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Archive for April, 2011

A passage that’s been on my mind  lot in the last few weeks is 1 Corinthians 12. After writing my post Eagles and Hedgehogs, I’ve been thinking on the ‘zoo of faith’ quite a bit, and how, big or small, scaled or skinned, we all have a part to play and we are all a part of deliberate creation. This world needs a mix of eagles and hedgehogs, barracudas and bears, to be the place it is. It needs the tiny ants and the slippery fish and the yawning koalas. Every animal was equally welcome on the Ark – as far as I know, there wasn’t first class accommodation for the lions and lambs and shoddy bunks for the rest. Not that most animals could cope with bunk beds, but you get the picture. This ties into 1 Cor 12 too, which, as a geeky medical student who spends her time getting to grips with different body parts, is a passage I love a lot. I love this idea of the body working in harmony, of everything having a purpose, even if it only becomes apparent when something goes amiss – if you’ve had acute appendicitis, you’ll know the havoc wreaked by something that often doesn’t seem to do much.

I love how egalitarian the Bible is – I love that in the Old Testament, there’s always the option of a grain offering if you can’t afford a calf, or a silver shekel for those with no gold. I love that the contribution of all is appreciated and judged as equal. I love that women and children are valued, and that Jesus was there just as much for the Gentiles, as the Jews. This is similar to 1 Cor 12 in that it reminds me that the church is made of many people, not just bricks and mortar. My coming to Christ was followed so quickly by  falling into depression that I never really had much time to figure out what my role, or gift, or place was. I am not someone who was known for doing this, or that, around the church. I am not someone who previously, was up at the front, praying left right and centre, laying on hands, or serving behind the scenes. By the time I’d got my head around Jesus, I was already on a fast slide downhill.

I look at myself sometimes and find it hard to see how God is using me, if He is at all. I’m not a frantic evangelist, or a ‘confident’ pray-er. My philosophy is more about trying to help people as often as I can, without creating too much of a fuss, than being up in front of the crowds. Finding my role in my church has been tough, slow, and fraught with obstacles. It’s a big church, with a big congregation, and as a clinical medical student, I sort of fall inbetween ministries – I’m quite a long way from the seventeen-year old first years still staying in halls, but I’m not yet a young professional with a regular, predictable job and bills to pay. I span several gaps, but don’t quite fit any of them – a square peg surrounded by round holes. Add into this that I was completely bemused by the whole ethos of the student ministry when I started going, and it’s no wonder I don’t always feel a part of things; before encountering church, I’d often been involved in caring for other people, through leading a brownie unit, being a class assistant at school, and volunteering at a centre for children with LD – but I’d never ever been targetted as needing guidance myself. It took a while to get my head round it, although the concept of pastoral care is something that doesn’t strike people who have been around churches for long, as an odd thing; for them, it’s normal. My role and place is uncertain and at the moment, feels undefined. I wonder often, whether the church would notice, or be any different, if I stopped going? Would it start to limp, or go off course? Would it able to carry less loads, or hear things less acutely? Would it’s vision suffer, and speech slow down? Would it notice, at all?

When something in our bodies fails, other parts often step up to carry the deficit; in heart failure, the kidneys excrete more water to lighten the load. In arthritis, the muscles on the opposite side try to take the weight. In blindness, the other senses become more acute, so that we can still find our way through the world. This is what the church should do; when one member stumbles and falls, the rest should be there, to let them lean until they heal. This is what I want to be a part of – this collection of people who celebrate in strength, and comfort each other in weakness. It’s hard though, when I feel detached a lot of the time, like an extra hand that’s surplus to requirement, or a misshapen bone that just creates more work for the frame around it. How can I expect others to know my part, when I am so uncertain of it, myself? It all takes time. At the moment, I am more in need of someone to carry me through, than extending that to someone else. It’s a slow process.

