All posts by pamjw

About pamjw

I am a Methodist Minister, currently unable to be in active ministry due to chronic illness. This is, I hope my opportunity to interact with the world. Of course anything I say here is my own opinion, and not endorsed or reflective of anyone else.

Testimony – the 2020 Edition

This is the text of my Going Deeper devotion for today.

It is so easy to sit in church and think everyone else has got it together or is having a great life, only when we start sharing our stories together do we realise that others may have been in a similar situation to us, or are in that place now.  By sharing our stories we can help support one another and strengthen our faith and the life of the church.

We all have a story to tell.  Our life and journey are unique, but will touch on common factors with other people.  Our faith story is no exception.

In his brilliant sermon to us on Sunday morning, Trey Hall encouraged us to tell our stories -so, here is (part of) mine.  I did share this in written form when we first came to here, but this is an updated version.

When I left school I worked for our local church as part admin part outreach worker which really developed my call.  Fast forward to when our children were born and I was very fortunate to be able to be at home with them and was perfectly content with doing that and volunteering through church – until God had a different idea…

Thus, I became a Circuit Minister in 1999.  Aside from raising our sons, I felt as if I was doing what I was always made to do.  I loved it.  I got to meet all kinds of interesting people of all ages and talk about God with them, I had the massive privilege of being with people at significant times in their lives, I got to work with great people with God and we were doing some new and exciting stuff.  We were happy and settled.  It was hard work, but the blessings were immense.

Then in March 2005 I got proper flu.  Although the flu symptoms went after a few weeks, I was left with an awful chronic cough that also caused hoarseness, which is not much help when your voice is your tool, and breathing problems. I was constantly exhausted and had various other symptoms, but the cause was never quite pinpointed.  I visited various consultants and no one could really offer me a diagnosis or a real prognosis – but it meant my life had turned upside down.

I had several trial returns to work, fully supported by my GP and the Circuit, but wasn’t able to sustain it.  Eventually it was concluded that I was going to have to retire on ill health.  At 41 and with two teenage sons, this wasn’t quite how we had envisaged life going.

I guess it should have been a scary time, but I didn’t feel it.  Partly I was focused on being ill and trying to find a way to live with this new reality, but I never lost a sense of “we do not know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future”.  I felt such a strong sense of God holding me and holding whatever was to come, however unclear that seemed.

So we moved out of Circuit life.  I was left with the new reality of feeling that I no longer had a role.  I couldn’t do any of the things I used to love – not just work, but everyday life.  But still I felt that God had called me to something different, to be a Minister in a different way.

Unfortunately as the years went on my symptoms multiplied and it became clear that there was something very specific going on, not just post-viral problems.  I was able to do less and less.

Eventually I was given a diagnosis of Sjogren’s Syndrome, which is basically effects every part of the body that produces fluid.  This is a brilliant illustration of where and how it effects the body,

but for me as well as the lung issues, it effects my joints, balance and concentration/processing (if I don’t give a sensible answer it’s because I’m trying to process the question and what the answer is), as well as giving me dry eyes (with vision issues), dry mouth (which gives difficulty in chewing and swallowing) and awful skin.  I find sitting or standing for long hard work and struggle with energy, everything is an effort and I struggle if I try to do anything for more than an hour. I have little spare energy for anything I might want to do, having to concentrate on what I really need to do.  I also have to be very careful what clothes I wear so they don’t cause me any problems.  As anyone who has spent more than a few minutes with me will have noticed I am constantly drinking and putting in eye drops – and I have an assortment of other medications I take that try and keep on top of the symptoms – though nothing can cure it.  That is my reality.

Over the last couple of years as my symptoms have increased and effected more parts of my body, it became clear that I was struggling to live in a house and I wasn’t very safe on the stairs.  We are very fortunate to be cared for so well and were able to find a bungalow to live in.  That has made our lives so much easier and we believe that God has brought us here with a purpose and a place. 

Well… that was up until COVID-19 arrived in our lives, and the church had to find a new way to be.  Although COVID has had its challenges, for me it has also been an opportunity to rediscover my voice and my ministry.  I am so grateful to Sean for inviting me to be a part of the team that creates these Going Deeper devotions.  By recording slots in my own time and my own space and with the ability to record in tiny chunks and put it all together, I have been able to do what I haven’t been able to do for 15 years and publicly lead God’s people in worship and prayer.

