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Archive for the ‘Christianity’ Category

“Truth is everybody is going to hurt you: you just gotta find the ones worth suffering for.” Bob Marley

Sometimes people drive me crazy.  I remember the elation of buying my first home unit, standing on the leafy balcony off the shabby living area with threadbare carpet and apricot walls, feeling triumphant in the knowledge that I had escaped everyone, and could now live alone, please myself and no longer play the soul-destroying game of trying to please people who could not be pleased.  Perhaps for company I would buy a friendly cat, but that was it – no more people – no, no, no! 

The aloneness was wonderful for a while.  I could sleep in, leave the kitchen messy, play ABBA songs and watch whatever soppy dramas I wanted to on the TV. I’d found my safe place in the world.  But eventually I did crave some company.  Surprisingly, the friendly ginger tom who moved in wasn’t of the feline variety and, looking back, the decision to forego my treasured independence was a wise one.

This Easter I’ve been thinking about what it costs us to love someone, and what it is to suffer for that love.  There are, of course, the toxic and abusive relationships which need to be avoided at all costs, but even our healthy relationships can at times be costly and can cause us pain. 

I was once a young mum staring with besotted eyes at the baby in the crib beside my hospital bed.  I couldn’t take my eyes away from his angelic face.  Then came the sleepless nights, 3am feeding, changing nappies, cleaning up mess, cleaning up more mess, surviving tantrums, running, helping, trying to stay sane.  Yet the love continued to flow.  Even now as I muddle through mothering teenagers, balancing boundaries with acceptance, guidance with support, and often crawling into bed at night feeling like a complete failure, somehow the love still flows.

Love doesn’t always look shiny and perfect.  It doesn’t always feel warm, comfortable or easy. For the heartbroken woman struggling to care for her father with dementia, for the lonely old man living with the cherished faded photo of his late wife on his bedside table, for all who have lost a child, a friend or a parent, the pain is so intense it is often all we can see.  We wonder if it is all worth it. Would it have been better never to have loved in the first place?

Yet no matter what it costs us, I believe love is worth it.   Love calls us, consumes us, expands our hearts just when we think they are breaking, and lifts us up.

Easter reminds me about the reality of love – of a love that gives, suffers pain, perseveres, is patient and puts others above oneself. 

The humble Jewish man, so filled with compassion and love, who led people from their bleak lives and gave them fresh hope, healed the sick, comforted the lost, forgave the sinful and cared for everyone without judgement or limit, was the embodiment of love.  On the face of it, his suffering and pain seemed pointless – to die in pain and humiliation on a cross – to seemingly fail in his quest, and to be betrayed and ridiculed by those he spent his life loving. 

How extraordinary it was that love triumphed over such suffering.  The depth of the suffering couldn’t hold down the height of the love –  it only heightened it and made it stronger. His legacy was the Christian faith and an outpouring of unconditional love and hope for all.

So this Easter, let’s rejoice in love – the type of love worth inviting into our safe places, and the type of love that pain, suffering and even death, can’t hold back. 

Happy Easter!

 

 

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This year we will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. On Friday I sat across a desk from another man who announced that it was our 15 year anniversary and we both marvelled the length of our relationship. I’m afraid this isn’t a juicy confession – this other man is my Endocrinologist who diagnosed my thyroid cancer 15 years ago and has been faithfully monitoring me ever since.

I still remember that bleak afternoon when the telephone rang whilst I was chopping up vegetables, a baby and a toddler at my feet, listening to the strained voice of my doctor asking if I was alone or if my husband was there with me, before dropping the bomb-shell about the lump in my neck. Strangely I remember hanging up and continuing to chop up the carrots which suddenly affected me like onions.

But now those two little ones are teenagers taller than me – one is learning to drive and has a part-time job and the other plays piano and reads ancient history books I don’t understand. I have watched them grow from little boys into young men and what a privilege this has been.  The day I stood over the chopping board, processing the telephone call, the future wasn’t so certain.