One of the reasons I’ve made a promise that I’ll keep going to church is that, according to this faith I try to ground myself on, according to the book I follow, God wants me there. He wants me there, in His House, with His people. He wants me there, though I don’t understand why, though I don’t deserve it, though I sometimes don’t want it. He wants me there, learning, maturing, growing. I am a finger or toe, a muscle or bone. I am a tendon that connects two parts, a membrane lining a cavity, a space between two lungs. And reader, He wants you there, too. Some day, I’ll know just what it is that I bring to the body, to the table, but for now, I just have to keep on going and trying, and hoping, that this phase of uncertainty, of melancholy, shall not last in the way it so surely feels it will.

Yesterday was the AGM for the student charity I founded, and have subsequently chaired, for the last two years. It was bittersweet in that, of everything, I am so proud of it; in the last  year, we’ve grown from having 6 people visit a hospital ward once a week, to four times that, plus the library we’ve sourced (containing at current count, 500 books!), community activities and stronger community relations with charities. On a rough count, we’ve provided a visitor to over 250 patients without regular family visits this year. As I’ll be away a lot on placement next year, I’ve had to step down from presidency, and therefore feel like I’ve reached the end of an important phase – I’ve been the president of 5 student societies of varying types in the last four years (I just seem to fall into leadership positions) and this is the last one to go.  I’m excited to see the project grow under new leadership, but will need a lot of guidance from God to not fall into the trap of wishing I was still at the helm, or thinking that I’d do a better job than the new exec. It’s been my baby for the last two years – letting go is going to be hard and I need to trust that God will be behind the new committee as much as He was behind me.

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Lipstick Theology

A few months ago,  a friend gave me some strange, but important advice, together with a tube of very red lipstick. She told me, essentially, to wear it on the bad days, where I have to get out and face the outside world despite wanting to curl up and pretend that it doesn’t exist. She said, ‘wear it on your least confidant days, your most weary days, your under-the-raincloud days’. It was a challenge and she expected it to be carried out with gusto. Gusto is not exactly a word that comes to mind with depression.

Now, I may be a 23-year old girl, living in a material world, so to speak, but I am also the sort of person who still can’t quite get the hang of mascara, and who cuts her own hair on the defense that it’s curly and messy enough that it makes no difference. I’ve been known to show up at a party wearing shoes that are not only different colours, but also different heights, having walked three miles wondering why I’d suddenly developed a strange limp. I bite my nails, still don’t really understand the whole ‘cleanse tone and moisturise’ thing and will certainly not remember to start using anti-aging products the second I hit 25. All in all, I am not very glamorous, and that is exactly what red lipstick is. Like most young women, I’m not all that comfortable in my own skin, and sometimes wish I was that little bit taller, that little bit more elegant, that little bit prettier. I’m not a big fan of having my photo taken and the phrase ‘swimsuit shopping’ strikes utter dread to my core. This challenge was going to be tough – even the pre-challenge preparation of purchasing the (apparently extraordinarily neccessary) lipliner still gives me nightmares; men, be happy you will never have to face such rocky terrain. So many shades of red, so little ability to understand why. When they make a lipstick in the shade of ‘slough of despond’, perhaps I’ll stand a chance.

However, I’ve been trying it, and as this friend insisted, it has a strange power, this most iconic of cosmetics. When you’re  in a bad mood, wearing red lipstick and a steely glare, no one messes with you; that lipstick, it means business, and so does the wearer. It gives you space. When your smile is redder than a rose, however forced, it makes you appear confident, sure of self, assertive. Wallflowers don’t wear fire-engine red, afterall. Wallflowers, they go in for chapstick. This lipstick though, it brings a splash of colour to pallid cheeks and weary eyes. It takes you a step further away from hedgehog, and a step closer to eagle (see here). You can’t slouch, when you’re wearing vermillion. You can’t be too afraid for eye contact, when you’re giving Scarlett Johannson a run for her money. It’s a quick-fix to a pick up.

In the last few months, I’ve had enough under-the-raincloud-days that that lipstick has seen some serious usage, to the extent that it’s becoming a trade-mark. A girl in my choir, who is incredibly charismatic, intelligent and beautiful said ‘I would never be able to carry off that sort of thing’. I told her, ‘I don’t carry it off, it carries me’. With depression it really is the oddest, smallest things that can make a difference.

