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Posts Tagged ‘Bible’

‘Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

First of all  – I’ve calmed down a bit from my last post – sorry for the ire, I’ve decided not to edit it as this blog is meant to be above all things, honest.

I had my last day on geriatrics today (exam tomorrow – eeek) and got my feedback on performance etc – and did fairly well though I am very aware of areas I really need to improve. If I pass everything (and am given a job), it’s exactly a year before I hit the wards as a junior doctor. It sounds like a long time, but there’s a lot to fit in.

I was taking lots of bloods earlier (old people with awful veins and lots of confusion are good to practise on – if you can get blood out of them, you can get it out of a stone….) and was speaking with one patient who I’ve spent quite a bit of time with. She said she thought she was getting depressed after being in hospital so long, and feels as though she’s got to the end of everything. We had quite a long chat and I switched into ‘psychiatry mode’ and asked all the questions I knew the consultant would want to hear about, and then used the screening questionnaire with her and reported back. It made me feel quite emotional (not that this is hard to achieve) – she had an episode of depression when she was close to the age I am now, and then a few more over the years, but has been fine for over a decade. It makes me wonder again  what my future holds. It also led to an interesting discussion with the consultant as he seemed to think that I’d be of the opinion that it’s normal for longterm patients to be clinically depressed – which to be fair, is perhaps what a lot of people might assume – but not me. Depression can be understandable, even reasonable, in come circumstances – but it’s not ‘normal’. No one is ‘meant’ to be depressed. Everyone deserves to have it looked into, and treated if possible and appropriate.

Sometimes, I start thinking about it, and see in my minds eye myself in a year, struggling in my first job, or in ten years, crying and crying with postnatal depression after my first child is born, in fifteen years, as they start to grow and the job-family balance gets harder to manage, in twenty years, when my (future) marriage hits the rocks or someone gets diagnosed with a horrible disease, in forty years, when people start to die, in sixty years, when I am stuck on a geriatric ward, unable to get back home, aware that the end is approaching.  I wonder how many more years I will lose to rainclouds, to sadness. I wonder if this sense of a horizon steadily gaining ground on me will ever leave me – if I will ever lose that sense of perpetually looking over my shoulder to see if the shadow of depression has followed me home. The solution to this is probably to stop thinking – but that’s difficult. Easier said, than done. I looked at this lady, and it was sort of like seeing the future – will it be me, someday, saying, yes, I’ve had depression since my early twenties, yes, I think, I know, it’s back once more?

Unfortunately, I have no silver ball or magic mirror. I don’t have the gift of prophecy, and am a little uncertain about those who claim to own it. I don’t know what the future holds. At times, I would quite appreciate God sending me a calendar with everything filled in for the next seventy years. Or a blackberry, that would also work and is easier to fit in a pocket. Either way – it’s not going to happen. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, yet alone in year, or a decade. You can schedule and plan with the best of them, but life’s uncertainty and penchance for surprises when you least expect them, will catch up eventually.

I guess what this comes down to, once again, is faith – faith that God will protect me from a relapse, or guide me through it once again, faith that if and when I slide downhill, I will have learnt enough this first time round, to manage quicker, and better. Faith that God is bigger than me, and bigger than depression, and faith that he is more good, and loving, and powerful than I will ever know. This week has had its challenges – but at least this time, when faced with adversity, I spoke up and spoke out and didn’t just run away immediately. I’ve moved forward. I am different to who I was, a year ago, and I’m learning all the time, how to find my path and stick to it. My faith is so clearly stronger than it was a year ago – it made it, tattered, and torn, through last year. It stayed with me, through all darkness and deadness and suspicion. It’s been weighed and found adequate. It’s here to stay, even if it has to fight for its place from time to time. It’s here to stay, even if it’s still just a mustard seed.