The doctor’s office is currently going ‘soft copy’, scanning and shredding their patients’ files, so on Friday the secretary handed me a crisp white envelope containing my important medical documents. When I came home I checked through them, feeling nervous and a bit sick.  There were the first scan results from St George Hospital – fading black ink heaving under the weight of the medical jargon, describing a suspect nodule clinically and without emotion, masking its meaning and making it sound almost harmless.  But then I flicked through the transparent scans showing the offending black spot in my neck.  My stomach clenched into a knot.  That’s all it had been – a black spot on a scan – it looked like a smudge or blemish that needed a damp cloth to be wiped away – but instead it changed my life.

The report I hated seeing the most was the one indicating the black spot was still there six months after surgery and treatment, and I was to go back into hospital for a further large dose of radioactive iodine. I had been quite positive up to this point, but this setback, and a further period of separation from my babies, pushed me over the edge and life at that time seemed very dark indeed.

Eventually the spot disappeared, the scans were filed away neatly in a dusty folder and life returned to normal. Until Friday those words that dictated life or death for me had been forgotten. But remembering them has made me realise that I was one of the fortunate ones. Since then so many dear family and friends, workmates and acquaintances, have suffered the agony of watching black spots return and grow and win the battle.

Perhaps unpleasant times in our life are best forgotten. But when we are accidentally reminded, there is an opportunity to reflect and be thankful – and I don’t mean the thankfulness we feel when someone buys us a coffee or when we find those new shoes we’ve desired so much are on special. Nor do I mean the smug #gratitude type of thankfulness we post on Facebook to show off to our friends… The thankfulness I mean is the true, deep, gut-wrenching type, the kind that leaps for joy at being alive and breathing, and delights at watching our kids grow up and relishes the thought of seeing our hair turn grey, the wrinkles emerge and our upper arms grow wobbly.  This type of thankfulness leaves me teary-eyed and thanking God for every day I’ve had since the black spot vanished – even the difficult and dull days. Every day of the past 15 years has been a miraculous bonus.

So Happy Anniversary, my dear Endocrinologist  – thanks for tracking through this with me – making that awful telephone call to a young mum at dinner time, listening to all my questions, watching me cry and putting up with me every year since then, taking all those tubes of my blood, explaining what those confusing abbreviations mean (so many times), each year listening patiently to my creative excuses about why I haven’t lost weight and for your unwavering belief that I would beat this. It has been quite a journey and I’m ecstatic to still be here.  Fifteen years of bonus time!

The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.         Psalm 28:7

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Napoleon

I met Napoleon under the deep blue sea.  After an awkward descent into the icy ocean, I gazed in awe through foggy goggles at the beauty stretching out before me. Coral bowed and swayed as small fish darted here and there, going about their daily routines, the rich colours of the Reef rising in intensity and receding, teasing me to swim further.

The first sign that Napoleon was approaching was a large dark shadow. I stopped swimming and wondered who’d turned down the lights and there he was, adorned in peacock-blue with splendid plump lips reminding me of Mick Jagger on steroids.  He swam swiftly toward me and stopped with his chin level with mine.  Despite his formidable size, I couldn’t resist scratching his impressive chin.  He seemed to enjoy it, floating beside me and pouting his magnificent lips. I had no food to offer, only scratching, but he seemed content with that.

My heart raced and swelled with affection when I was swimming beside Napoleon. I felt privileged to be in the presence of such a beautiful creature and felt strangely connected to him – two creatures swimming together under the deep blue sea.

Travelling for the past week in Northern Queensland highlighted both the goodness and flaws of our fellow travellers. Driving on dusty highways I noticed the driver who would block the overtaking lane and drive along with stubborn ignorance, causing tempers to flare in all the cars backed up and waiting to pass behind. Was he blissfully unaware of his surroundings, or secretly making a selfish stand?

Then there was the sole service station manager in a remote country town. I staggered in after six hours on the road, with a bladder fit to burst. He met my expectant smile with a sour look and told me he did not have a toilet. I could see the ‘public toilet’ sign hanging enticingly right behind him, but he asserted he did not have a toilet.  The lady in the coffee cart outside told me later that he did have a toilet but felt it wasn’t his job to clean it and now it was in such a filthy state he had taken to refusing people entry. She apologised for his behaviour on behalf of the rest of the town and quickly directed me to alternate facilities.