So, just when I was wondering what I can do, what role there is for me any more, how God is going to use me, something new came along – and I am as surprised as anyone else.  My ministry has been in some small way, which to me is a massive way, been given back to me, my life, faith and spirituality have found a new path

The last few years have not been easy, there have been times when I struggled with not being able to do what I enjoyed or even the basic tasks. There were times when church was the place I most needed to be – yet the hardest and most painful place to be.  There will no doubt continue to be those times and on bad days it can be heart-breaking.  But God, his arms, his love, his hope and his peace have the only thing that held me together. God wrapped his arms of love tightly round me and gently held me.  God is in the reality of where I am and continues to work in and through it – and me.

I hold tightly always to the words of Habakkuk 3:17-19:

Fig trees may no longer bloom,
or vineyards produce grapes;
olive trees may be fruitless,
and harvest time a failure;
sheep pens may be empty,
and cattle stalls vacant—
18 but I will still celebrate
because the Lord God
saves me.
19 The Lord gives me strength.
He makes my feet as sure
as those of a deer,
and he helps me stand
on the mountains

Life does not look like we anticipated it would and is a struggle every day.  Having a chronic illness that effects every part of your body is exhausting and frankly mostly sore, but God is with us and continues to work. I may not be able to much physically, but God still is God. God saves me, holds me gently and gives me strength for what he calls me for and to.  God still calls and still uses us.

May we each know that in our lives.

Taxes

File:Pieter Brueghel the Younger, 'Paying the Tax (The Tax Collector)' oil on panel, 1620-1640. USC Fisher Museum of Art.jpg

The Question about Paying Taxes

Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

Matthew 22: 15-22

What about taxes Jesus?
Surely you cannot agree with them.

Nobody likes paying taxes,
especially
when there is
a little bit,
or a lot,
added on
by the local collector…

Surely
our money
should be going to God
and not supporting a human ruler?

Surely
should be exempt,
make a stand,
refuse to pay?

What do you say Jesus?
Of course,
if you say we do not need to pay
we can report you
to the authorities,
let them know you are against them,
encouraging others
not to fulfil
their civic responsibility.

Then we would have you
and we would not
need to do it ourselves.

You want a coin?
Well yes,
of course it has the rulers head on,
that is what coins do.

So,
it is his money.
We need to pay our dues,
contribute for what we expect back,
pay our share
of the services we use
and to support those
who cannot pay as much as we can?

And having done that
we can give to God
what is his.

It is not an either-or situation,
it is both.

Giving to God
does not stop us giving what we owe
to society.

Forgive me Lord
when I am looking for excuses
to not share my resources,
to pay as little as possible,
while expecting much in return.

I guess that applies to society
and to you.

Give to me
a willing
and generous heart.

Making a God of Our Own

You were delayed Moses,
you didn’t come back
when we wanted you to.

We didn’t know where you were
or what you were doing
and we,
so we thought,
couldn’t wait.

You didn’t act God,
when
and how,
we wanted ,
thought we needed
you to.

So,
we took matters into our own hands.
made ourselves a god,
a god that looked like we thought it should,
would do what we wanted it to.

And we worshipped it,
the god of our own making,
our design,
to meet our purposes.

Forgive me Lord,
when I have failed to wait for you,
your time,
your best ways.

When I have taken things into my own hands
tried to make you be like I want
you to be,
to look like the kind of God I think I need.

When I have made you
in my image
and offered my all,
my precious gifts
to that poor imitation.

May I learn to wait for you,
for your timing,
not try to force you hand,
but to live by your ways,
for you are God,
the only God I need,
the only one worthy of my praise
and worship.

The Golden Calf

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron and said to him, ‘Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ Aaron said to them, ‘Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.’ So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mould, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, ‘Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.’ They rose early the next day, and offered burnt-offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.

The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshipped it and sacrificed to it, and said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” ’ The Lord said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.’

But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, ‘O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, “It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth”? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, “I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it for ever.” ’ And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

Exodus 32: 1-14