to be mastered, only appreciated for the value it tips back into our lives.
Jesus came to teach us to forgive in order that He could heal us.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The 50-Year God Deposit received in full

RECENTLY, a dear friend of mine prayed that there might be a rich deposit made by God in me to mark my turning 50. It was a prayer that coalesced with God’s own voice which I’ve been hearing for some time. And it just may be you, too, have been hearing Him speak this thing, all-be-it unconsciously.
God has been showing me two different things over the past few years — my gift and my shadow. That gift He has given me is a compensation for what I’ve been through. But the shadow is the dark, human, sinful side of that gift that protrudes when I take my eyes off Jesus.
My gift is this: God gave me a passion and equipped me for joining others on their journey — “to rejoice with those who rejoice, and to mourn with those who mourn,” as Romans 12:15 puts it. I know my gift is to be used to unlock or facilitate victories of connection, where the Divine Presence is felt in human experience, where there is the discovery of deeper truths, where encounters of contemplative and transformational spirituality take place. And reconciliation is usually the purpose for which people come to be served by me. It’s a ministry that is seamless and involves me just being me.
My shadow is this: my flesh (my ego) gives me a similar passion, but the passion, when it’s directed awry, is skewed back toward myself; where my shadow protrudes into my life I need to be loved, accepted, understood, appreciated, praised, respected. I look outward to leaders and peers for these things, instead of upward to God and inward for reflection. I don’t typically seek these things from those I serve, but validation is sought from those whose influence (I perceive) is typically greater than mine. God certainly knows I need these victories of connection. But I can go about them the wrong way, looking to humans to do what only God can do.
That’s the difference between the gift and the shadow; the gift prevails effortlessly, because God is in it and being used by God as gift is always a pleasure. It doesn’t seem like work at all. But just like humans would be cursed to labour at and after the Fall, the shadow toils relentlessly to get what it can never have. The shadow enters futility, but the Divine embodies the gift.
The first fifty years has been about receiving the nucleus of the message. The next portion is about acquisition, more and more; piquing the awareness of the shadow’s protrusion as it becomes the mastery of poise. But I will never fully be there.
I thank God for the awareness of, and increasing mastery over, the shadow that will always be there. I thank God because I need God.
Thank God for your gift, and be open to your shadow.

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Sustaining Power of Hope in One Memory of Victory

JUST one taste of victory — one solitary experience — is enough to inspire hope that that hope can happen again. Even amid failure after defeat after relapse after disappointment. Amidst trials through despairs through trauma through calamity. If what occurs to us is juxtaposed with sight of possibilities, real events that have happened before, a future we can believe in exists.
Sums up the importance of revelatory experiences of resurrection. That time or those times where we were raised without first anticipating it. When somehow, we arose like the phoenix from the ashes.
Maybe it’s a vision of a time that hasn’t even happened yet. By definition, a vision.
It doesn’t matter what kind of reality it is, if it gives hope it fuels faith, and faith compels love to commit to the journey.
Christian faith is powered by a phenomenon of miracles; inexplicable encounters where it could only have been that God acted.
God can provide innovative, original solutions to age-old problems experienced by all. Only our Lord could do this, repetitively, according to His own will. Because in God’s economy, all things are possible.
Ask any Christian who has experienced some grace they could neither understand nor explain. That hope that indwells them is unshakable. Though they cannot put a finger on it, they cannot fail in believing it can happen again. And that faith means they endure the arduous passage of the journey. To keep stepping faithfully is all that matters.
Hope is that quality of life that sits in the memory; an unforgettable grace-gift of God that compels obedience.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Sanctity in the Relapse