Well, if all else fails, one of my patients told me today that I’d do well down a coal mine (he actually worked in the mines near where I grew up, and is currently delerious with an infection and still thinks he’s down them….) as ‘you need pretty girls down in the dark to light the place up’. This cheered me up quite a bit although as he’s registered blind and I’m no model – and certainly not a luminous one – it’s not exactly accurate. Not quite the career I had in mind, but you can’t beat an octogenarian for putting on the charm offensive at every turn….I’m going to miss medicine of the elderly!

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Although I am generally more of a Jeremiah girl than an Isaiah one, I’ve been thinking about this particular book and its prophet a lot recently. Isaiah, like most of the prophets of the Old Testament, doesn’t get much air time in an average church – he’s brought out at Easter and Christmas to remind us that, as Christians, we believe that Jesus’ coming and actions were predicted long before his birth, that promises and prophecies do come true, and that with him, the harshness Mosaic law died to the gift of grace, the gift of the Son, but aside from that, he’s kind of like the weird spices you buy on a whim that just sit on a shelf gathering dust, out of sight behind the ubiquitous mixed herbs and chilli powder, just waiting for the day when you’ll get your act together and cook up something a bit different.

I sort of forget sometimes that although my Bible is in a single, nice, portable volume, that’s not how it was written – that the little book I carry about with me represents centuries of documentation, hundreds of authors, thousands of revisions. There’s something amazing about knowing that the apostles (the Jewish ones, at least) would have read the OT as I do (and much more regularly, I imagine!), that they would have read about Elijah and his fierceness for the Lord, and Jeremiah and his tentative courage, and Isaiah, the picture of zealousness, with his strange visions of a man, pierced and beaten for the sins of the Earth, sent for redemption and returned broken and bleeding, to God. And, inspite of Jesus laying down history in front of them, like a well played hand at cards, they would still fail to make the connection, they would still fail to realise that the prophecies they had heard from the cradle, were being fulfilled before their very eyes, under their roofs and around their tables. The old has gone, the new, has come.

I was thinking about the eagles in the last part of Isaiah 40 again this week, about running and not growing weary, and walking without stumbling. In the last few weeks, despite feeling so much better, something still hasn’t been sitting right. I’ve been feeling so much better, making plans for moving forward, getting new projects on the go, and thinking of how to reduce the impact of this year – but something still felt like it was jarring, sticking somewhere. This passage cast some illumination on that unease, as, to some extent. I got through the depths of depression by relying a lot on my faith, weak as it was – and then, once it started, finally to lift, it was as though I turned to God and told him ‘I’ll take things from here, cheers for the help, but now, I’ll go my own way. Again. I’ve got this under control’.

I do not have this under control.

God doesn’t just sustain me when I’m at breaking point – he sustains me every day. I need to stop thinking I can act out of my own strength, and get by without His input, aside from when things crumble and I get truly desperate. He’s not a last-chance God that I stick on a shelf until all other avenues have failed – I need to get better at relying on Him permanently, through the easier times as well as the hard ones. I’ve made myself busy with all these plans, but I haven’t really prayed about them, or relied on God’s hand to guide me through the decisions, and because of that, once again I find myself wearying and tiring. Depending on God is something I don’t find easy – having grown up being fiercely independent, making my own decisions and not really having anyone to ask for guidance, learning to pray and ask for this, and to stop being so self-reliant, was a lesson that took me a long time to learn, and even longer to put in practise.

Sometimes, we talk about God’s power to rescue as so situation specific, when really, we need that rescuing every day, as every day, we live our lives under sin, outside of godliness. We need grace, every day, not just the day we commit to Jesus, not just in the darkest hours when all hope seems lost, not just in the lonely hours before the dawn, when our separation seems most painful. My need for rescuing doesn’t change; my need for Jesus, doesn’t change. If anything, I need God more now, that I’m trying so desperately to stay on an even keel. I need that guidance to keep me going, to lead me as far away from the grip of depression as possible, to stop me wearying and tumbling down. I need a steady hand and a level road. I need God, who weighs the islands and names the stars, who brings down nations, yet still gathers the lost as sheep, who knows us, you, me, by name. I need that man, pierced for my transgressions and hung on a tree before the crowds. Salvation isn’t a one-day event that tarnishes with time or wears out with use; it’s eternal, unchanging. I need to remember this.