One thing that I have thought about is that, no matter how good I am at fooling the people around me that I am flying through life, running at the front of the race (make-up still immaculate, obviously) and don’t let anything get under my skin, God sees through my red lipstick. He knows that it’s an illusion, as superficial as the forced smiles, the early exits, the strategically chosen seat at church services (behind pillars, up the stairs, round corners….you get the picture). He knows that I’m washed out, and fed up. He knows that at the moment, I’m crying several times a day, ducking into bathrooms at the hospital to have a weep between seeing patients, and then have to clean myself up and get back on the metaphorical horse. Far from being assertive, my confidence is low enough that it’s probably emerging from the hole I’ve dug myself somewhere in Australia. He knows me. All of me. Laddered tights and all. I need to get better at remembering this, and, as Hebrews 6:14 says, ‘let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may recieve mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need’. I am not good at this. If I was faced with a literal throne, I can guarantee that I would be cowering outside the door, possibly in the nearest broom cupboard. I find it too easy to pretend that the Holy of Holy’s is still strictly ‘no-entry’ for folks like me. A distant God is easier to deal with, when you’re feeling so alone and unworthy. I’m not so great, at remembering that God doesn’t need makeup remover to see me as I am.

I’ve got the flat to myself until Saturday, as my flatmates A and F are both at F’s parents home, to celebrate the royal wedding tomorrow. It’s nice, just having the space to myself. I need to put together a plan of action over the next day or so, as I know, objectively, that my mood is lower again than it has been for a while, and I’m afraid that if I do nothing, it will keep on sliding. It’s scary, but I already feel like I’m losing my grip. The last thing I want to do is  flag myself up to the GP’s and the medical school again, but I think it’s pretty unavoidable. The hardest thing with depression, is that part that’s not working as it should, it the part that makes the decisions. If only decisions were all as simple as whether to wear red lipstick, or not.

P.S – I was going to call this ‘make me a Chanel of your peace’ – and then almost died of cringing.

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Sometimes I think it’s most unfair that it’s not possible to escape myself for the odd hour or two – I can move locations, switch off my phone, sit in a quiet corner of the library, all sorts of things, to get away from other people, but escaping myself is not quite so easy.

I’m feeling so frustrated and angry with myself at the moment, which achieves nothing, I know, but the feeling still persists. A lot of the time, all I can think is ‘if only, if only’…..if only I had kickstarted my project when I should have done, if only I had been more honest about how serious this depression is, when I was asked, if only I had started counselling earlier rather than later, if only I had kicked up more of a fuss when my medication gave me side-effects, if only, if only, if only, so many if onlys. I know that a lot of this blog has a distinct broken-record feel to it – I repeat again and again, that I’m feeling overcome and overwhelmed, that I’ve got too much on my plate, that I feel  unsure and uncertain, but that’s what I am like right now, how I am tuned in, and living it is exhausting, and this blog is meant to be honest, no false records or impressions. It’s not somewhere else that requires a brave face, or a mask. It’s just me, as I am, where I am.

Sometimes, I feel so full of determination to get through that it’s almost like being myself again – I think, yes, I will come through the other side, I will tick the boxes and cross the t’s and dot the i’s and find my way back on track. I think, yes, this depression is just a phase, a lesson to learn, a height to scale, that I will get over, and why, won’t I be stronger for it? I will look back, and I shall be glad for this challenge. I will look back, and I shall be proud. It’s as though God is pushing me forward, through the resistance, taking the weight. It’s as though He has me in His grip, safe. I think of how it will feel when I am that little bit stronger, harder, older. I think of how going through this will make me better prepared to help others in the future.

And yet, of course, the ground then shifts again and once more I am at sea. I think part of my problem is that I’ve managed to keep up appearances in some areas, such as the student charity I run, and resultantly, when I’m sitting, knowing I have so much academic stuff to do, all I think is that I’m a complete idiot for going off to see patients at the weekends in the hospitals we visit, or going off to buy shelves for the library we’re sorting, or all these other things, when I can’t even manage to get this research project sorted. I feel like such a hypocrite, such a fraud. People tend to see one of two sides to me; to 99% I am the same as always, busy, cheery, and (in medical school circles) endlessly keen, and keeping up appearances can be tough. But the tiny fraction that I trust, they only get the miserable-me, as when I see them, I’m ready to drop from the exhaustion of keeping going, and even with these trusted few, there are still a lot of things I don’t talk about at all, that I don’t ever want to talk about. Everything piles up onto the list of what I should be doing to move forward, that mythical list that never ever shortens or ends. I feel so stupid – if only, if only, if only. I feel so lost, so often, so off-kilter, and so very unreachable. I’m feeling cut off again at the moment, and it’s a horrible feeling. I wish I could get away from my hypocrisy for just a few hours, that I could escape the endlessly critical voice in my head just for an afternoon, and lay down my worries, just for a little while, but sadly, it’s not possible.