By contrast, there was the elderly lady working in the second-hand shop in another quiet seaside village, who smiled and looked steadily into my eyes. She was stout and honest, with piercing blue eyes surrounded by deep laugh lines. I imagined the fluffy scones she would bake for CWA meetings, and the nourishing beef casseroles she would slow cook for ailing friends. She began telling me she had just returned to work after losing her husband of 60 years only five weeks ago. Her bravery, openness and kind heart warmed me to the core during my purchase of two wine glasses and some board shorts for the princely sum of $6.00.

There was also the couple who rented us a cottage at a cheaper rate just because I ‘sounded nice on the phone’. When I met them I discovered that the lady had cancer and they were about to leave their idyllic cottages they loved so much to live elsewhere while she attempted to recover her health. Their courage and warmth overwhelmed me and I wondered how in the midst of all they were enduring they had found the energy to be kind to me – a complete stranger.

Travelling has a way of shining a light on the differences in people. In our chance encounters, goodness was illuminated and so was selfishness. We stumbled upon such beauty, and also such ugliness.

I’m reminded of one of my favourite books ‘The Great Divorce’ where C S Lewis describes a ghost’s bus trip from hell into heaven. His descriptions of those trapped in hell compared to those walking free in heaven brim with insight.  The ghosts living in hell are pale, grey and transparent, sustained by their selfishness, lies and illusion.  The creatures in heaven are bright, shining, authentic and real.  Even the blades of grass in heaven are so solid and real that they slice through the feet of the insubstantial ghosts, but bend readily under the feet of the heavenly beings.

Many believe that Heaven and Hell are places awaiting us after our death, but perhaps we have already chosen our path and embarked on the journey in this life.

The lady in the second-hand shop, her face shining with love despite her grief, and the kind-hearted man about to move with his wife to find healing, had an unmistakable authenticity about them. In their openness, honesty and love I sensed the very essence of Heaven. Others, by stark contrast, were rude, pretentious and had dark and empty eyes. They appeared trapped in their selfishness and delusion, emitting the oppressive stench of Hell.

But it was Napoleon, with his colour and charm, who captivated me so fully that I was overwhelmed by joy. If heaven could be found here and now, then I’m sure I found it that day with a Maori Wrasse, God’s incredible masterpiece, swimming beside me under the deep blue sea.

“Hell is a state of mind – ye never said a truer word. And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind – is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakeable remains.”                        C S Lewis “The Great Divorce”

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I haven’t always been Kerry Osborne.  Once upon a time I was Kerry Sims.  I’ve also been known by some of my slightly-less-than-charming acquaintances as Dim Sims and Waddles. Those names have a cute and whimsical ring to them these days, when I view them from the comfort of middle age, but back in my school days they felt anything but cute.  They stung, they hurt and left me burning with shame.

“Dim Sims” was flung around in my primary school days – an ‘amusing’ adjustment to my surname which left me feeling like I was stupid.  Ironically, the boys calling me this were regularly failing their tests and getting the cane for their bad behaviour, while I was the “good girl” getting straight A’s.  But the irony was lost on me in those days.

“Waddles” emerged in high school and had a more vicious undertone, as it was a reference to my awkward gait and slight limp due to a then-undiagnosed hip problem.  I remember one day being circled by a group of boys, imitating my walk, thinking it was quite hilarious.  I don’t even remember who they were, but I do remember the burning shame I felt, the tears in my eyes and the heavy feeling of worthlessness.

I was almost forty when I was ready to face my hip problem.  Chronic pain and a concerned partner finally forced me into a corner.  When the orthopaedic surgeon told me that I had severe hip dysplasia from birth and my hip sockets hadn’t formed properly I was shocked.  It was also a gigantic “Aha!” moment when the truth finally hit me. Apparently I had done an amazing job getting around all of those years but now it was time for surgery.  The shame I’d locked inside all of those years, trapped like a big block of ice, began to melt away.  In the café at St Vincent’s Hospital the tears flowed hot and fast, the ice melting at last, as the shame that had shut down parts of my emotions finally washed away. As St Vincent’s Café sees many tears, I was able to cry without interruption.

