Posts Tagged ‘Mostly about God’

This last week has had some pretty epic weather going on. On Thursday, I was high up one of the hills on a long walk, when the sky just opened up and seemed to fall, with all that water. Ever the thoughtless dresser, I was wearing shorts and t-shirt and had no jacket with me. I got completely soaked, even the insides of my pockets were full of water, I could wring the rain out of my ponytail, and had to wring out most of my clothes when I got home too (even pants – that’s how wet it was, no jokes). I kind of like that sort of rain – there’s no going back when you’re already drenched, there’s no point getting all precious about frizzy hair and whether or not your mascara’s run. It’s a great equaliser. I like the rain, if only because it takes the people off the streets and inside, and therefore makes the world seem peaceful. I like the rain, because it reminds me of new life and growth, of the circles and cycles the planet follows, of the seeds and plants and livestock that rejoice with its coming, and drink deep. Up on the hills, I could see lightening flashing across the length of the city, I could hear the thunder tossing its head, and feel the vibrations in the air. I was under the elements, alone and small, and thinking about how the landscapes own us, dictate and drive us.

And then, I got thinking about God. 

God’s love isn’t like a summer shower that passes over head and barely dampens the grass. It isn’t a rainfall that will kneel to a decent umbrella or waterproof jacket, it isn’t a rain you can walk in and fail to notice. It’s a drenching monsoon that covers us all, leaving nowhere untouched, leaving no prospect of dry patches or dry shoes. God’s love means business – it helps us to grow, it nurtures and quenches. It makes us one with the world around us. It reminds us that we depend on Him, that we are driven and dictated by Him, that He is the ground we build our houses on, the rivers we drain for wells, the  stones we use to keep our sheep walled in. God’s love is a thunderstorm, wild and beautiful, untameable. How often do we try to tame God, to put Him in our boxes and tie Him with string? How often do we put our words in His mouth, rather than the other way round? How often do we willfully misread His word, for our own benefit? We cannot harness God’s power. We cannot dry off His Love.

After thinking about this, I felt a sense of peace, a stillness that so rarely comes that even now, it is a stranger. I felt restored and renewed by the storm, I felt in synch and at one with God, finally paddling in the right direction up the right stream. It was as thought the clinging, cloying, stickiness of depression was washed away after binding me for so long. I was washed clean. On Sunday, I took Communion for the first time in over a year. It didn’t feel as empty a gesture as it once did, it didn’t feel as condemning as it did for quite a while, thanks to the grand theology of depression. It didn’t feel like I was lying, by participating in a ritual of life when for so long, I’ve been walking with death at my shoulders. The idea of it didn’t feel so searingly painful, as it did before, so viciously fearsome. It felt right. For the first time, I felt like a survivor. I felt like I’d got out and come through, stronger, intact. And I know, that I still have a lot of things to sort, and I know, that I’ve got to mind myself and be careful, that I’ve got to protect my heart, and quiet my soul, but above that, I look back and know that I got through, still breathing. I got through, with God.

I started final year today, the last year as a medical student, the last year before I reach what has been a dream since childhood. It feels as though, in spite of the things that still limit me (this huge gap in my counselling, for one), the end is finally coming and I am moving on, moving through. I start back on the wards on Thursday (lectures and clinical skills classes till then) and I’m excited about it, excited to be in there, seeing patients and learning this trade I have yearned for for so long. I had a meeting about a new project today, and I’m excited about getting it started, and being part of something bigger. It’s good to feel passion for academia again, and love for patients. It’s good to feel 3D again.

I love this song – it kind of fits, not quite perfectly, but even so, you can’t go wrong with Joe….

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(Or more specifically, old and beautiful churches – but cathedrals alliterated and I like alliteration)

I’ve spent quite a bit of time in my last week of holiday in one of the biggest and most historic churches in my city, just praying, and it’s made me think about a few things.