I’ve come back to this post to finish it off after starting it yesterday. Today, I went to a meeting of the hospital board, for the unit me and my charity are based on. It was my first time going, and I’m quite excited to be getting involved, as at the moment, their fundraising side isn’t that great, and I do love fundraising for things I care about. My director of studies was there, which wouldn’t have shocked me if I’d thought it through in advance (he’s a clinical lead in geriatrics at that hospital), but did wrong foot me a bit as I didn’t. He’s not replied to the last three or so emails I’ve sent him which is unfortunate as he’s meant to me my advocate at the medical school, and it’s been hard to keep trying with it. I guess I’ll just have to see what happens with that in the next few weeks – perhaps after seeing me in person, he’ll be more likely to help out as he should. I’m excited about a new oppurtunity for my charity too, after getting in touch this week with a new day centre for dementia patients that needs extra volunteers – it’s right up our street (figuratively, not literally), and there’s a lot of scope to improve things. I guess I just have to trust that if God’s going to look after my heart for my community, He’s going to look after me, too.

In many ways, being a Christian is much more about the ‘what ifs’ than the ‘if onlies’; what if Kingdom did Come? What if we didn’t go with the crowd, but just did what was right? What if Jesus were right here, right now? What if, contrary to how it so often feels, God does have us, by his right hand? What if, God is sending good things, what if, this is just a phase that too must pass? What if, what if, what if? Rather than looking at past mistakes, I guess we just have to concentrate on the promises of the future – what if it all turns out ok? What if? It’s a tall order, but, at the end of the day, a good one.

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I took a long walk up and around a nature reserve in my city this afternoon, after realising that even though it’s been pouring with rain, I really needed some ‘outside time’. I need to get near trees and open spaces every so often, and being surrounded by the sounds of nature as opposed to the city, always frees me up a little. As a teenager, I spent a lot of time sitting down by the river in my home town when I needed to escape home for a while, even sleeping there on occasions (unnoticed by family). Being in the outdoors is quite a spiritual thing for me, and makes me feel more connected to both the environment around me, and mankind – I think about all the people who have walked the same steps I have over the years, and seen what I have seen, and wondered what I have wondered. I think about the trees that have lived through so much and had so many people sitting under them for shelter and shade. I think about the rivers, and how Heroclitus said that you can never step in the same river twice, as both you and the river are always changing. Two years ago, I had just started going to church, and was at that stage of deciding whether to stick with it, and investigate further, or leave it as something that just wasn’t for me. I was on a trip to the Scottish Highlands to present some research I’d done, and when I couldn’t sleep, got up and sat looking out at the Loch, watching the sun rise, the mountains a perfect reflection in the water. It was then, in that true peacefulness, that I felt a sense of God that I hadn’t had before, and a feeling that church was just what I needed to be doing. It’s when you’re faced with something so big and beautiful, and lasting, that your own transience and frailty resounds so strongly. I am so human, and when I look out at scenes like that, I know, I know that there is something else out there who exceeds me in every way, and this is who I call my God. When I got back from that trip, I emailed the student worker at church (I’d been too scared to before, despite the fact that she was one of those people you know is completely lovely before you even meet them), and that was when things started rolling. Things have come a long way in two years.