Thankfully over the years a culture has emerged where bullying is no longer the norm and mentioning it isn’t treated with scorn.  I work these days in a school vigilant in finding ways to empower students and protect them from bullying.

But sadly in our society bullies continue to persist, despite our enlightenment. Bullying may begin in the school-yard but it continues in the workplace and sometimes, sadly, in our homes.  The bullying child may have endearing qualities with his cheeky smile and grubby knees, but the vicious boss who verbally strips staff of their self-worth, or the violent husband who humiliates and damages his wife with his fists and his controlling ways are just plain ugly.

When I was in my twenties I met one of the old school bullies at a party.  My life was full and fabulous and I was about to head off overseas to work and travel the world.  My old classmate was unemployed and just out of hospital for treatment of his mental health and drug dependency issues.  One of the first things he said to me was how sorry he was for the way he had treated me at school. He seemed to be struggling under the heaviness of guilt.  I smiled at his heartfelt apology and told him not to worry.  One look into his eyes told me he had already paid for the way he had lived his life thus far.

Comedian, Jerry Seinfeld  puts it well in his advice to those surviving a break-up:  “The best revenge is living well”.  Now I’m not an advocate for revenge, but there is certainly wisdom in those words.  For a time we may feel belittled by the bullies in our lives, but the scales will turn one day.  The key is to hang in there, and wait and watch.

So if you are being bullied or have been bullied, please take heart.  Don’t believe what you are hearing about yourself. It isn’t true.  Just as I’m not dim, and my disability wasn’t my fault, the same is true of you. If you don’t believe those damning words and hang in there, one day the tide will turn. Walk away, smile to yourself, and believe that you are valuable, gifted and full of potential.

So to my old bullies I say this:  I forgive you all – you were young, silly and thoughtless, and perhaps someone was bullying you too.  But I do believe you reap what you sow and Someone has my back who is far more powerful than all of us.  I pray that you will confess, apologise and take an honest look at yourself, and learn to live a life that brings joy to others rather than despair.

There is no room in this vast and beautiful world for bullies, and there is no room in my heart to listen to them anymore.  Kindness and love are far more interesting.

Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”   Romans 12:17-19 (MSG)

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Imagine what life would be like without worry.   I remember that heady freedom I felt as a child  riding in the car with the windows down, long before child restraints became mandatory, my nose stuck out the window smelling the freshly cut grass, the wind rushing through my hair and a big smile on my face, ready for anything.

I thought that by this stage in life I would have worry all figured out.  I recall jumping onto a plane as a young woman full of nothing but excitement, anticipation and wondering whether I’d order a red or white wine once we took off.  I loved listening to Midnight Oil and Angels songs throbbing on my big old Walkman as the plane soured into the air. Taking off was my favourite part of the trip – so thrilling to feel the plane’s  power, energy and oomph as we climbed into the big blue sky.

These days flying is a very different matter.  The loud rock songs and delicious beverage decisions have vanished from my mind, and in their place are whispers of:  that guy in front of us looks a bit shifty – he could be a terrorist;  what was that grinding noise in the plane’s engine;  what if my son vomits all over the smart-looking woman next to him; my ankles are feeling puffy – I hope it’s not deep vein thrombosis;  did I switch off the iron before leaving the house?  And on and on it goes, relentless and immobilising.  Tapping my toes to Peter and Doc has become an exquisite and bittersweet memory.

Worry can act as a giant eraser, rubbing all the colour and beauty out of life.  I noticed this at the end of the school holidays when I visited a local café with my sons for breakfast.  After a long summer holiday I was feeling unusually relaxed and virtually worry-free.   We sat at the same table as last time – the very first day of the holidays – and I was amazed at the striking coloured graffiti on the wall in front of me.  I commented to my sons and one responded with: “It’s been there all along Mum”.  I disagreed as I’d never seen it before…  So when the waitress came along laden with cappuccino and milkshakes I told her how much I loved the new artwork.  “Oh, that was done before we opened the Café, it’s been there for quite a  while…”  Last time I was in the café I was so tired, stressed and full of anxiety that I didn’t even see all of this colour, movement and artistic expression, right in front of me!  It was an eerie moment of self awareness.  My worry was robbing me of all the best bits in life – the beautiful, special and the meaningful bits.

