Sunday, 29 March 2015

Dying

N.B. I have not mentioned certain details in this post in order to try to respect the grief and lives of those affected by that awful tragedy.

On the 29th March 2000, I learned about death in a way that has affected me for the rest of my life. Before this moment, death was something that happened to old people, or old animals, or perhaps to people in other countries who didn't have a lot to eat. For a long time after that, it was a daily phantom that followed me around.

I guess before I talk about who I became, I must introduce you to who I was. Aged 10 years, and 363 days, I was a tomboyish kind of kid. Growing up in between two brothers does that sometimes. I loved climbing trees, reading books, finding places to hide: anything that kept me out of the spotlight. I was the kind of girl who played football, dug up mud in the playground, sharpened sticks to use as 'weapons', built tree houses and for the most part, hated being treated 'like a girl'. I was average build, athletic, ambitious and tough as nails. I gave as good as I got in my regular fights with boys and many of the girls didn't really give me the time of day. I didn't really have friends in Junior school, so I spent a lot of time alone. The school toilets were my refuge at lunchtime and the small cubby hole in the cloakroom was my safety net when I felt threatened during lessons. 

I wasn't naive. I had already; by this point; spent a disproportionate amount of time in my short 10 years in hospitals for appointments, operations and treatments to get rid of my birthmark that could increase my risk of skin cancer astronomically if left to grow. (I found this out later. At the time I just thought it was because it made me different to others and being different was a bad thing.) But despite all this, I was bright, hopeful, resourceful, and despite pretty much hating school because of the bullying, got on well in class and most of the time, kept out of trouble.

Perhaps it was because I felt like an outcast, but I had an overwhelming desire to help, to impress, and to appear useful in the blind hope that my spirit would override the apparent physical flaws that attracted the attention of some people. I didn't like people looking at me, but if they were going to, I preferred it to be because I was doing something of worth. I spent my life "sucking up" to the teachers and adults, and became Library Monitor, PE Cupboard tidy-er, anything to stay off the playground really.

Then, one horrible day just before my 11th birthday, a fire in a flat overnight claimed the lives of three beautiful boys who were pupils/ex pupils of my school. Two of the siblings, although suffering varying degrees of fire-related injuries, survived, (and eventually returned to school.)

Suddenly, death was on the doorstep of our school, our community and our lives. As young children, we were forced to face a horrible and unexplainable tragedy. Nothing that we were feeling could compare to the family of these boys, and I was all too aware that there were those who had known the family far better and far longer than I had. But none of us could escape the sadness that presented itself with us every day that they no longer joined us at the school. Each of us had to enter that playground on that dreadful Monday morning, and feel the weight of the sadness and silence that had smothered the usual pre-school playground atmosphere.

I don't remember much of the assemblies. I don't remember much of what went on during classes after that. I know some were offered counselling, but I wasn't worthy to waste the time of those people when others needed it more than me. I was only at the school a short while longer before I went off to Senior school, but it was a period of time that engrained its negativity into my mind, and changed me in a way I would never be able to explain.

Not long after, just that summer, I experienced my first family death when my Granddad died. But the tears I shed then were partly for my family, and partly out of fear, once again, that death was ever present on my doorstep.

A few years later I remember suffering from terrible, terrible nightmares, some about 'Death' coming to get me, (at the time it was just 'him') and about falling, fire, burning, and other equally terrifying thoughts for a 12 year old. Nightmares and bullying became part of my life, and soon after, self-harm followed to cope with everything that was rushing around my mind and spirit as I struggled with becoming a teenager, and dealing with un-spoken emotions, some of which I would not reveal until many many years later in my life.

Looking back on that time of my life, it is still extremely hard to piece together the ways that it changed me. I know that deep inside, that fear of death has tainted a bit of my soul. I know that there is no way that I will ever be able to erase the dreaded feeling that creeps in through my toes and up to my throat until it chokes me of air, paralysing me and I can do nothing but lay, helplessly on the floor until it subsides. It is a feeling that I have experienced during the most emotional moments of my life, when I felt like my world was once again falling apart. The feeling that I sought to escape every time I reached for a razor blade. The feeling I first got when I realised that death... happens. To young people. To old people. To everyone.