I’ve avoided this particular route for a few months now, as it’s where I went when I was thinking some of my darkest thoughts – I stayed away, afraid that maybe going back would bring those things to the surface again. It’s been raining enough that for a whole two hours, I didn’t see a single other person. I sat on top of the tallest hill and looked out at the skyline, and the clouds chasing in from the sea – storm watching. I sat and looked out at the vastness and thought about God, and how I am such a small part of such a great whole. It’s times like this that I feel so very young, so incompetent and unequipped. So often, I feel like a fragile leaf tossed in the storms, so very small, with such a quiet voice that barely carries. So inadequate, so easy to pass over and forget. It was strange, going back and retracing my steps. There were a few times I was up there before when I was in such a state that had things been just that little bit different, I might have died up there, either through cold exposure, or more deliberate means, and that’s a hard thing to let go of. Retracing what felt like last steps at the time, is a strange thing to do. Back then, I lived everything as though it was the last time I’d do it, I was living on my own marked time, and didn’t care, I just felt relieved. Today, I spent a while praying, in the way I like the most – just sitting, and talking to God, open and intimately, as someone I don’t need to explain my words and metaphors to. I am mostly so grateful that I am still here, still living. I’ve had a lot of near misses. It could have been so different.

I find it much easier to pray for others than for myself. At the moment, my one promise to God is that no matter what, no matter how hard it gets, or how isolated I’m feeling, or how painful it becomes,  I’ll keep going to church. I know I need it, though when I’m low, it’s often the hardest place to be.  Being surrounded by celebration when I am drowning in depression, can be so very suffocating.  I have so much to learn, so many spaces to fill. I have so far to go, so high to reach. I wish I could say that my church has gathered round me and been there, supporting me through this, but I can’t, as by the time I was ready to fling myself into church life, this depression had me my the hand, and I started running from, rather than throwing myself into the community, and as a fairly quiet person, no-one noticed. I wasn’t on anyone’s radar. Nevertheless, the House of God is where I go to learn and remember, and let down my barriers. It’s where I can drop my defences, and in the silences, know that God is moving through the pews, and sitting beside me, just as He did that first time I went, alone and afraid. I need something to ground me each week and can’t trust myself to be strict with my own schedule of Bible studies at the moment. I need God, so need church.

So this afternoon, I spread my arms and let the rain fall down on me, soaking to the skin, and made a promise that I won’t stop going, and trying, and praying. I’m adopting the house of God, as a house of my own. I won’t be driven out. This isn’t all that in line with what I should be praying for at Easter, but a prayer off the mark is better than no prayer at all, I like to think. Making that promise, feels like a comfort. God, I’ll keep going. I’m still going. I’m moving, albeit slowly, forward and away from the last few months. Comfort in rain – I couldn’t be more British if I tried…..

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When I look back at myself, I’m not sure I’ve ever had that strong a sense of self. As a teenager, I was so intent on blocking out the problems my family was up against (for new readers, my mother was diagnosed with cancer, fortunately curable, when I was thirteen, which then kicked my Dad into an unrelenting downward spiral of alcoholism and depression), that I focussed all of my energy on applying to medical school, which at the time, seemed like a wonderful escape route. I didn’t give that much time to thinking about who I was, except as a list of extra-curricular and academic achievements that would hopefully convince someone to give me a place at the university of my choice (the day they did, was the best day of my life). My sense of self worth is highly related to my CV, which started in those years of surviving by ticking the boxes I needed to tick in order to stand a chance at medical school – by focussing on that, I could block out all the chaos at home.  According to my counsellor, this is not exactly a good thing.

That sense of busy-ness as a reaction to stress has never left me. I channel a lot of energy into finding tasks to be passionate about to avoid facing up to things that start to hurt when I’m alone. I give myself projects so that by the time I slow and stop, I am so tired that I have not energy left to think about whatever it is that’s on my mind when it’s not racing.   When my depression has meant that I haven’t been able to refocus onto some task, or list, or meeting, all the things I try to avoid rear up and crowd me out; I can’t escape. It sounds so self-centred and self-indulgent, I know, and I think part of that is true; for the last six months, I’ve had to focus on my own health and well-being for the first time, and I don’t like it. I don’t know how to do it.