I love old churches, cathedrals, chapels and the like. Two years ago, I was leading a group trip to Venice I’d organised for the university windband (yes, I am a longstanding bandgeek) and it was in this period of time where I’d made the decision to try church again (which to be perfectly honest, was more because I felt I really needed to be getting some sort of moral guidance once a week as I had a pretty full on year ahead of me with a lot of responsability, rather than directly wanting to hear about Jesus) and had gone to what is still my church, a few times, and was feeling pretty confused about the whole thing – what was I getting myself into? Where were all these questions coming from? Were those people as friendly as they seemed? What was a ‘Thessalonians’, and why were there two of them? 

While we were there, we visited St Marks Basilica, of course, and I gave the others the slip and had a few precious hours to myself. On thing I remember is hearing that from start to finish, through countless revisions, one family of stonemasons had been working on the mosaicing for about six generations – and that it was such poorly paid work that the family had starved for generations, but been so determined to use their skills to make the Basilica the wonder that it is, they didn’t care. They chose worship over wealth. I remember standing in front of a depiction of Paul’s ministry (at least, that’s what I think it was), and thinking, if six generations felt so strongly about something, there must be something in it – there had to be some grain of truth in there, some quiet absolution that I just did not understand. I was thinking about what that would have meant – spending your life up ladders and in harnesses, painting the Bible in stone for future generations on walls and ceilings, and going home with a full heart but empty hands. That was when I decided to keep going and learning. Mark’s gospel was the first one I read. Not just a pretty face, that man.

I don’t believe at all that God is more present in stone churches than white washed chapels. I don’t believe that he gives His grace in proportion to the number of stained glass windows, or the brightness of the chandeliers, just as I don’t believe it’s dependant on bank balances, or sexual practises, or gender. I don’t believe that a prayer sent up from a tapestried cushion jumps the queue ahead of the those from a plastic seat in a post modern church.

However – I love the solemnity of these older buildings. I love the quiet, mournful peacefulness I feel when I’m sitting in a tiny alcove, under high ceilings and coloured glass, stone flagons under foot and stone pillars to shield me from view. It’s almost as though something intangible gets left behind by everyone who comes to a place to worship, and in these older places with a faith base of centuries, all of those whispered words and heartfelt promises hang in the air, giving it weight, making you stop and gaze and wonder, if there is something you are missing, or someone you do not know. It’s like the difference between singing a hymn you know your grandparents sang and took comfort from, and singing the latest contemporary hit, which is probably heavy on the hand actions, but maybe  lighter on the sincerity that belongs to older tunes. It’s the sense of history there, the feeling of tradition and permanence, of the survival and persistence of beliefs and actions. You are worshipping in a space people have worshipped for centuries, how mindblowing is that?

Perhaps it’s because my faith is primarily a solemn one – a quiet friction of my heart and soul against the grace of God, a tremulous, shaky, shadowy belief in a God who holds my hand and guides me tenderly through the rocks, that I am so drawn to these places. I love my church, with it’s ostentatious loving and loud hallelujahs that raise the roof, but sometimes, it’s the wearied silence that I crave, the regal atmospheres of these older places that remind me of the majesty of the Lord, and his endurance through the ages, of his faithfulness, as generations passed through the doors and made their marks on the floors and walls. As the title of this blog suggests, I don’t find peace easily – I am a restless soul, ever on the move, always on the go. When I’m in one of these places though, I do suddenly feel at peace, as though all of my worries are stuck out in the outside world, and inside, with the candles and the velvet hangings and the incense, I am safe. It’s the old tradition of churches giving sanctuary, both politically, but also, spiritually, psychologically. Once you’re inside God’s house, you’re safe. Once you’re on His turf, you’re ok, for the time being. It’s a good, if rare, feeling. I need these places.

Something I love about my city is that when you’re standing on top of the hills that surround it, and look inwards, it’s the spires that form the skyline and break the clouds. It’s easy sometimes, in these times, to feel that we live in Godless streets and loveless districts, that God doesn’t have the presence here He once had, that our modern lives have tidied Jesus away with the rest of our clutter and forgotten him, packed away in boxes with extra plates and surplus bedding – but then, when I look out, whipped by the winds, the sun coming down over the seas, that I see those old churches reaching for Heaven, and suddenly, things don’t feel so bad. If the architects who built these left so strong a mark, then God surely left a deeper one. If the skyline is shaped by the spires, then the city too must be shaped by God.

