Archive for August, 2011

On gentleness

My church’s latest sermon series has been on the fruits of the Spirit, as listed in Galatians 5. Whenever I think of the ‘fruits’, it’s always the ‘gentleness’ that makes me think the most- it’s not something we think and talk of often. I’ve prayed for help to be more loving, more faithful, more controlled, as many of you will have done. Had I ever prayed directly for more gentleness? No – not until I realised I hadn’t, anyway.

As I thought more about it, the lack of emphasis given to being gentle, in many circles, including churches, struck me as stranger and stranger. God has many characteristics and many facets, but when I was wobbling between uncertainty, and fully opening myself to belief, it wasn’t his omnipresence, or omniscience, or omnipotence, that lead me to faith. It wasn’t images of the ostentacious miracles of the Old or New Testaments that called me to Jesus. It wasn’t the loud, blunted shouts of the major prophets, it wasn’t the jubilant songs of David, calling me to rejoice, calling me to joy, it wasn’t the modernity of the worship band or the radicality of the lyrics. If anything, these things kept me away. They freaked me out.

What caught me was this quiet promise that God was gentle enough that coming closer wouldn’t hurt me more. It was the promise in James 4, that if I drew near to God, he would draw near to me, without lashing out, without the need to fear rejection. You can’t draw near to an angry being. You can’t come close, to someone who wishes you away. It was the whispered, dark-of-the-night voice that came alongside me and told me that if I was brave enough to trust, brave enough to follow, then all of those things in my life that seemed so wrong and messy, would find something new to focus on. It was the feeling of a hand on my lonesome shoulder as I sat in a lonesome prayer room in the small hours of dark mornings, telling me that yes, I was flawed and imperfect, broke-down and weary, but that there, in the shadows, was someone who could bind my wounds and heal my bruises. It was knowing that when I opened my soul and let down my walls, Jesus would protect my heart, as one of his own. I’m not saying that it wasn’t a gamble, or that it was easy; it wasn’t, it wasn’t at all, but in the end, that gentleness wore me down. I couldn’t hold off, anymore. Something had to give.

I have been a Christian for almost two years now, and although God’s goodness amazes me, his power bemuses me, and his control at times escapes me, it’s his gentleness that brings me back at every turn. When I am feeling far away and disconnected, it’s those smallest, most heartfelt prayers that seem to bring me home when I am at my most vulnerable. It’s that brushing against my heart that tells me, reminds me, that I’m held in the same hand that holds the Earth, which secures me. It’s the still, small voice that speaks as I shake and cry, that shows me the way I need to go. God has been gentle, with me.

Last week I met with the person who mentored me at church before moving back to her home country a year ago, when she came for a flying visit. She is who I think of when I hear the word ‘gentle’. Being with her for a few hours, after going a long time from being truly honest with a Christian after a pretty horrific encounter at the height of my depression, reminded me of how important gentleness is. She was nothing but gentle with me, both when I was having a hefty tug-0f-war with respect to my faith last year, and since then, when I’ve faced obstacles of a different sort. And in the gentle way she walks through life, I see more strength and power to touch the people around her, than I see in the louder, more exuberant Christians who so often end up at the frontline of churches and communities. I’m not doubting, in any way, their love of God, or their calling – but sometimes, I think it’s gentleness, that will open the most doors, heal the most wounds, and glean the most followers. I think it’s gentleness, that brings us most closely into step with Jesus. I think it’s gentleness, that will change things.

She also reminded me that they’re called ‘fruits of the Spirit’ for a reason – they don’t spring up overnight. As someone who measured a Christmas tree seedling every single day for two years as a child, I know full well that growing takes time. I get frustrated sometimes, that God’s timeline is different to my own, that it took months for depression to lift even a little, and it’s taking months more, to gain back all the ground I’ve been steadily losing for so long. I get cross with myself that I don’t have more faith, or more self-control, and sometimes seem to lack the passport needed to get within a hundred miles of real peace – but I know that these things will take time, and that with time, they will come. I will learn. If you take Genesis at face value, it was an apple that lost us the Kingdom; funny that it’s ‘fruits’ that will bring it back. In the meantime, I’m praying for more gentleness.

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I was back in counselling on Monday and was talking about the other week with its slight meltdown. From here, L was asking me about how I manage/express/deal with etc – anger. I hate anger, or more specifically, being confronted by angry people. I am afraid, of angry people. Angry people say what they don’t mean, and mean what they don’t say, and aren’t very good at being objective, and to be honest, scare me. I hate being angry – I hate that feeling of a red mist coming down over your eyes and distorting the world around you. I hate the way my inner voice starts shouting about the situation, or person, in ugly terms I would never say aloud (or if I did, be ashamed, afterwards). I hate the way anger crowds out my reason and banishes my sense of balance. I’m afraid of lashing out and hurting someone with my wrath, of throwing out words I can’t take back. I grew up in an angry house. This stuff probably isn’t that surprising. Apparently, a lot of kids with drinking parents, feel that way.