When I think of depression, I often think of a force that has stole great chunks of my identity and left me with nothing – I’ve lost that endless enthusiasm that  I am well known (and laughed at) for, I’ve lost my ability to concentrate and push things forward, I’ve lost my ability to put my life on hold and just sit with a lonely, elderly person, and care for them. I’ve lost my sense of connection to others, and my thirst to change things I hate about the world we live in. I’ve lost my confidence, and my organisation, and being able to have ten things in my head, on a prioritised list, and know that I’ll remember to do them. I don’t really know who I am, anymore. When I think of myself, the words that come to mind are apathy, negativity, cynacism, callousness. It’s as though someone crept in when I was sleeping and stole all the souvenirs of my life and left me with an empty shelf. It’s like being wiped clean, all evidence whisked away. It’s as though everything positive has gone into hibernation and just will not come out – Spring might be here, but I am still stuck in endless Winter. It’s disorientating and confusing – when this all ends, which parts of me will come back? What will I need to reject to stop this depression returning? If all of my coping mechanisms are actually maladaptive, if I stop them, what will be left? Empty space.

I wish I could say that leaning on my ‘identity as a child of God’, as the Church would say, was enough – that knowing that God knows me, inside-out, from the moment I was conceived to the moment I die, is enough, but in truth, I still feel lost. L, my counsellor, tries to have me do exercises where I list how friends describe me (cannot even explain the cringe-factor these have), and at the moment I just don’t know – this year, I have not been on-the-ball and involved, I haven’t been that caring, that careful, that charismatic. I haven’t been that enthusiastic, or that driven, or that kind. I’ve mostly just been miserable. I’ve mostly just been a shadow who cancels at the last minute when I’m feeling too weepy to do something who, doesn’t complete tasks on time, and is always grumpy and on a short tether, ready to explode at conflict.

In the hardest months, I felt like so much of me had perished, that I was closer to dying completely than living; so much of me was gone, that it was as though all that was left was a shell with a heart that continued to beat, and lungs that continued to breathe. So much had faded, that the world seemed monochrome, and I seemed invisible. Although I’m mostly through that patch now, sometimes it comes back and I wonder if I will ever regain the ground I lost, and stop being someone who’s primary character trait is depression. I wonder if my soul will wrench itself from hibernation and thaw itself out in the sun, and start to heal. I wonder if as I sit and talk with L, if I’ll manage to fill in the vastness and find resolution, or if as the year keeps turning, I’ll just keep fading until there really is nothing left. My Hallelujahs at the moment are pretty cold and pretty broken. This Easter season has been difficult to navigate; I’m feeling so low at the moment and the concept of  achieving normal, let alone eternal life, seems a little beyond me at the moment.

To finish on a more cheery note, I found out today that the libraries in my city have agreed to donate all of their extra stock to my hospital library project indefinitely – including lots of large print, which has been really quite hard to source (and is useful as all the hospital’s we’re targeting are mainly geriatrics). I’m really pleased – we’ve got enough stock that within two weeks, we should be ready to deliver the books and shelving to the hospitals and kick it off properly – so, there is something to be thankful, and positive about.

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Different Hallelujahs

In our last concert, my choir sang an arrangement of ‘Hallelujah’, originally by Leonard Cohen. The song has really done the rounds in the last few years, and I think it’s interesting that it seems to have touched so many people in secular society, given that so many of the lyrics refer to Biblical characters, and essentially, at least when I listen to it, the closeness to God that comes from prayer when feeling brokenhearted. I like the fact that it’s a song that (disregarding Jeff Buckley’s more radical interpretation of meaning….) spans from spiritual to secular, and that we sometimes treat our relationships with each other, as we do our relationship with God, wishing we could outshoot and outrun, when the going gets tough and we feel the need for space. When you love someone, you carry the burden of also knowing how to hurt them, and the promise that you will not do so, when voices are raised and opinions are opposed, and this is something I hear in this song, too. I remember first hearing it when I watched the film ‘Shrek’ years ago, before we had internet, and learning the lyrics by replaying and rewinding the same two minute segment, then bashing it out on my piano.  When I listen to it, I think about the different ‘hallelujahs’ I give up to God, as I go about my daily life, and wonder how He hears them in all their manifestations.