QUITTING cold turkey is the most heroic of acts, and God grants us all opportunities to achieve such feats. But relapse is not uncommon. I quit smoking at least six times (for at least a few months up to a few years) before I finally gave it away fourteen years ago. It was the same with the drink, but I did need a programmed intervention for that.
A strength of the AA program is its approach to relapse, but it is also its weakness. Plenty of those who see themselves as alcoholics do so in order that they never relapse, because they never accord themselves the luxury (or buffoonery) of picking up even one more drink. One weakness is that AA’s may never transcend the label, and continue to consider themselves alcoholics, which also part of the mastery of AA to recover drunks into sobriety. Thankfully, AA teaches people the model of spiritual progress based on the revolutionary Twelve Step Program.
I’ve been around recovery programs enough to know that relapses are both feared and shunned. And this is sad. Sure, relapse is always disappointing.
But the fact is, relapse will be a reality for some, and everyone will experience relapse in some form or other during their lifetime.
There is a sanctity in the relapse, in that there is the redemptive nature of the second (even the sixty-second) chance. Recovery itself is a second chance.
It’s the same regarding evangelism and faith. We sow the seed of the gospel and it falls on various kinds of soil. Few get it first time. Some get it initially. Most will ‘relapse’ back into the world. Many will never return to God, but some of the most do reconvert in powerful ways.
It isn’t our prerogative nor even our business when others near us relapse. Other than to support them. We certainly have no business criticising or condemning them. It’s God’s mercy that forgives their relapse, just as it is God’s grace to bring them back.
It’s also none of our business who commit to God and who don’t. That’s God’s business. Ours is to simply remain faithful in presenting the message of God faithfully.
God’s love is so potent and so perfect that He allows every person their will every step of the way. Transformation happens only when a person’s will joins with God’s will. That’s the sanctity in the relapse — it is in every person’s sovereign power and choice to relapse or recover and be transformed.
There is sanctity in relapse because God never gives up seeking us for our recovery. It is for God’s redemptive purpose that we both relapse and recover. It is all about learning.
God love’s us too much to save us from our learning.

Friday, July 28, 2017

A Spiritual Neediness That Annuls Human Neediness

Blessed are the needy of spirit, for the healing presence of God is within their grasp.
ALICE was there in our midst, another anonymous figure at a community kitchen event. I hadn’t even noticed her. Then I was called into a room with her and two other people to minister with and pray for her. Alice was experiencing something very familiar to many of us. She was despairingly fearful, bereft of hope, utterly broken of spirit, shaken by grief. Her mother had died recently, her rock, a son was being imprisoned, and her family was imploding around her. She bore these burdens alone it seemed, and though she faced suicidal ideations daily she sat awkwardly poised and unable to act, thankfully because of those very burdens of family she carried.
But, here is the point: she was remarkably receptive and spiritually amenable.
Nobody thanks God for the pain that incises the chest of the soul, leaving the heart bare, but ministers of the Word thank the Holy Spirit for His unction that manifests such eternality of opportunity. Many people are never this vulnerable, ever.
Alice was open. Situations like this create a sense of the fear of the Lord. Openness is vulnerability and vulnerable people are susceptible to exploitation, which is a failure no minister worth their calling wants to make. In that moment, we utter a prayer of protection for them as we breathe a prayer for guidance for ourselves. Courage and awareness is what we need. God supplies at our surrender to be present to serve.
As she shared, she wept. The moment, as we might imagine, was palpable. God is at work in moments where the emotions overflow between strangers. As she wept, I allowed my emotions to match hers. We listened and waited on her. It was obvious her surrender was perfectly anointed because she had nothing left of her own ego to fight. We prayed and counselled her, and when she had regained her poise we tended to her practical needs.
Then she left. For weeks following, as the Lord brought her to mind, I’d pray for Alice.
God showed me something through our interaction with Alice. It coalesces with the quote:
“The gospel is not simply about meeting people’s needs. The gospel is a critique of our needs, an attempt to give us needs worth having.”
— William Willimon
The needs worth having are those desires that are so purified of vision that they see just one source for fulfilment: Jesus. I believe Alice, as we encountered her, exemplified something of a craving that sought Jesus knowing only Jesus could satisfy. Her neediness was a pure kind, unlike the kind of human neediness that craves impure things or pure things through impure means or through poor self-control.
Where there is a genuine spiritual neediness, human neediness becomes redundant.
*Alice is not her real name.
*Some details in Alice’s story have been altered to protect her privacy, but there is no exaggeration. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Turning Difficulty Into Purpose