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Last Sunday was the first time I’d been to church in about six weeks, the longest I’ve been away since I started going there two years ago. Having some space has been good for me, but being back also felt right, and as it was the first service that’s not reduced me to tears for about a year, I think both the break, and the return, were well timed.

The pastor was preaching on Psalm 23, which must be the most famous, and beloved, passage of the entire Bible. It’s a psalm we learn as children, a psalm we grow up with, either in church communities, or on film and in books, as it’s the passage so often fished out for both the joyous, and the not-so-joyous occasions. It’s about the shepherd-God, the King who takes a position reserved for the most lowly, the poorest boys who have no option but to chase their flock over mountains and valleys, no option but to sleep in the open and cook over a campfire, no pay, except the wools and skins from the animals so tenderly cared for. It’s about the tireless worker, guiding his charges, binding sore feet, and counting, counting, counting their number to make sure none have gone astray.

One thing he said was that it’s when we find ourselves in the valley of the shadow of death (or, VOTSOD) as I always think of it, never underestimate the power of a good abbreviation etc) – that we feel God most closely guiding us.

I  don’t really agree with this.

In my experience, and if you’ve read previous posts, you’ll know that I don’t believe that the distance between us and God changes at all – it’s out perception that does, our interpretation that always comes up wanting. When I was, quite literally, walking with the shadow of death, I was desperately trying to find God, any God, any where, in the mess I was in thanks to a hefty bout of depression. I was scouring the horizons and praying for hours, and searching, searching, for this shepherd who was supposed to be guiding me, and yet, the skies just seemed completely empty. There was no-one there beside me. There was no footprint next to mine, in the valley. There was no shadow up front to guide my way. My faith turned to one dependant on hope – surely, one day, all those promises would find their way to me and I’d find a bundle of hope with my name on it just when it was needed, surely, this elusive God I’d madcaply tried to follow would turn towards me and gather me, as a lost sheep into his arms. Surely, surely, one day, that day, would come. Depression cuts you off so acutely from the world; it convinces you that you have no part in it, it severs any connections to people and places, it steals hopes and dreams and aspirations and leaves you with nothing except an angry energy that won’t sit still, a nervy desire to get out of your own head, out of your skin, at all costs. I felt cut off. I felt alone and abandoned, in the valley.

It’s now that I am (hopefully, gratefully) coming out of the other side of this year, that I realise that the shepherd was there all along, though I could not see him, through all my panicking. It’s now that I’m on steadier ground, that the promises and gifts of God come into focus, that I see clearly, that He IS faithful, and WAS faithful, and WILL BE faithful. I am, that I am. It’s now that I am out of danger that I understand that Psalm 23 is both antero-, and retro-spective, in my opinion – it may be the truth, but it’s not about the experience of the VOTSOD. It may be what you believe will be the case before the tough times hit you, and it may be what you realise afterwards, but in the eye of the storm, you still feel on your own.

I guess what all this comes back to is that the inconstancies are all on our side; God’s distance never falters, his presence never falters, but our perceptions do – and they are what follow through each day. As the writer of the book of Hebrews put it, ‘faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen’. Its foundations on human weakness and tendency to wander make it fragile and malleable but its focus on God, who is strong and unchanging, make it beautiful. Psalm 23 is a passage that has relevance to me before, during and after those hard times. The image of the shepherd is one of my favourites in the Bible. This is a flock I am happy to be in.

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I found myself thinking about Jeremiah again this week. If you’ve read this blog for a while, you might remember I wrote about Jeremiah a few months ago, here. I love Jeremiah, for his strange and blessed mix of uncertainty and obedience. He’s a good prophet for a young person to follow, I think.

Verse 23:23 says, “Am I only a God nearby” declared the Lord, “And not a God far away?”