Yet when I reflect on the times I’ve had to face something really challenging, such as a medical diagnosis that could be fatal, I realise that hiding beneath the heavy layers of shock and despair was a tiny glimmer of hope.  Whether it was a line in a song on the radio,  a conversation overheard in the hospital lift, or simply the uplifting presence of a friend by my side – I caught a little glimpse of light that ignited something in my spirit. I knew I would get through this dark valley – there was a way through and a wellspring to sustain me.  Surely, this little glimmer can be ignited now too, when worry springs up uninvited like a weed threatening to strangle all the joy and colour out of life.

Big problems aren’t always solved with big solutions.  Do you know that a mustard seed is only 1-2 mm in diameter?  A wise man once said if we have faith the size of a mustard seed we can move a mountain. It sounds like a crazy concept, I know, but there’s something in it.

So when those worrying whispers start up in my mind I look for the mustard seed of faith, wrapped in whispers of:   all will be well, you will get through this, things will get better – nothing stays the same, God loves you and nothing can separate you from his love, nothing is impossible, you have a purpose, don’t give up, never give up, just put one foot in front of the other and keep on going…

Seeds have an uncanny knack of taking root and growing.  If you dare to have that first little bit of faith and take a look a few years later, you realise that the seed has taken root and it’s growing taller, green shoots becoming stems and branches.  I’ve heard that in ideal conditions a mustard tree can grow to 3-5 metres tall.  Pretty impressive for a 1-2 mm seed.

So never underestimate small beginnings.  The wise man who told this story knew exactly what he was talking about.  He faced insurmountable challenges of his own with remarkable courage and grace.  Moving mountains seems easy compared with what this wise man actually did.  He transformed sickness into health, despair into hope, pain into comfort, oppression into freedom, prejudice and hate into compassion and love, and ultimately, life victorious over death.

I’m hopeful that one day I’ll be truly carefree again – window down and the wind in my face – strands of hair getting stuck in my teeth.  Maybe I’ll even take to the skies with the Oils or the Angels throbbing in my ears – wondering whether to order the white or the red – worry gone at last and freedom firmly in its place.

 

mountain

 

 

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christmas-tree

Each year our Christmas tree gains more decorations and loses any semblance of colour coordination.   But each year I love our tree a little more. It captures memories from long ago, with its frayed and faded decorations which once adorned the Christmas trees my husband and I gazed at as children and the collection of treasures made by our sons when their fingers were small and chubby and scribbly masterpieces were presented to us with enthusiastic smiles and lots of glue and glitter.   It’s a tree full of memories.

Christmas is a funny time which brings out both the best, and the worst, in many of us.  I think of it as the bipolar time of year.  When the mood is high, we have the warmth of community carol evenings, churches gathering treats for hampers for the needy, the giving and receiving of gifts and all of the champagne-popping feasting and festivity that happens when friends and family get together.  But then there’s the low mood moments – the pushing and shoving to be first in line at the shops, the road-rage to find a parking spot, the arguments in the supermarket, the stress about having too much to do, the anxiety of waiting to face a festering family conflict on Christmas Day and that lonely empty feeling that everyone else is having a much better time than you.

I witnessed both the highs and the lows last week on a brief trip to our local shopping mall.  There was the helpful man walking by in the congested car park who directed us to a free car space, just out of our vision.  He didn’t need to do this, but he did.  But then there was the lady who pushed into a queue ahead of us, making no eye contact, head held high.  The lady serving saw what had happened and pleasantly said to both of us:  “So who was next?”  The lady jumped in immediately, like a winning contestant on Family Feud punching her buzzer with: “I was”.  She reminded me of a footballer diving in for the winning try.  And I let her enjoy her victory.  When she left the shop assistant made a comment about the rudeness of shoppers at this time of year, and we laughed together. 