I know, that I’m not all that great at ‘confronting emotions’. I prefer to head off alone for a few hours to cleanse them away, and come back, calmer, rather than giving in to them. I prefer to stuff them away and slide that placid mask, back in place. Out of sight, out of mind. I know this. And sometimes, it makes me feel a little broken, a little messy – surely, I should be able to manage things coming from within, from my own mind? Sometimes, it makes me feel so past repair, as though, if I can’t even deal with softshoed feelings, what can I deal with? L was going on (in predictable counsellor fashion) the need to FEEL your emotions and LET THEM BE HEARD and GIVE THEM the TIME and  SPACE they DESERVE. And me, well, I was sitting there crying, trying to explain that I try, that if I could, I wouldn’t be so crap at it all, that most of the time, I’d quite like to not be attached to tags like ‘dysfunctional’ and ‘aberrent coping mechanisms’ and all the rest. And L, she really went all stereotypical therapist-y and started talking about tackling the ‘darkest, deepest issues’ and ‘healing the untouched wounds’ and all this sort of thing, saying that it was going to be Painful with a capital P, and difficult with a capital D.

And part of me wanted to say – what do you think this has been so far, a walk in the park? Did you think that the last few weeks, have been painful-with-a-small-p and difficult-with-a-small-d? Did you think that this whole counselling thing has not had me hurting, crying, bleeding, tearing in two? Do you not hear when I say that I struggle to come each week, that every week, part of me is too afraid to get through the door? You say the next bit is hard – then, bring it. If this doesn’t finish me off, something else will. If this doesn’t finish me off, nothing else, will. Part of me wants to say fine, do your worst, consume me, break me, burn me, brand me. You can’t do any worse than depression did. You cannot push me closer to the edge, than I’ve already been. Throw at me what you will. Scald me, where you must. Let’s get this over with, finally. Let me get over this, finally.

However, being part human, part hedgehog, sometimes I’m not quite brave enough to say these things. I’m not quite big enough, grounded enough, fearless enough. It wears me down. And so I say, yes, let’s do it, let’s open the curtains and open the wounds. And what I want so much to add is, when you do it, please don’t hurt me more than neccessary. Please don’t let me down. Please don’t wound me more as others have done. Please, be there. Be there.

The thing is, no matter how difficult (with or without a capital letter) the next few weeks will be, just knowing that I’m going for it shows that over the last few months, I have moved forwards. When I first became a Christian, before any of this depression malarkey took hold, the thought of healing was just too much for me. I didn’t want to go there. I didn’t want anyone, to go there. It was less painful, less frightening, to carry on as I was, walking wounded, than let someone in and lead me towards being healed and whole. If I’ve learned anything about God’s plan for us, it’s that it’s tailor-made and only includes good things. I wasn’t ready, then. I have to trust that if I’m ready now, it’s because God knows I am ready, and knows what He’s doing. I have to trust He knows what’s best for me.

I’m choosing to trust.

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I’ve got a (fairly miserable) post about counselling that I’ll put up soon, but thought I’d break what seems to have been a fairly negative run of posts recently, with some of the good things that have been going on recently. In no particular order….

1) The mentoring scheme between juniors who are struggling academically, and senior student tutors, which I’m setting up in my medical school, is starting to come together. I called a meeting at the weekend with some of the other students who are keen to be involved and it went very well. I”m really excited about this – at the moment, the med school’s support system isn’t that great, and although I’ve never struggled academically (aside from the deadline trauma of last year), from what I’ve seen, for those that do, having some peer support could be so beneficial. I love organising and leading new projects, and this is right up my street. Very excited!

2) My additional research project in foetomaternal medicine is also going to be lifting off next week. I’m looking forward to sinking my teeth into something and perking up my CV after last year – even though in a lot of ways, it’s not really that neccessary, doing something positive to counteract last year feels good – and if I find something out that will help save some babies in the meantime, even better!

3) In November, I’m actually having a proper holiday where I go away somewhere, with people I love, and get out of my city – which, much as I love it, has been a bit stifling of late. What’s even better is that a dear friend I worked with in America is coming to visit, so together, with one of my best UK friends, we’re going up North for some rest, relaxation, and lots of nature. I’m anticipating a lot of wine, chocolate and good conversation. I can’t wait. It’s going to awesome!

4) I’ve started confirming details for my medical elective – all students have an 8 week block to go and do medicine in another country, and after lots of um-ing and ah-ing, I am off to Pokkhara in Nepal, from mid January till mid March 2012! Elective was really what I stood to lose last year, as if you fail something, you have to stay behind and resit, and I honestly didn’t really think I’d make it out there. I’m still waiting on what I’ll be doing but am hoping for some time in a leprosy clinic, then a few weeks of obstetrics and paeds. The leprosy clinic is church-ran, so I’m also really excited to see medicine done from a Christian perspective – which is just not what happens here. Everyone say Namaste!

