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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

The gift of a child

I’m just back from a week at home.

Christmas has previously been one of the hardest times of year for me as despite my dad’s current sobriety, of which I am very proud, much of our family gatherings still seem to revolve around alcohol, who’s drinking it, who’s not and why, and an unhealthy dose of finger-pointing. At home, I feel blurred at the edges, out of focus, faded. I’m not myself. It sucks something out of me.

This year however, was so much better than I expected. My older sister (who is working in Australia at the moment) brought over both her current partner, and his six year old daughter, to meet us. Different? Yes, you bet. This child seemed to realign everything, she seemed to shift the focus from the tangled adults, back to her own needs and place in the family. I love children and spent a lot of time with her, convenient for the boyfriend as he was so jetlagged, and my sister who isn’t that maternal.  I already love her. One little Australian girl in a fairy outfit, singing ‘six white boomers’ (officially the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen) refocussed our entire family from anger and disputes, to something altogether kinder. It also gave me something to focus on rather than revision, or medication side effects, or depression so was a blessing in more ways than one.

I think we were more cemented than we’ve been for years. It was the first Christmas day where no one cried, or collapsed, or felt dangerously wooden. It was the first Christmas day where I felt as though there could be a hope for me and my dysfunctional family. It was the first week I’ve had at home in years, where I was a little sad to go.

Here’s a photo of me and my almost-niece:

Of course, this all reminded me of the child who really did change everything for us; as my family are pretty anti-religion, my faith can get a bit drowned out at Christmas; Jesus doesn’t come into this time of year anymore than he does any other period, so I am left trying to keep my mind focussed on what the holiday means, whilst surrounded by a more consumer driven approach. This is my third Christmas as a Christian, and in many ways, the most stable. The first one, when I was just a month into faith, was a pretty confusing time. Last year, I was sick on my first trial of medication and so depressed I thought it was going to be my last Christmas. This year, I am finally more stable on medication, sleeping better, feeling a bit better, and crucially, my faith is still strong, and as always, I think of that baby in a manger and am amazed by the promise he was delivering. I think of the nativity story, and as always, am amazed that most of the people guided to the birth of Christ were pretty run-of-the-mill, normal people; what hope it gives me, as a run-of-the-mill person, that I can also follow on.

I’ll be writing the obligatory new year post at some point in the next few days but in the meantime, I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and wish you every blessing for the coming year.

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First of all, this is apparently my hundreth post – I never thought I’d have enough to say to fill that many! Thanks for sticking with me guys. Let’s see if I’m still writing when I get to the seventy-times-seventh post. I had some thoughts about what my centenary should be about – but then, what follows came up and I felt quite convicted by it, so here we go!

As you will know, I’m a student. I do many student things; I eat dodgy combinations of left-overs, walk three miles to get somewhere to save bus-fare and have a definite penchant for fancy-dress, preferably involving facepaint. My time here at medschool has been shaped mostly by the clubs and societies I’ve been in, lead, and founded, in addition to my studies. Last night was the annual society fundraiser at the union, where every club and society who have people going, are given some money. Now, I’m not a massive fan of clubbing, as so often, it’s dominated by people drinking enough to make me uncomfortable (let alone themselves), and stereotypically, lads who think that drinking five pints gives them a right to grope you (NB it doesn’t). This night is different however, because it’s held for the people with the greatest passion for what they do, the people who hold the fabric of the university together and make our student experience the terrific thing it is. Band geeks and history buffs don’t tend to attempt the drunken grope. They are too busy being dressed as tenor horns and Henry VIII.

I was there last night with my girls voice choir (complete with painted treble clefs on our faces) and have also gone in the past with my patient visiting group (dressed as an old person) and windband (dressed as a clarinet, using some imagination). Although everyone is dressed more than a little ludicrously, I actually love it – it’s about saying, this is what I do with my time, what I love. This is what I think is important. This is what I will encourage you to get involved with. This is my identity, my clan, my family.