On the next leg of my journey I noticed a woman with a young daughter with her shopping trolley stuck on a busy escalator. She wasn’t strong enough to shift it and  the crowd grew rapidly behind her, building up like items on a conveyor belt.  There was lots of huffing and puffing and rolling of eyes and a few creative expletives were thrown around. Eventually one man found it in himself to assist her, but even then it was done in an angry and abrupt manner.  The lady’s small daughter looked on with large frightened eyes.  Meanwhile “Silent Night” played away in the background and the pretty lights twinkled. 

It’s interesting how stressed we become at Christmas.  There’s so much to do, so much to organise, and there’s this gnawing feeling deep inside that our lives have to look and feel perfect at this time of year.  Sometimes in all the striving, the worst in us can come to the surface:  the selfishness, the aggression, the Me-First attitude.  Just as we long for peace, joy and hope all we see are chaos, stress and misery staring right back at us. 

If you are feeling this way this Christmas, if that little knot of anxiety is starting to form and grow in your belly, can I encourage you to step back and remember what Christmas is really all about.  It’s not actually about overspending and eating lots of turkey.  It’s about the person we occasionally catch a glimpse of in the Nativity Scene or hear snippets about in a Christmas carol.  He doesn’t play a starring role in the whole Christmas extravaganza these days, but Jesus is the meaning and heart of Christmas. He came to bridge the gap between mankind and God and to model a life of sacrifice, service and compelling love.  

So please pause for just a moment this Christmas. If you have a long Christmas gift list be thankful for it.  My list is smaller than it once was, with a few key family members now missing.  If Christmas holds memories of absent family members and times long past, pause and remember them and don’t be ashamed of the tears.  Just let them fall as they heal and cleanse you.

If someone steals your parking spot, smile at them and don’t yell.   This will probably shock them more than your yelling will.  The other day I blew a kiss and smiled encouragingly at a man who cut me off in traffic.  You should have seen his face!  So much more satisfying for the soul than getting flustered.  Smile at strangers, help people when you can and give someone who really needs it an anonymous gift.  

Breathe and look around you.  Buy simpler gifts and serve simpler food if the effort of creating perfection is impacting your mental health.  It won’t matter.  You’ll be more relaxed and have more fun that way and that’s what people will notice.  Even if your house isn’t pristine and perfect, Christmas can still be wonderful.  I hope that whatever Christmas looks like for you this year, whatever memories and longing it stirs up, that you will be warmed by the true Christmas spirit  – the flame of God’s unconditional love and the light of peace which surpasses all understanding.

Have a very Merry Christmas!

" ... because of the tender mercy of our God,
     by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
  to shine on those living in darkness
     and in the shadow of death,
 to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

Luke 1:78-79

 

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Holidays are over and my boys headed back to school this week filled to the brim with adolescent reluctance.  Now they are in high school there is less drama and screaming in getting back into routine, but there’s certainly a whole lot more sighing and rolling of the eyes.

Just as they have grown taller over time, so too have their questions evolved. It can be daunting as a parent to be asked certain questions.  When they were very young, the questions about sex were difficult, but at least they had their funny side – “Mum are those lions on TV fighting?” (son 1) – “No, they are just playing!” (son 2).  Phew, that time I didn’t need to say anything at all, just quickly change the channel!  But I have found the theological questions are often the hardest to answer.  As little guys, there was the “So who is God?”  This one was easy enough.  But then came the brutal follow up question: “But who made God?” and things started to go downhill from then on.

Recently another theological question arose during a car trip to the local shops.  “Why do Christians believe different things, and why do they disagree so much?”  Now where do you begin answering a question like that?