5) After some discussion, a few friends and I have decided to start up a girls’ Bible study. I’m really excited about this – I’ve felt a bit adrift in my church at times, and this will be a little less intimidating than sitting with lots of older people, with very different circumstances to me and my perennial studentdom. We’re also finding out from the staff if there’s anyone they know of who might benefit from some community – which again, is something I know I’d have appreciated when I started at church.  It also feels as though finally, I’ve found my place in the community, after so long of being at the sidelines. I want to be part of making things better for new people. I don’t want it to take someone else, as long as it took me.  At times, the thought of leading something like this kind of scares me – but I know it’s going to be good for me, and if I’m going to be serious about my faith, I’m going to have to learn how to share and discuss stuff eventually. The three aims are Accountability, Bible, and……Cake. Because, you know, man can’t live on bread alone etc. Holiness and hyperglycaemia, here we come…..

6) The most positive thing of all, is that I actually feel excited at all – and although there are certainly bad days, black days, head-under-the-blanket-days, as the balance slowly shifts, as the new mornings come and the weeks slide by, the good things, the God things, do shine through. I’ve always been a self-starter and a go-getter – and it was those traits that I most missed when depression struck – I lost that sense of who I am. I thought I’d never get those things back. I thought a part of me had died. So now, with these new things on the go, I know that those changes weren’t permanent. I didn’t lose myself to depression. I may not always like the way it did change me, but at least those parts that make me who I am, are still here. I’m still here. I’m still going. God is Good.

What positives have you had, recently?


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I’ve had a nice weekend off, seeing a few friends and chairing the meeting for a new medical school mentoring scheme I’m heading up. I rounded things off with an evening service at church, but found myself not quite at ease as I listened and sang.

I’m back in counselling tomorrow afternoon and it’s been quite tricky sorting my timetable at the GP’s to get the time off – and after spending a few days with them, am not really that keen on being completely honest about why I need it. I’m also just getting completely fed up of having to always, always be thinking about how to get the afternoons off I need, where my next attachment will be (and whether I can get back from it for counselling), of knowing that on Monday evenings, I may well be capable of no more than collapsing in a heap and crying. I’m fed up of having to keep marching to this constant drum. I’m fed up of being constrained, first by depression and now by recovery.

I was sitting in front of a girl in my medical year tonight, and sometimes, I just feel so jealous – jealous that other people haven’t had to deal with juggling depression and medical school, recovery and medical school, counselling and medical school. I get envious about the things I miss out on, as for example, I can’t go to a lot of the teaching hospitals at the moment as I would’t be able to get back in time on Mondays, so am stuck in the city. Recovery, as so many of you will know, takes so much time and so much effort. Sometimes, I really do just get a fit of the ‘poor-little-me’s’ and want to say, why, why is is me that was brought down in this way, why was it my life that had a year, if not more, completely wiped out of it, why is my grades that, after four years of working so hard to stay in the top end of the year, have now slipped, thanks to last year? Why is it my life that was turned upside down, my mind and reason that went AWOL, my body, that didn’t take well to medication? The list goes on.

I know, so well, that it’s pointless looking and envying people. A lot of people, if not all, have significant struggles to work against. A lot of students take a hit from illness of one sort or another. A lot of people go off to counselling and survive to tell the tale. I’m not usually one prone to self-obsession (that would be my older sister). And yet, sometimes, I just feel so frustrated I want to cry. I feel so tired of this ‘journey’ that I want to sit at the side of the road, and not move another inch. I want to hang up my hat, turn in my chips, leave it, leave it all behind. I don’t care, for the reasoning that for all I know, this girl, or anyone in my year, probably has a shedload of stuff going on, behind closed doors. I don’t care, for the reasoning that no one had a clue that I was falling apart last year, so how can I assume things about anyone else? I don’t care, that it’s unfair, unjust, unreasonable to crack out the envy and let it seethe. I don’t care, that having the odd hissy fit at God, won’t get me anywhere. Sometimes, I just have to hiss. I just have to stamp my feet and let it out.

I think part of it is that at the moment, I’m feeling quite alone in all this. Sometimes I wish that I had a family who rallied round and helped me through things, rather than the dysfunctional, corrosive one I have. I get fed up sometimes, of managing on my own. Sometimes, like at the moment, when I’m having a few days of feeling oh-so-vulnerable, oh-so-easily wounded, all I want is someone to take it all away and help me know what to do. Last year proved that I’m not always good at making my own decisions, and as a result, I don’t feel quite as capable or invincible as I did before. Walking wounded. After the whole run in with the substance-misuse doctor the other week, it’s as though all my armour has been stripped away and suddenly, it’s only to obvious to the world that I am defenceless, fragile and not quite as bullet-proof as I’d have it believe. I’m back to square one again. I hate square one. Sometimes, depression feels like a game of snakes and ladders, but with no ladders and extra snakes. It’s hard enough to stay in one place, let alone move forward.

God – please help me stop being so grumpy and ill-thinking. Please help me see the way through this. Please help me keep my eyes fixed on you, and not on things I can’t change. And please don’t let counselling finish me off. Love, Char48.

So – let’s hope that this week isn’t quite as grumpy as the last.

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