As Christians, we’re always talking about distance from God. We’re always talking about drawing near, and falling away, and being lost in the wilderness. We talk about being held in God’s hand, and of turning shoulders away from the light. We speak of approaching the throne of God with confidence, and of running the race set before us with endurance. There’s a lot of distance speak, which is odd, as the topic is purely perceptional. We feel that God is not there by us, and seek explanation; but the distances do not change.

Sometimes, I think of God’s love as being like a layer in the atmosphere encircling the earth; purely and perfectly spherical (or more accurately an oblate spheroid, for the geeks amongst us), so that wherever you are, whoever you are, his closeness to you is the same, unchanging.I don’t really believe in ‘godless areas’ or ‘godless people’; I only believe that some people haven’t quite got God yet, in whatever form, in any form; God has them too, they just don’t know it. I don’t believe that God has no presence in the brothels and the prison camps, the slums and the cities; I believe he’s there, just as much as he is in church on Sundays, if not more. It’s us, in our folly, who suddenly get this obsession with abandonment and being held at arm’s length when times get hard. It’s us, in our disenchantment, who start to believe that the hand that guided them through the hours, has let go, that the signpost in the wilderness has blown away in a storm. It’s us, who speak of ‘godless areas’ when what we mean is ‘places I would not want to be’ and ‘godless people’ when what we mean is ‘people I would not want to meet’. The problems with distance are of our own making.

And we, or certainly, I do not stop there. As I start to believe that God has me out of sight and out of reach, I start to doubt if he is the God I believe him to be. I start to think that the distance I imagine to be between us is dilutional; that when I don’t feel that catch at my heart or that hand on my shoulder, God fades, pales out, and starts to flicker. He becomes a God of the occasional-maybe-perhaps-not-really-possible. He becomes the distant figure watching from the sidelines, helpless. As I feel myself fading, he fades too. I lose sight, of who He is. He turns from a God, to a plastic action figure – a cheapened copy of the real thing, a fake. He becomes scarily two dimensional. These last few months, I’ve certainly felt far away, and forgotten. I’ve certainly felt out-of-depth and out-of-sight. I’ve been overwhelmed and underequipped, I’ve been blinded by the steep incline in front of me and deafened by the voices of depression. I’ve made the mistake of thinking that as my feeling of disconnection grows, God’s power is shrinking. I’ve made the mistake of forgetting that faith is a two-way thing, and that although there seems to be a bad connection on the line from me to God, the vein that holds me from his end, is still strong and still flowing.

I’ve got a week to go now, to get this project done. It’s the final hurdle before I get all of three weeks off before starting fifth year. At the moment, I feel quite overwhelmed with knowing that I’ve (just about) made it through – that although I didn’t believe it, God has dragged me through this. For a lot of this year, making it through the days and weeks has been my biggest challenge – and God has got me through, set me down at the start of June, finally feeling that tiniest inch closer to normal. He’s kept me safe through these months, although for many of them, I felt alone and shut off.

Jeremiah made the mistake of diluting God with his notion of distance – and God turned and told him that although the space between them never alters, when Jeremiah, in all his humanity thinks is has, God’s strength and faithfulness remains the same. If Jer wants to think he’s distanced from the Lord, that’s fine – but thinking that God’s power is also removed, is a no-go. God gives him a non-dilutional faith, a non-dilutional love. This distance is of his own imagination. God is still there.

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I was thinking about Psalm 121 this morning. Something I find interesting about the Psalms is that they were often written in specific circumstances or for specific purposes, and yet, we in modern times still turn to them when our experiences are markedly different; few of us have hidden in a cave and pretended to be insane like David, after all. Psalm 121 is noted as a ‘song of ascents’, and although this is purely speculation, I always imagine it being sung by a group embarking on a vast journey over huge distances, in the steps of their forefathers, weighed down with animals and possessions, small and fretful children in arms, the sun beating down and the end nowhere in sight. Nowadays, certainly in the developed world, it is rare that we are forced to do arduous journeys for any aim other than travelling in its own right;  people run marathons and do cross-country cycles, but there is no sense of journeying away from a physical threat, and knowing that the end of the journey signifies not only personal satisfaction, but also safety, which may have been missing before (although obviously, there is unfortunately still plenty of places where emigration for safety is still a frequent occurance). In Psalm 121, I imagine that the singers were looking down the trail, towards whatever oppression they were escaping, and then upwards, to both salvation and safety, and thinking how far away it seemed and how the distance just didn’t seem to shorten, how the sun was burning them, and the dust of the trail making it hard to breathe.