I find it interesting when older people say things like ‘I still feel twenty-one’ – when what I think they really mean, is that they still feel passionate, they still feel alive. When you are actually twenty-one, you’re usually still finding your way and working out where you fit with things, and have not yet got the confidence and stability that comes with maturity. It’s actually quite painful, or was, and to some extent still is, for me. But often, we in our early adult lives, are also full of passion and excitement. We are the can-do generation, unladen with children and their ballet classes, mortgages, or elderly parents. We have the freedom to try to change things. We have the freedom to spend three days a week visiting patients in hospital, or to run a concert band. Our lack of ties, whilst sometimes isolating, is also the essence of our abilities. I know that when, or if, I have children, I will chose my son’s football matches over my choir practises, and my daughter’s piano lessons over whatever charity I’m involved with. And this is how I would want it to be – but is also means that now, before that phase, is my chance to make my mark and make a difference.

So often, churches talk about the apathy of the people and how we’ve lost the meaning of the message in between a culture of wanting, and the pull of consumerism. I hear preaching on getting off the treadmill and getting out of our bubble and getting in to our communities.  Last night however, all I could think was that I was in a room full of passionate people intent on making a difference somewhere, whether it’s in running the lacrosse team, raising funds for wells in Africa, reaching out to international students, or publishing the university newspaper. It’s always  inspiring, being in a room of people with conviction, big dreams, and action plans.

I had a ‘Christian first’ recently as I bought the new Tim Hughes album, my first foray into having Christian music on my ipod. The track I’ve posted is a good one for early mornings, but it’s also kind of flawed in labelling current Christians as ‘the freedom generation’; we’ve been the freedom generation since Cavalry. We’ve been free, since the man we follow and sing to and cry to, died on a cross. We are not the freedom generation. We’re a part of the freedom genealogy, the freedom family tree. It’s not about being a twentysomething with little to tie them down and no shackles from taxes and pension plans. It’s about following our hearts and keeping that conviction, that passion to change and better and fix, alive, as we go through the valleys and mountains of our years. I don’t want to lose my can-do spirit or my indefatiguable love of pushing boundaries. I want our freedom family tree to extend until it includes absolutely everyone. I don’t want change to be a task for one generation. I want it to be a task for one, enormous, family.

What are you passionate about?

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It’s been a busy week. I’ve been feeling quite run down and as my city’s in turmoil with a major arts festival, the noise at night has pretty much ruled out the chance of a good nights sleep.

My new GP practise is…….kind of hard, actually. The staff aren’t really that welcoming, and just really don’t have any love for what they do. General practise can be demoralising, particularly since the changes to the NHS mean that it really is made to focus on running as a business, not a service, and resultantly, there’s a lot of box-ticking and back-covering. I can see how it really can seem like it’s just day after day of conveyer-belt healthcare, with constant streams of patients, many of whom aren’t always very respectful and in some cases are downright rude (WHY can’t I have a sickline? Who are you to say I’m not ill!- err – that’s what doctors do, and you are not ill enough to need one!). Two of them also had some fairly harsh things to say about patients with mental health problems, which I find hard to listen to – both as a ‘patient’ but also as someone who gets fed up of the stigma and the lack of interest from many health practitioners. Antidepressants aren’t just ‘smartie placebos’ – and though I do think that they are handed out too much as an easy option, when the best treatment for mild to moderate cases is a course of psychotherapy, which has such huge waiting lists and is so underfunded, a prescription that costs about a pound a week suddenly looks enticing, and for many people, they do work. They do get people through a rough patch. They do get people sleeping again. I’m not saying they’re wonder drugs – but they’re not just a waste of space – and if doctors think they are, then they should be more active in campaigning for better alternatives. If you don’t like something, you should work to change it. People who put down, and complain, but do not act, get my goat. I need to be more accepting.