This is why I like cathedrals.

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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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On Saturday, a group of friends and I gathered to commemorate the birthday of Claire, who was one of our group until she died from bowel cancer in November 2009. She was twenty four, and wonderful, and eighteen months on, the world is still a much drearier place without her in it. Being together again at the weekend made me think about the last few months, and in particular, how fine a line I’ve danced with my own mortality; at the time, I was so irrational that I didn’t care about leaving people behind – I just wanted everything to stop. Now, six months on, I am at last,  glad to be alive, though when I’m in the middle of a trough, my thoughts sometimes still turn to the comfort of calling it a day, of letting go. Thinking of Claire, though, reminds me that although we are all  so impermanent, so fragile, our legacy isn’t. We all leave such big holes, when we go.

Yesterday was Monday, which means I was back in counselling once again. I’ve not talked with L about those darkest months, and part of it is because although I struggle enough with recounting the details of my families past, I can usually push myself to get straight facts out – to report, and not connect to it. It’s different when the topic is your own emotions – there’s nothing to hide behind. Every sentence starts with ‘I’ –  there’s no-one else to hang a narrative on. It’s just you, and your close call, and as always, the space between two chairs. I started to explain and didn’t get very far, to be honest. She asked me if I’d told anyone else at the time how dangerously reckless I’d been, and that opened up a whole new can of worms – in November I spoke to a girl from my church who had been ‘mentoring’ me (her self appointed title, not mine), as at the time, feeling desperate was dragging up a whole new batch of theological questions – and she responded by telling me I’d already sinned enough to forsake Heaven, left me crying and actively suicidal on the streets, and then broke my confidence by telling someone completely irrelevent at church, who did nothing to help, anyway. She hasn’t said a word to me since. Going back into church after that was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do – and still is, every week, and the whole episode  has hung over me and my faith like a fog since then. I’ve not taken communion since then, as I need to get around my ideas that I no longer have a claim on a symbol of eternal life. I’ve stayed away from a lot of church things as I don’t want to face her on terms other than my own, when I am prepared. I delayed going to counselling for another three months as the women who heads up the service, is the women this girl told about me, and I couldn’t face her, and hated the fact that the choice to involve her hadn’t been mine. This girl is training to be a counsellor.

I told L the bare bones and it was hard. Since the first time I stepped over the threshold of church, the familiar teachings of leaning on each other, and supporting each other through the tough times, have been constantly spoken of, yet when I did take the plunge, all I was met with was betrayal, and unkindness. The church let me down and they left me alone. I was surprised to see that L was actually quite angry about it – I’ve long stopped myself caring about it, or just pushed it away. I wasn’t expecting L to react like that – but it’s nice to know that I had a valid reason for being hurt by it.

Sometimes I wonder if having prolonged counselling would make anyone wonder how ‘normal’ they are – or if it’s just me. The longer I go, the more abnormal I feel – why am I so untrusting, so afraid, so incapable of opening up? Why am I so hard on myself, so self-loathing, so close to breaking? Why was I not built more stably, wired more accurately, cut less deeply? How is it that I can pose as being normal and ok, but as L strips away the layers, it’s like unpacking garish russian dolls and finding that the last one, the littlest one, is unpainted, and falling to sawdust. The last one, the littlest one, is lost and afraid. L tells me to sit less rigidly, to stop being so tensed – and I can’t do it. Even after nine weeks, I still don’t trust her enough. I still don’t really believe that at some point, she’s not going to turn and use what I’ve told her to hurt me somehow, just as pretty much everyone else has. I still don’t believe that she will be different, that if I lean on her, I won’t find that she’s suddenly not there, and fall down again. I still don’t believe, really, that she can help, and I don’t really want to tell her that – it’s nothing to do with her, it’s just me and my issues. Counselling – it’s a constant minefield.

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First of all, thank you to everyone who replied either to my last post, or more personally (those few of you who know me in ‘real life’) – thank you for sticking with me, and being so kind. Thank you for praying.