Fifteen years on, from that tragic day, and that time in my life is still extremely hard to talk about. For many years I had an emotional barrier between me and others: I wore a mask and I did not share my innermost thoughts and feelings with anyone. I kept most people away from my heart and kept my "public" face on when with others. But over time, some late-night heart to hearts and hugs from carefully places 'angels' hidden amongst my friends, that has now disappeared almost entirely. Tears, nowadays, seem incredibly close to the surface.

Death, of any kind, makes me feel helpless, weak and ready to cry myself to sleep once again. Funerals of people I have never met are just as emotional as the ones of elderly relatives and friends. The broadcast funerals of TV Characters who aren't even real bring my to real and uncontrollable tears. I cannot bear to see others upset, and crying friends just make me cry. And I cannot help but think that my life, in all the ways it has been affected, has been dictated by that first, unbelievably sad and terrible accident that took three beautiful boys from the lives of those around them. I mean, how can anyone get over something so devastating?

But, time is a great healer, and there is hope for a brighter future. We move on, but we will never be the same. I know that I am not. I know that the lives of those who were left behind reflect the love that they had for those boys. I know they would have been proud of the way their family have kept them alive in their hearts and spirits.  I hope they always knew how much they were loved.  So R.I.P. boys, rest in peace.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Forever

Day 1 of Advent.

Today is the start of Advent, when we look forward to the coming of Christ, the newborn baby who would one day grow up to change the world forever. But whenever there is a time of looking forward, I always seem to find myself thinking back, reflecting on what has gone before. The last few weeks I have spent a long time pondering about all the things that have led to me being here, doing this and being this person.

In particular, I keep thinking about one special little boy that I had to say goodbye to nearly five years ago when he was adopted into his forever family. My feelings about him are always so mixed. I will always look back on the time I got to spend with him with a smile, great fondness, love and affection. But when I see updates on him, pictures of him growing and making achievements and enjoying his new life, I can't seem to shake the dull ache in my stomach and the tears in my eye in the knowledge that he will forget about me long long before I ever will him. The truth is he changed my life much more than I did his.

I guess I must be a pessimist, but all relationships hold that element of knowing that one day, at least one of us will have to say goodbye to the other for good. Whether that be through divorce, death, moving away, illness, etc. There is no relationship on earth in which we know that 'forever' is part of the equation. Humans aren't made for forever. We each hold a few people close to our hearts for a while, but most of my friendships fade when circumstances and distances change. It used to upset me but now I just know it's part of life. People who walk into our lives always have the option to walk out again. But the time you got to spend with them doesn't lose it's significance. It changes who you are, where you go, how you see the world.

As we look forward to Christmas, and the coming of the newborn Son of God, who exists forever, reigns for ever, and loves forever, we must reassess our own interpretation of what our relationship with Jesus means for our lives. Is he someone we think of often? Rely on often? Talk to often? Today is the start of a brand new day. It's the only day we're guaranteed right now. Let's use it to treasure what needs to be treasured, let go of what needs to be let go, and focus on what should be focussed on at this time.

Strip back what needs to be stripped back, and remember that the reason for Christmas wasn't to spend thousands of pounds on presents, decorations, Christmas cards, food and drink. It's the start of a relationship. The start of those special memories. Those moments of tears, heartache, and pain. Of forgetting, and remembering, and knowing that spending time with someone, no matter how short, can change your life forever.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Lost

It's been almost two weeks since my last blog post, which I have to say generated a lot more conversation with people than I thought it would. I forget sometimes that some people actually pay attention to what I post on here or on Facebook. A lot of the time it seems like I'm typing away to an empty screen.

I think that reflects a lot of how I feel about my life. I try my hardest to do the right thing, to help people, to be there when people need me. I often get it wrong and am always letting people down and sometimes it is weeks between when a friend contacts me for a meet up and when I actually get back to them. I know that I neglect a lot of people in my life because I'm too busy running around making other people happy. I'm sorry if you're one of those people. I'm going to try really hard to not neglect you; but please forgive me in advance.