I’m trying really hard to be positive, but it’s hard, when I find myself disagreeing with the doctor I’m mostly attached to – he just doesn’t seem to care about patients and is a bit sloppy. He’s going to be assessing my consulting skills, so I need to get my head around being able to look and learn from him – but at times, I think he’s a complete eejit. At least I’m learning how I don’t want to do things – which is often valuable in itself, if slightly infuriating. I’ve got another three weeks, and in that time am hoping that it’s just first week blues, and things will pick up as the staff get to know me more, and I them, but it could be a hard slog, and after this I’m off to surgery for a month and I am so not a surgeon type, so it’s not even as though my next placement is something to really look forward to…

I talked at the LD group yesterday, on Zaccheus, after being invited for tea beforehand with the man who leads both my group, and the one I was speaking with. This man is so lovely – he’s got such a huge heart for these people, and is probably the best example of a Christian I will ever come across. Getting to know him and his wife is lovely – I’m pretty sure it’s the first time I’ve been invited to dinner with non-students in my entire time at university. They are honestly so full of love for the lord that I think they might actually explode at some point! Anyway – the talk was a bit mixed as a lot of the group didn’t come, and the ones who were there, were more towards the lower end of ability – and I realised that they probably wouldn’t quite engage with what I’d written, which was pitched more at my group’s level, who are slightly higher functionning (living in sheltered accommodation and holding small, unskilled jobs, as opposed to needing round the clock care). This was a bit nervewracking – but I just went for it and sort of changed my style from a more standard preach, to more of a story-telling structure (with voices – oh yes). It seemed to go ok.

Sometimes I think that with these groups, and even with church as a whole to some extent, it’s not actually the ‘gospel’ bit or the preaching that’s important – it’s the community we build that really enables people to grow. You can have as many theology degrees under your belt, you can have read the Bible umpteen times, but if you’re not in a community that show you and guide you, and support you in your faith and life, what sort of Christian life do you have? With both my group, and the one I visited, the part I love the  most is the sharing of people’s weeks over coffee at the end – I really love seeing our members being supportive and caring towards each other and taking charge of a small task like putting sugar in tea or handing round the biscuits – but a lot of them don’t get much chance to help in their homes, or don’t feel confident doing so. I love listening to them pray aloud (something I struggle with still) and hearing their faith in their voices. It makes me think about all the emphasis on the ‘greatest and the least’ in scripture – these people I love, they lead small lives, by many definitions, but they are still such rich lives.

Sometimes I sort of wonder if I’m pushing myself enough by helping with yet another LD group or cause – which I’ve done on some level since I was a young teen, helping with the support base at the local primary school. It’s an area I feel comfortable with – thought sometimes I wonder if I should be throwing my mission hook elsewhere in another area that I’m less familiar with. I find it so easy to love my group, and others like it – but should I be seeking out people I find it harder to love, to see Jesus in? Should I be actively trying to think where I need to learn to see differently, on a practical level? On the other hand, I know I can’t just chase after every single good cause I hear of (though I do try…..there’s that restless spirit again) and that finding an area I love and feel comfortable in, is such a blessing in its own right. I guess, only time will tell – I’m 23, after all. I’ve got plenty of time to do stuff. There’s no rush. Sometimes I need to slow down.

And after a week of being completely unable to get that Zaccheus song out of my head, if you have been similarly afflicted, please accept my most sincere apologies…xx

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I’ve helped with a church group for adults with severe learning disabilities for about a year now, and it’s honestly been one of the things that has the biggest impact on my faith. It’s true – I’ve heard some brilliant sermons and sang some heartfelt songs, I’ve listened to famous preachers and read books by some of the leading Theologians of the last century, but spending time with people who need to take the Bible at a bit of a slower pace than I do, is the thing that has taught me the most, both by looking at the more experienced leaders build a loving community that churches speak of often, but rarely attain, and also by having to pare back my thinking when I’m given the responsibility of leading a meeting.