I met ‘the dragon’ again yesterday to discuss the issues with my project (which hopefully are on the way to being rectified – cannot even state how much I despise technology at the moment). She’s been very clear since December that I would have to resit the entire medical year if this project is not 1) in on time and 2) up to standard – even if all other requirements were passed. I’m not going to underplay how much this has stressed me out, not least because restarting the year two weeks after finishing it and having to retake exams I’ve already done well in, would be a real case of rubbing salt in the wound, in addition to the expense of another year of university, and having to come clean to my parents who know nothing about the last eight months. Yesterday however, it seems that I finally convinced her that I’m not trying to take the medical school for a ride and that I actually have a pretty legitimate excuse – she’s said that should the worst come to the worst, I could probably just extend the deadline more, which I really don’t see why that couldn’t have always been the case….obviously, I’ve been working desperately to do everything required, but having someone sit a year again isn’t really in anyone’s benefit if it’s for a research project, when you look at how much it costs to train someone in medical school.  There’s no way I would chose to keep on with the project even more (already sick to the teeth of it) but it’s still a relief. Just knowing that has taken quite a weight off – I still have a crazy amount to do, but at least when I’m working for my next exam (covering no less than 6 different specialties…..thank you, medical school) I don’t have it at the back of my mind that even if I pass, I may be working in vain. It annoys me that the stance of the support committee seems to be to assume that students are manipulative and just out to get extensions/special considerations they don’t deserve, until you really prove that you’re not only messed up, but have been messed up for months, and will continue to be for some time. Penalising someone really doesn’t help.  Their previous stance has kept me awake at night for months, and been the thing that’s come closest to pushing me over an edge – I’d like to know if they think it’s worth it, if all the policy achieves is putting a few fakers off. Rant over.

I’m still feeling rocky and this week hasn’t gone well really – I ended up leaving my choir practise as I just couldn’t cope with it and was starting to cry, and then made a rare decision to skip a clinic yesterday as I was feeling so emotionally labile that I didn’t think sitting and talking to someone with terminal illness was that sensible – I’m lucky that as a student I can get away with it now and again as once (if etc) I become a doctor, that won’t be an option. I’m deciding whether to have a rest from church for a while, even just a week, as again, it often just proves too much for me, and I end up feeling worse and worse when I don’t ask for prayer, or take communion, or find it in myself to sing – and if I feel much more negative about myself, it could get messy. As I’ve written before, somehow, feeling cut off and isolated at church, is much worse than anywhere else. It’s like being disconnected from the pulse of the world, like drowning and not understanding how everyone around you is managing to breathe, but just knowing that for some reason, you can’t, the secret isn’t there for you to find.

I had a text message from L yesterday asking how I was – and haven’t replied yet as I don’t know what to say. I don’t really like being in touch between sessions either – which I think is why she makes a point of trying to get hold of me as apparently I compartmentalise far too much and try to put different parts of my life in separate places so that I don’t feel overwhelmed, and this is yet another abberrent coping mechanism (I’m in possession of quite the collection, considering Ebay…). Fascinating as this revelation may be, I’d prefer it if outside of that Monday afternoon hour, I could not feel quite so bound by it, particularly after this week, and if anything, being hassled will only make me less likely to get in touch. When I’m ‘well’, my determination and tenacity are two of the few things I like about myself – I can push projects forward, take initiative, pull others alongside me, but when I’m low, all that determination and head-strongedness manifests as petulence and thinking I know better – I won’t ring L if I’m feeling terrible, or anyone else for that matter. I won’t ring the GP’s for an appointment, I won’t listen, I won’t trust people with my thoughts. I get annoyed and irritable when my flatmates try to check in if I’m out later than usual, even though I know that it’s because they worry I’m wandering around in the dark somewhere, and not because I’m staying late at the library – but my mind says, ‘it’s my choice, if I want to sit in a nature reserve in the dark and be miserable, I’m going to bloody do it, who are you to try and stop me?’ . I hold fiercely to my independance, when the whole point of the last while has been admitting that I can’t do it alone – I need people onside, I need people whose brains aren’t starving for want of serotonin.

So, I’m conflicted, as always. But at least I have finally tamed the Dragon – more of an iguana now? Is the hedgehog of faith, a match for the iguana, a match for all, of this?

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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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