DIFFICULTY has no purpose in our lives until it becomes a purpose. Think about it. Difficulty will otherwise cause us to be frustrated and miserable if we don’t agree to be motivated by it.
The test comes when we’re next tempted to lose our cool. Not that turning difficulty into purpose is anything about perfection; it certainly can be about progress.
This is about the gospel power latent in our everyday lives. By latent I mean dormant. It remains latent as long as we go back to our habitual responses of frustration and resentment in response to difficulty. But this latent gospel power is unleashed with spectacular effectiveness when we face our difficulty and make it our purpose; to accept our life, especially the ugly bits.
This is centrally about accepting the lives we’ve been given. It’s about debunking the silent wishes to have another life, or another person’s life.
It’s about making the most of the life we have — making our purpose to live our lives for the quest of our purpose.
The moment we begin to truly accept the life we have, including what perplexes us, we enter chaos with a newfound peace. We no longer need to resolve anything unless we resolve to make situations better because we can.
This is a wisdom we can apply with great effect to any facet of our lives.
As we accept a thing we cannot change, suddenly there is gospel power in our lives to live with the conundrum. And often the next step is God’s healing grace, as the miracle of acceptance falls over us. All for a life that turned its difficulty into its very purpose.


Healing the Soul’s Inherited Wound

LONGING for perfection, we strive and struggle all our lives never understanding why we can’t reconcile a gnawing ache within. It’s a God-shaped hole we’re trying to fill our own way. And it never works. Fortunately, there is a way.
“None of us are the blessed virgin Mary. We, with the best of intentions, are all going to pass on some of our garbage to our children.”
— Richard Rohr
A better way of describing the concept of original sin is to rename it inherited sin.
It was passed down the line. Our fathers and mothers gave it to us unknowingly. We give it to our children. And it’s inevitable. It’s why we shouldn’t resent our fathers and mothers for any reason. It’s also why our children cannot blame us for the damage we inflicted on them, and why we should not feel guilty. We did our best, just as our parents did their best. All wounds are wounds. It’s all about what we do with it; the wound.
Our opportunity is to take our wound and make it a sacred wound, as would be the case if we went through some sort of indigenous initiation.
Healing the inherited wound is so simple it’s profound. But it means understanding something that may take some time accepting. We must forgive. All those who have hurt us. All those who hurt us today. All those who will hurt us. And especially forgiving those who believe we have something yet to do to receive their forgiveness.
Healing the inherited wound is about tackling our demons of bitterness and resentment. It’s about forgiveness. Nothing else matters. Forgiveness transforms our wound making it sacred. And nothing can overcome us when we’ve done that. This is Jesus’ abundant life. Jesus’ joy is ours.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Just When We Thought We Were In the Clear…

5PM on Friday July 18, 2014, I strolled through the door clutching flowers for my wife, and her parents’ demeanour said it all. The moment stood still. As I swung the door open it was as if the air changed. My father-in-law said, “Sarah needs you in the bedroom, Steve.” Immediately I knew something had gone horribly wrong. Seconds before I opened the front door I was mistakenly of the belief that no news was good news. Well, ‘news’ had now been received — the direst news — news you’re never prepared to receive.
You never forget moments like these. They linger, imprinted on the psyche, like the moment, the place, the situation we were in, when and where we all learned about the September 11 attacks.
We were already in worst-case-scenario land, but this diagnosis of our baby of 22-week’s gestation was as bad as it was certain. There was no escaping the reality we were plunged into. Sitting at the end of our bed, in shock, tears salting our cheeks, searching Google, hands shaking typing out searches and scrolling, trying to find out what this Pallister-Killian Syndrome was that our baby had. It was surreal. For the second time in eighteen days our world had been utterly highjacked, and those interceding days, as well as those that were to come, were an emotional and mental roller coaster ride.
We did our research even as we were rocked. We couldn’t just sit and do nothing. We were blessed at that time (within hours) to reach out to the Pallister-Killian Syndrome Foundation of Australia, and had received contact from them less than one day later. Seven days later we met the family of the Foundation’s president face-to-face. They lived in our capital city and only twenty minutes away! They treated us as family from moment one. We were in contact with the global PKS-Kids group and found the support of their community a blessing, too. We were being informed at light-speed. When all the hope you have is information you take it with gratitude! Suddenly there was a care that seemed perfectly at accord with our circumstance — parents who had experienced much of what we were facing.
But those minutes the news of our baby’s diagnosis came in we were shell-shocked. We had thought we were in the clear, which possibly made the news harder, but there isn’t a time when you’re prepared for such news; a diagnosis that renders hopeless the chances of your unborn child’s life being normal even if they were to survive.
What We Learned
Grief leaves its markers throughout the rest of our lives. Life never returns to what it was like nor should it — that is perhaps the greatest loss. What we lost meant too much to leave us unaffected. Important dates, as in this present situation, can become cherished anniversaries that form a healthy identity of oral tradition where God’s faithfulness can be tracked and therefore praised. But I acknowledge that markers can also continue to be incredibly painful.
We also learned something that Dr Rod Wilson recently put into words. That is, anguish is not so much an invitation to hopelessness, but to hopefulness — that pain necessitates the search for hope. Pain challenges where we place our hope. We have never seen anyone fail to restore their lives who kept faithfully searching their way through their grief process. There really is no other option if we wish to be restored to hope. The empowering thing is that we who grieve are at the centre of our own destiny with God who is always there.
Finally, we have learned about the inevitability of loss; that grief sweeps its way through our lives at some point or other. Nobody enjoys it. None are spared of it. All are surprised by the ferocity of it. God’s purpose in it? To call us beyond the source of our hopes and into Him who is hope’s very source.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Precise Reason We May Rejoice In Our Grief