The first thing that came to my mind was a day long ago when I was home alone as a fifteen year old.  A sweet looking elderly lady with a woolen skirt, sensible shoes and a wide welcoming smile came to the front door.  She was clutching a booklet with what looked like happy people in a tropical garden on the cover and began talking animatedly about paradise on earth and God’s kingdom.  She seemed friendly and harmless enough so I told her I had recently become a Christian myself and shared with her how happy I was with my new-found faith.  Strangely, my enthusiasm for God seemed to dial down the radiant smile on her face.  She continued with her heaven on earth spiel and I continued telling her about my discoveries about God.  As we talked, it became glaringly obvious that we were both coming at this Christian thing from a very different angle.  I was willing to accept our differences and call it a day, but she continued relentlessly, becoming less friendly and more red in the face as she went on.  Eventually, when open hostility took over and the sweet-looking lady turned very sour, I shoved her back out the front door, closed it with a thud and stood feeling stunned, confused and shaken. A few minutes later the tears came.

That was the day I discovered that not everyone professing to be a Christian is full of the unconditional love and acceptance we expect, and that beneath certain inviting smiles lurks a whole truckload of secret agendas and control issues.

Recently I attended a Christian Women’s Conference in Sydney. The keynote speaker was an entertaining and intelligent woman and I enjoyed listening to her words of wisdom.  But towards the end of her final talk, she made a comment that jarred against my spirit.  Describing how we listen to God and are guided by Him, she encouraged us to read God’s Word, but to guard against such things as listening for his voice in other ways, seeing him at work in circumstances, or of taking notice of mystical things such as dreams and visions. Now I’m sure we have all met people who have gone a bit too far down the “mystical” path and have left reality far behind, but her tone was verging on mocking and allowed no room for those who may have had genuine mystical encounters.  As she spoke I recalled the heavy sprinkling of mystical experiences throughout the Bible  – for example the promises in Acts 2:17 that: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams’.

I sat squirming at this point as I just happen to be one of those slightly weird Christians who do have the occasional mystical encounter – a sentence may pop into my mind at just the right moment to steer me out of trouble, or a dream predicts a pivotal event which is ahead and prepares me for it, or I meet a new person and inexplicably know about a secret battle in their life which helps me treat them with an extra dose of sensitivity.  During times of illness, stress and grief, these “mystical” experiences have given me the strength and hope to keep on going. I know not everyone experiences God the way I do, but I suspect some of you reading this will relate to what I’m describing. We all have our own stories to tell and it’s captivating to listen to each story with an open mind and a gracious and humble heart.  Our stories are as diverse as we are –  and are uniquely ours.  To listen to a well educated and well meaning woman of faith denounce these experiences as silly in a room of a few thousand left me feeling utterly deflated.   I half expected everyone sitting around me to hear the undignified slow squeak of a balloon losing its air.

So I gazed at my son with his important question, sharing his concern for the confusion and pain that arises between those of us who profess to share a common faith.  I answered along these lines:

“You know when we go out together, we head down to the bookstore and buy a book each and then go and chat in the café?”

“Yes” he replied.

“And you know how your brother hates bookshops, and when we get together we go for a walk in the bush and look at all the different types of birds, and take some photos?”

“Mmm”

“Well I think it’s like that with God too.  Each of us are different.  He loves us all, and he knows exactly how to communicate with each of us.  Some of us are academic, logical and structured  – others are emotional, creative and messy.  He relates to each of us where we’re at.  Different churches reflect these different ways of relating with God.  The problems start when people of one style of faith begin to judge and criticize people of the other types.  If we could only accept our differences, get on with our own journey (or as I read in Romans recently “tend to your knitting”) and leave others to tend to theirs, we would fully express what it is to be a Christian.”

It was the most honest answer I could come up with on the hop and I hope it reflects some of the truth around this complex issue.  He seemed satisfied with that for now. I’m sure another question will come up soon and I will try to answer.  In the meantime, I will keep on listening for the answers, which I know will arrive in their own unique, quirky and God-inspired way.

So where does that leave you when you criticize a brother? And where does that leave you when you condescend to a sister? I’d say it leaves you looking pretty silly—or worse. Eventually, we’re all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God. Your critical and condescending ways aren’t going to improve your position there one bit…  So tend to your knitting. You’ve got your hands full just taking care of your own life before God.  Romans 14:10-12 (The Message)

 

 

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