Hallelujah is a word with many voices but only one meaning. When I walked back recently from a meeting with the manager of the hospital I’m trying to source a patient library for, I felt more alive than I have done for a while – this is a project near to my heart, and seeing it grow whilst, a lot of the time, everything else seems to be collapsing round my ears, has really given me something to lean on. I was walking home in the sunshine, talking to God, thanking him for all the emails that had been replied to, the willingness of the hospital to hear me out, the patients who’d given me the idea in the first place, the shops who have given generously to us, all these things – excited enough that no doubt, if God (or actually, anyone, for that matter) had been standing beside me, there would have been some serious high-fiving going on, maybe even with the occasional whoop for joy. It’s these little positves that make me feel more hopeful that there is a life for me beyond this depression, and I am grateful that God gives me these reminders and promises that one day, the heaviness will leave me and I will feel myself again. Joyful Hallelujahs, voiced in mental capital letters (for me, at least) and at top speed and volume must be wonderful to hear, but perhaps, also a reminder to God (not He needs reminders like the rest of us…) that so often, we, I, am a fair-weather friend. It is easy to be thankful for the things God sends our way that feel so positive and meaningful. It’s harder to get down on our knees and be grateful for adversity.

There’s a line in a verse of the song not often included in more populist recordings that goes, ‘yet even now it’s all gone wrong, I’ll stand before the Lord of Song, with nothing on my tongue, but Hallelujah’ which made me think that although we are told time and again that God hears all prayers, whether the sky feels full of Him, or empty, that perhaps it is the prayers that come in moments of desperation and utmost futility, that He cherishes the most; the prayers we say when we’ve given up belief that anyone’s even listening; the prayers we use as  flares in the night when we are drowning. Praising the Lord from the bottom of a dark well of seemingly endless hopelessness, is a tough thing to do. So often in the last few months, I’ve felt a lot more like quitting church, chucking out my Bible, burning journals, and forgetting the God I have come to follow, than getting down in the dirt and being thankful for lessons and learning. When I’m empty, I’ve felt a lot more like being angry and indignant, and giving up altogether, than remembering, in the cold black of depression, to continue to praise, continue to pray. Yet when I do (aside from the highly acute weeks when my grip on reality wasn’t exactly firm) I do feel close, and sometimes, comforted. It’s the smashed-up and broken-down hallelujahs, the end-of-the-road and bottom-of-the-mountain hallelujahs, that make me lean and learn. It’s when I don’t have a song in my heart to sing, or eyes sharp enough to glimpse the dawn, or hope strong enough even to get me through till morning, that those hallelujahs come into their own. It’s the whispered, not the shouted, hallelujahs, that I think God loves the most.

I’ve felt in the last few weeks that my mood is slipping down again, and am getting afraid – the more I came out of the depths of my depression, the more I’ve come to realise just how serious it really was, and that if things had been just a little different, I really might have not made it through. The thought of going back there is terrifying, and it’s hard to know how to best manage this feeling of unsteady ground. It feels kind of like standing and watching the sun go down, and being powerless to stop it – like watching a clock, and knowing, that time will continue to tick by, no matter what I do. I’m feeling numbed again, and cut-off, detached from the people around me, and hollow. Hollow – it doesn’t sound like it would be that bad a feeling, does it? And yet, the feeling of empty, unfilled, stifling space is so treacherous. When you’re so full of empty, there are few words left, except Hallelujah.

My favourite cover is by the London Community Gospel Choir, but that’s not on Youtube (though it is on spotify)- but this is a good standard one too, just incase you’ve somehow managed to miss the song (no judgement, if slight bemusement)

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This time last year, I was home for Easter break, and so yesterday was the first time I have been in church on Palm Sunday. If you’ve read my last few posts, you’ll have seen that it’s been a trying week for many reasons, and last night’s service on John 19 gave me a lot to think about.

Something I love about the Bible is that regardless of your religious affiliation, you can’t help but be moved by Jesus. Show me the person who disagrees with the basic tenants of his teaching, and well, I will fight (with tactful love, not force, obviously – smacking the gospel into someone is a slight contradiction in terms) to show that there’s no easy way of nay-saying a gospel of love, wherever it’s coming from. This is what grabbed me with Jesus – not his lineage, but his morality and message, even if the first time I went to church, I spent most of the service frantically trying to locate 1 Thessalonians in the NIV in front of me (where is this Thessalonia place anyway, and how could there be more than one, Perhaps it’s like North and South Korea…). You learn to love the teaching, and then to love the teacher, and then learn to love following them, or at least, that’s how it was with me.