We often talk of life being ‘a journey’, and usually, this focusses on the uphill, difficult stints – not many people find themselves contemplating the ease of a downhill pace, where no effort is required to move forward. Similarly, in terms of depression, we talk of ‘slipping’ and ‘getting lower’, yet it’s unusual to have a few days where we think about climbing moods and soaring spirits – in all areas of life, the easy times pass by, unnoticed, yet the hard times tip us into contemplation.

I’ve been thinking about what the ‘top of my ascent’ really is, recently; whether it’s a point where I truly feel I have waved goodbye (or more likely, flipped the bird) to my depression for good, or whether it’s reaching a place where I am more able to manage it, and feel less consumed by it. At the moment, the peak I’m aiming for is when I have finished all the extra bits I’m having to do, and once again, only have the standard commitments of medical school to worry about, like everyone else; no more ongoing projects, no more extra meetings, no more counselling. My peak is one of normality.

This Psalm also reminds me what I should be focussing on too; when I’m looking ahead to the challenges I’m anticipating, it can seem so bleak at times, just one chance to fall, to fail, after another, and I wonder how I will ever manage to reach solid, high ground, when at times, my resources seem so low, and my  heart so heavy. This song of ascents is pretty clear on this; my help comes from the Lord, the maker of Heaven and Earth. He created the literal mountains being climbed by the psalmist, he created the metaphorical mountains I am scaling. He knows the easiest routes and the paths to avoid. It’s a long way up, but God is guiding us over the rocks. It’s a long way up, but God is behind us, stopping us stumbling. I know that as I keep moving upwards, the vantage point on the last few months will keep changing and I will gain new perspective. I’m looking forward to reaching this next peak and being able to lay this year to rest, and move on, and lose the sense that I’m on borrowed time, and will always be playing catch-up. I’m looking forward to packing this year away, and forgetting about it’s power and pull for a little while.

In some ways, the path ahead of me is like one of those Magic Eye paintings; at first glance, all I see is the trouble, and the challenges, and the fear of falling. All I see is the pattern that went before, of gaining a little ground, and then, oh so quickly, losing it, and falling even further back. All I see is a future stretch of never-ending depression, of never-ending torment, and the possability of unchanging, unstoppable strife is more than I can bear.

But then, I remember a section from the Bible, or have a thoughtful conversation with someone, or see something that reminds me that the world isn’t quite as bleak as I sometimes think it is, and I am pushed  to look from a different angle, to refocus, and I see that behind and amongst that bleakest of patterns, that highest of mountains, is God, clear as crystal, hard as iron, and  I can’t believe I didn’t see Him there before. I can’t believe that all I needed to do, was take a step back, or forward, in order to see His footprint on the ground ahead and behind me. I can’t believe that He has been there all along, in plain sight, the focus of the painting, the thing we are trying to see. The pattern around Him means nothing. The superficial challenges, mean nothing; it’s all about the hidden layer of truth that we sometimes forget, or refuse to see. The pattern is just the top of the river reflecting the light; God is the undercurrent that guides it to the sea.

So, if you’re reading this, and feeling far from God keep an eye peeled (sorry) for those ‘Magic Eye mountains’, I hope you find one.

I’m back in counselling tomorrow – feeling quite anxious about it after last week and not entirely sure how to play it. This week, I also have a lot of bedside teaching from my head of year, whom is mentioned here; the only time he has met me hasn’t really been that encouraging, and I was in floods of tears at the time – not exactly conducive to convincing him that I’m a good student. It’s going to be an uphill week, so hopefully I’ll remember this Magic Eye thing myself.