My wifes photo, she calls Last Light


LET’S use a different word than suffering: grief — it’s the effect of loss, and suffering essentially is the condition of grief.
The reason we may rejoice in our grief is this. There is only one real way to come into the experience of God’s Presence. The contemplative moment. When eyes and ears and heart are opened, having been pried open by the circumstances of loss, a moment when with the denial, bargaining, anger and depression there is an openness to believe God is there, that He is good, though we can explain it not, His Presence is made known to us. It’s literally a single moment when God passes by as He did with Moses. It’s the empathy we feel that no human being can explain or replicate, but just is. And, suddenly, there, in the midst of an enigmatic anguish, we sit having encountered what many believers never do, because they’re never taken to, or they commonly resist, such depths.
Anguish facilitates faith through personal crisis, but only when we believe God will meet us in our grief.
God ought to be the answer when there is no answer. And He is.
We rejoice in our grief by the fact that our lives testify to the hope that lives in us despite our pain. We have experienced the risen King and we’ve been blessed by truest conversion in His way, because He works to resurrect us, not saving us from pain, but glorifying Himself in us as we endure it with a hope that we can neither understand nor explain.
The grief we find from such revelation, however, is so few attest to what we’ve experienced. That can cause us to doubt the very miracle that, and the God who, resurrected us.

Take this as confirmation. There are others who have experienced what you have; the joy at peace within you in spite of your pain. Many may misunderstand. We can appreciate their logic. But God defies logic, and it takes faith to believe and receive. Choose Him in your grief and He will choose to come close to you.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

What our Expectations, Boredom, Frustrations and Cravings are Saying About Us

INNER experiences of God are a long way away for the dualistic either/or thinker. Yet we all suffer such a dilemma of being. Continually. Over our entire lifespan. We’re fortunate to get even one glimpse of the kingdom of heaven, because we’re so restricted to the capacities of the mind. Yet if we don’t get there, we have no chance of the Kingdom settling in our hearts. But there is hope. Contemplative prayer is the hope.
Experiences of the raw Presence of God are rare, let’s be honest. And our dualist, competitive thinking, our constructs of cognition that become us, is the chief blocker. Our thoughts are the sum of our preoccupation with the past and our worries/hopes for the future. We don’t know how to be present.
Because being present is very uncomfortable and not very rewarding to stay in.
Our expectations grow amid dreams that will never be our reality. Shocking to read those words. Horrid. Boredom is the space we occupy when we’re not consumed by thought of the past and/or future. Frustrations emerge from many unconscious drives that continue to remain unmet. Cravings never cease, even if we abide in entertaining hope of perfect sanctification. But there is hope. Contemplative prayer is the hope.
What we need to do is recognise the truth. In our thinking we’re far from God’s Presence. Only in the deliberate and definite process of mental letting go is there the ability to admit our dependence on reducing life to expectations, attributions of boredom, falling into frustration, and the guilt-cycle for cravings. These are saying we’re weak mentally, and the only reparation is to engage in contemplation. That is the way to the unbeatable serenity that accepts what it cannot change.
A most productive prayer, therefore, is to pray without thinking, all throughout the day. To simply observe life without judgment, cognisant of God. Prayer at its root is communion with God. Without thought. Simply observing life without judgment, in awe of God.