Tag Archives: Habakkuk 3:17-19

Testimony

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.

The Methodist Church is encouraging a Year of Testimony, taking the opportunity to tell our stories.  As part of that I was invited to share mine for the Circuit we are now living in, so I thought I would share it here too.

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.

So, here is (part of) mine:

I was brought up going to church. I came to a point where God seemed like something that would be good to come to when I was old, but had no relevance to my life as a teenager.  Through an interesting turn of events, mainly based on my looking for an easy life, I ended up taking RE as one of my ‘O’ Level options.  That decision lead to me developing a love for the scriptures and a real passion to work through their relevance for each day, as well as discovering God who loved and cared about me very much in the here and now.

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, Related image

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.

The last couple of 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.

2018-12-28 10.23.01

I have long found solace and God’s hope in trees: in the stark reality of a tree with no leaves or fruit, the strength a tree finds from its roots buried so deep that nourish it however bare the branches might look, that can cling to an apparently precipitous edge, that other plants that grow on a dead tree for support, in the rhythm of growth, apparent death and new life.  I see so much of God and Christian faith in that.

 

 

 

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 do so 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.

May we each know that in our lives.

 

 

 

 

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Come With Me

2015-07-21 16.39.49Come with me.

I’m here,
calling to you.
I have come for you,
looking
to find where you are.

I love you.

I long for you to come with me.
All I have promised has come true.
Even the fig trees are now budding,
and I know
how you’ve clung on
while they didn’t,
I really do.

I’m here.

I love you.
Come with me
on this journey
of love
and life
together.

O Love That Will Not Let Me Go

Song of Solomon 2:8-13 (CEV)

Winter Is Past

She Speaks:

I hear the voice
    of the one I love,
as he comes leaping
over mountains and hills
    like a deer or a gazelle.
Now he stands outside our wall,
looking through the window
10     and speaking to me.

He Speaks:

My darling, I love you!
    Let’s go away together.
11 Winter is past,
    the rain has stopped;
12 flowers cover the earth,
    it’s time to sing.
The cooing of doves
    is heard in our land.
13 Fig trees are bearing fruit,
while blossoms on grapevines
    fill the air with perfume.
My darling, I love you!
    Let’s go away together.

Caring for The Battered and Broken

This is part three.  Having looked at health, or lack of it, and healing; how can someone on the outside help?

Pastorally we have to be prepared to be alongside people as they go into their own desert.  People need to be able to pour out to someone the fears that they have buried deep, or that are bubbling near the surface.  Just sharing those feelings with someone can make them less frightening, as they are acknowledged.  People may be reluctant to express such deep personal feelings that pain and suffering bring.  One of the privileges in life is being the one someone feels they can ‘let go’ to.  Someone ‘putting on a brave face’, may just have no opportunity, or tools, to face or express their fears.  They may need some company, some care, some holding.

Norman Autton in his book, Pain – An Exploration, makes the  comment that children should always be given permission to feel pain.  Adults too, particularly sometimes christians, need to know that there is no need to be brave or ‘cope’.   Feeling the pain is the only way it can be let out for healing.

Denis Duncan in Health and Healing: A Ministry to Wholeness reminds us that christian pastoral care, including to ourselves, is the acceptance of people where they are, in order to take them to where God wants them to be ‘warts and all’.  This is very positive, except that we can never take them.  What we can do is accompany them as they make the journey there themselves.

What anyone offering care needs is sensitivity.  Such comments as, ‘Every cloud has a silver lining’ are not particularly helpful when it doesn’t feel it.  It may ultimately become true, but takes reconciling to the situation first. There will undoubtedly be some positives to come from the suffering, but that does not remove the pain of the struggle.  It can be too easy to produce platitudes that nothing can separate us from the love of God, or that there is glory waiting beyond the tears.  I firmly believe that

all things work together for good for those who love God  (Rom 8:28),

but at times of struggle it was the last thing I wanted to hear.  Not because I no longer believed it, but at that time I could not assimilate it into my experience.  To glibly quote scripture references can show total lack of empathy and can appear to belittle the problem.

If we can, however use the bible sensitively and positively, there are many verses that do offer hope and comfort.  For example, Isaiah 43:1-2, reminds us that God is with us in situations that threaten to consume and overwhelm us; Psalm 23 speaks of the Psalmist’s assurance that God is with him in the valleys; and for me Habakkuk 3:17-20 encapsulates the acceptance and ability to live with having no answers, but finding something in that, and still being able to cling on because of his trust in God, when everything else has disappeared.

We should not be afraid to say that we have no answers, there is more honesty in that than trying to grope for quick-fix solutions.  And honesty is the one thing that is appreciated.  Sometimes nothing more is needed than a being with.

And that is the point I come to.  If it sounds positive, it has come from a place of great pain. Only the answer has survived on paper – but the pain was deep and life-transforming.  Ask those who were around me then how many times I preached on being in the desert – because that is where I was and all I could do.  I’m not trying to put just a positive spin on it, but to try to share some of what I learned, and in sharing it all again, it has helped me with where I find myself again.  Healing and wholeness are ongoing.  Living with ongoing illness regularly throws up new discoveries and realities to be assimilated. As does life for each one of us.

I hope sharing this has helped someone.  If you’ve got any comments, please share them below for everyone to share in.

I’ll leave you with my conclusion, that sixteen years on and a few crises later, still, I think, holds true:

So for me, both personally, and as a basis for pastoral care, there has to be the offer of healing and wholeness, whatever the state of our mind and body.  It may not be healing as we would like it or recognise it, but that does not mean it is not.

I believe firmly, passionately and with experience that we can lay our pain with the one who took our pain upon himself, and receive Life in its true fullness.  If we do not believe that what else have we to offer to a hurting world?

And so I return to my very practical definition of healing:

accepting all that we are, and all that we will never be, incorporating that into ‘me’ – and being able to live with it.