 Sometimes I wonder if there was this other group following him during his life in addition to the converts he collected along the way – a motely band plagued by uncertainty, but liking what they heard about loving their neighbour and feeding the poor. Maybe they were a bit like me, and had somehow escaped hard-core temple teaching and weren’t too hot on the Pentateuch and the prophecies it throws out left, right and centre. Maybe they were disillusioned with the God of their forefathers and the legalism of the Pharisees, and were looking for a new code to live by. Maybe, they were sick of the draconian politics of their societies and wanted for once, a taste of freedom, when suddenly, low and behold, they came across it in a sandal-footed social upstart who spread an unusual message to the masses and was a dab hand with a hammer and saw.

When I think of Palm Sunday, I think of Jesus as he rode on a donkey, knowing his status as a divinely marked man, into the city where he was to die and wonder what was going through his mind – was he thinking that just as Mary rode a donkey to bring him to his place of birth, the same lowly animal was carrying him to destruction? Did he look at the crowds showering him with praise and cheers, and think, you just do not know what you’re doing, do you? Did he look at the faces lining the roadside and wonder who would be throwing stones, not flowers at him in just a few short days? I’m guessing, or believing, or hoping, that what he did was look at them, and think that what he was about to do was worth it. I’m trying, and chosing to believe, that through the taunts and the shouts and the stones, he never stopped loving. This is the Jesus I follow. When my depression was at its worst, I started to feel like I was living out my very own prophecy of premature death. I was convinced I was marked to die by some unseen hand, and rather than feeling afraid, I actually felt quite peaceful and resigned (an incredibly dangerous way to be, I now realise, if you’re reading and sympathise, please get help, now). My ‘black spot’ was all due to my serotonin going completely AWOL and fortunately, started to fade as medication kicked in and I regained just enough sanity to realise that jumping off an edge or slicing a few arteries was not part of my immediate future.  Jesus, however, his ‘black spot’ was real, as he rode that donkey. Carrying a prophecy is a heavy weight, indeed.

When I think of Palm Sunday, I also think of the crowds gathered to greet the disciples as they rode through the city gates. It would have been a melting pot mix of people following, hating, disagreeing, observing, and hoping to be healed by, Jesus. The crowd was heterogenous and had different agendas for being there on the streets. Although some of them may have twigged that here was a guy systematically fulfilling all the prophecies they’d been told about since childhood, a lot of them might have been unaware or unconvinced; they just wanted a glimpse of the latest town maverick. Doubtless, there would have been a few people burdened with uncertainty in that crowd, trying to work out who this man actually was, and if he could bring them the peace that had eluded them for so long. Every facet of society would have been there, from the greatest to the least, the rich to the poor, the joyful, and the pained. I think of this crowd of not-quite-there followers and know that that until recently, there’s a good chance I would have been standing among them, drunk on his radical message, but unsure of where Sonship and prophecy, and sacrifice, came into it.  There is so much I do not know, and so much I struggle with.

Sometimes, I have to ask myself if I truly believe that like the crowds on the banks of the Jordan, I have been cleansed and rescued, or if I’m just living by parables and not the light of salvation. Cleanse me with hyssop and I shall be clean, wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Depression takes a lot of fighting purely because it leads to a questionning of motives and attitudes – what it me, and what it my depression? Where does it end, and where do I begin? Is it depression telling me that I am not following, am not learning as I should, or is it the truth of God? Who will I be, when all this is over, anyway? – and working out these things can be difficult, and involves at least for me, a lot of inner battles. To get through, I have to keep believing that God has me, and that any jerky feeling that He doesn’t, it just this illness that has yet to run its course. I have to believe that the promises I read are true, and that a quiet, broken, Hallelujah, is heard just as clearly as a raucous one. Jesus went to his death for every member of that crowd. He went to his death, for every member of our crowds.

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