I imagine that there are some similarities to teaching sunday school in that there’s a focus on parables and stories, and less of an emphasis on Bible history or theory – but it’s also different, as our members are adults with adult problems, although they don’t have the same capacity to understand or manage, as others do. They have problems with people jeering, being unkind, and taking advantage. They have worries about their loved ones health, and often have a lot of medical problems themselves. They get stressed when their carers change frequently and don’t seem to know them. They struggle in their workplaces when they feel overwhelmed and sometimes undervalued. This is why the group is so wonderful – it truly values each person and actively loves them. It’s ‘church’ at its best. Although, when I hear about some of the stuff they have to put up with, it makes my blood boil and I don’t always remember to have a very Christian attitude towards some of the people who quite literally persecute them. People can be cruel.

I’ve been invited to speak at one of the other groups, that I am not directly involved with, on Thursday. I’m a bit nervous – no matter how many times someone says ‘but ANYONE can preach the gospel!’, I’m still a bit unsure – can I do it? Or more importantly, can I do it well, accurately, lovingly, confidently? I don’t know this group so pitching the right level  is a bit trickier than when I talk with my own, whom I know. As I’ve been preparing it’s made me think about how much you can learn from really taking something back to baseline. I’ve been asked to talk about Zaccheus (Luke 19) and fascinating as it was reading about the symbolism of the sycamore tree, my eyes have been opened by having to look at how I can strip the story back and make it accessible.

Zaccheus is often a bit of a figure of fun – he’s a little, seething, greedy man. Sing the song – you know you want to. You don’t have to go far these days to see or hear the ire directed at bankers and their bonuses – and this is how the people of the day would have seen Zach – beyond reproach, with no thought for anything except the money lining their pockets. And when Jesus picks Zach, out of everyone from the crowds, their response is telling – why is he being favoured, when he is so hated, so very flawed? Why am I not being given that honour, when I tithe what I should and give money freely….. The crowds put themselves above Zaccheus, they get prideful and think that even if they’re a sinner, he’s more of one. He doesn’t deserve Jesus. They’re indignant. They question Jesus’ choice. Even though Zaccheus shows up to see Jesus just as much as they do, and has gone to the effort of shinning up a tree (and I don’t imagine he was all that graceful a climber), they don’t think he’s worthy. He should be made to wait his turn, and when the grace runs dry, miss out and go home empty handed.

More importantly is Zaccheus’ response. He seeks Jesus, meets Jesus, and is driven to change. He suddenly goes all Robin Hood on Jerusalem and gives back what he’s taken and repays the interest four times over. The Holy Spirit changes the biggest obstacle Zaccheus has, that keeps him from living a holy life – and Zaccheus steps up and delivers, in front of the masses. Could you do that? Could you publicly admit the places where you go most wrong, and in the open, put it to rights? Zaccheus gets bravery from following Jesus. This must have been a total high-five moment.

Having to teach on Zaccheus reminded me that anyone who is open to Jesus, deserves Jesus. It reminded me that I need to pray more for people I don’t see eye to eye with, and that sometimes, it’s easy to start marking ourselves up against another person’s flaws and find them wanting. It reminded me that even though it doesn’t always seem that way, the Spirit is working in me to change the parts of me that aren’t, as my church would say, ‘worthy of the kingdom’. I may not be an overt usurer, but I’m certainly not perfect. Whether you’re identifying with Zaccheus, given an honour he doesn’t deserve, or the crowds, we all need Jesus.

Zaccheus is a good example for modern life, I think – when we think of ‘sinners’, the things that come to mind immediately are people committing violent crimes, extortion, prostitution, theft, the list goes on – not the wealthy worker, quietly building up their savings by taking advantage in a fashion that’s not really illegal – but does harm, nonetheless, even if constitutionally, it’s ok. Grey-area, middle-class sinning is still sinning, and realistically, it’s this sort of sin that most of us are much more susceptible to. What if we started being Robin Hoods with our finances, time, and resources? What if we started giving back into the situations we’ve maybe used for our own ends? What if we started owning up and making amends? Scary? You bet.

Are you brave enough to do a Zaccheus?

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