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I’m now back from my trip home and not really feeling like writing about it just yet. I’ve quite the week ahead of me with a lot of things that quite frankly I just don’t want to do, and am feeling pretty overwhelmed. I’m also back in counselling this afternoon after three weeks off, and dreading it. I don’t feel very capable at the moment.

I went to church last night, and probably should have thought that decision through a little more – I literally dumped my stuff in my flat after getting the train up, and rushed off, without eating or drinking, or stopping, and going to church when you’re already a little fragile is never a brilliant idea. I’m feeling very cut-off at church again, very numbed, and it was a bit too much for me. I started to break down and cry so picked up a Bible to give myself something to concentrate on and started reading at Isaiah 41. Verses 12-14 gave me something to think about;

Though you search for your enemies, you will not find them. Those who wage war gainst you will be as nothing at all. For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you. Do not be afriad, O worm Jacob, O little Israel, for I myself will help you’ declared the Lord, your redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.

Though you search for your enemies, you will not find them. God’s protection isn’t just for when the enemy, whatever it might be, comes to us, and holds siege. It isn’t just for when something befalls us, and knocks us asunder unexpectedly.  It isn’t just for the unpredictable, uncalled for bad times, isn’t just for the times when someone wrongs us and we suffer for it, it’s also for the things we wreak upon ourselves, the heartache that comes when we get too close to the flames and get burned. Searching for enemies, looking for trouble, ignoring advice and thinking we know better – there’s a lot of ways that you and I can  make things tricky for ourselves. It would be all too easy for God to leave us stranded when we go off alone, against the grain, and find ourselves in trouble. As Jeremiah said, ‘man is born to trouble, as surely as sparks fly upwards’. It would be all to easy for God to crack out the whole ‘you got yourself into this, you can get yourself out’ rule, or start talking about making beds and lying in them, though this is the approach we often use. I really can be my own worst enemy, and often, I find myself convinced that because of this, God has left me as alone and stranded as I feel. I collapse under the weight of it. I curse myself for making everything so difficult, and tell myself that if I were more obedient, more sensible, that I would be over this depression by now. I find myself wishing once again, that I could escape myself for a while, that I could get away from this force that seems to bleed me dry. I curl over, and that space where I should feel God against me, inside me, is resolutely empty. I, am empty. I feel abandoned.

There’s a lot of things I don’t write about here, or talk about to anyone, and a lot of these definitely fall into the category of ‘seeking enemies’ – things that affect no one but myself, and are pretty self-destructive. Much as I try to follow the right path before me, I have a talent for blocking out the voice of reason and going my own way. This last year, I’ve sought a lot of ‘enemies’ – I requested placements that I knew would challenge, and possibly break me, and they certainly did. I’ve tread a dangerous dance of non-compliance with medication, non-co-operation with counselling, and doomed self-reliance rather than getting into step with what I should be doing.

This verse reminded me that God speaks in Isaiah, and indeed, through much of the Old Testament, about being so much higher and beyond us, for a reason. God does not shoot himself in the foot, but he sticks by us, when we find ourselves doing just that. He’s there, when the enemies are clambering over the walls, and when we misguidedly ride to our deaths against our own lack of capabilities. He doesn’t send a deputy to fish us out of our own messes, chosing to save personal involvement for more worthy cases; He comes himself, he throws us a guidewire and reels us in. He gets His hands dirty. He has no criteria for rescue, and possesses an unlimited supply of life jackets. In the first world war, there was a common belief that either a bullet had your name and number on it so to speak – or it didn’t; either you were destined to die, or you weren’t. I fall into the trap of thinking about God in the same way – either He has you flagged up for rescue, marked by a flashing dot on radar, or He doesn’t. Either He has me written in His book, held in His hand, belonging to His flock – or He doesn’t. This verse reminded me that the God I follow doesn’t go in for a binary world view; there are no haves and have-nots in the Kingdom of Heaven. We are marked by our belonging to God, not by our rejection. There will always be a lifejacket with my name on it, that God will always be there to reel me back in. That goes for you, too.


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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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