I don't even know what I'm trying to say here to be honest. Feel free to give up now if you wish. I just, I'm currently trying to get my head around a conversation I just had with a male friend who yesterday I vowed I would never again speak to or let back into my heart. We had a falling out (of sorts) a few months ago and since then things have been pretty crappy. I miss him like crazy. I see things that I want to give him, laugh at things we used to laugh at together, hear songs that remind me of our friendship, and it breaks my heart. So for the sake of being able to move on and not be hurt any more by our falling out, I felt the need to put that our friendship behind me, and walk away. Yesterday I felt like I had just reached the end of the road.

The decision I made yesterday to do that was not easy, and it hasn't come quickly. This is a person who has been in my life for almost two years, and someone with whom I believe I have a connection that goes far beyond the realms of friendship or love or being like siblings. It's not romantic, its not about being together every day, but in its essence its about understanding what it feels like to be the other person. That's as good as I can get at explaining it. No-one understands it: at least no-one I have tried to talk to about it. Just me and him. It's something special and it's something unique, and I believed; until recently, that it was wholly God given. We've had our disagreements in the past, but we've always managed to put them behind us and move on. This one though, just seemed to be the end. Things have been difficult for a few months, and rather than continually putting myself through the agony of hoping it would get better, I decided to just say: enough is enough.

That was yesterday. And today is today. And today it seems, God had other plans. Whether He was waiting for me to hit rock bottom, I don't know. Maybe it was just a coincidence. But today, for one reason or another. We started talking. (Messaging.... it's the modern day equivalent.) At first it was awkward. I felt like we were both talking from anger or frustration or from not really trusting the other. And we both said lots of things that perhaps we should have said before and didn't. And then gradually, slowly, the sharp and bitter messages melted away, and the true hurt and heart came through into the conversation. And all of a sudden, as if in a flash, things seemed to be okay again. I felt it inside my chest before my head engaged with it. And I realised that in all this time, I was hurting so much that it didn't really occur to me that he was hurting too.

I've been living in my head, and everything he's done recently I've felt a personal stab. I guess when I don't talk to someone, and they don't talk to me, I automatically assume that the other person is thinking the worst of me. It seemed like he wanted nothing more to do with me. And he probably would have been justified in thinking so. I don't know. But now it just seems like everything that we were not talking about, everything that has hurt us both -  if we had acted out of love, if we had made a single move differently; had talked; none of this would have happened. Who knew.

And now I'm feeling a bit lost and as if I just dreamt the last few hours. I have dreams every night. And I've probably dreamt him several times in the last few months. I've searched and longed and clung to any small or minute (or non-existent) clue that he might be missing me too. Thinking about me too. Wanting to talk to me. And if I'm honest, it destroyed me. And now I have this 3 hour conversation that is all mine. And I have no idea what to do with it. And I'm almost terrified to go to bed in case when I wake up tomorrow this was a dream. Where do I place a friendship and companionship in my life that I've spent the last few months trying to cut out and forget about? My head says one thing and my heart another. Everyone who has seen or spoken to me in the last month knows how hard I have tried to move on and put this behind me. And now it's back. It's like a lost treasure that has been searched and searched for and never found. And then, after years and years of being missing: it's within reaching distance: it's right in front of me. Part of me has missed it. And part of me thought I could live without it. Which part do I listen to?

I love him. With more than just my head and my heart. He's more than just my big brother or my friend or my fellow depressive confidante: he's like someone God sent me. A shining light in my darkness. A whisper in my ear. A moment of peace in the storm. A hug. A kind word. A wink or a kiss on the head. He's me. But he's also my worst enemy. The person that if I let him in, has the potential to hurt me the most, destroy me, ruin my day, my week, my month. Drive me to the edge of my darkness. He's my dream and my nightmare. Because he's human. And he makes mistakes, just like I do. He gets frustrated, just like I do. He gives up, just like I do. Can I ever truly walk away? I honestly don't know. And I'm not even sure I want to.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Free

N.B. If I'm entirely honest I have no idea why I have chosen today of all days to write a blog. It's been pretty uninteresting.

I can't believe it's been so long since I have poured my mind out on here. Way back in August, when I took the kids to Soul Survivor, I was in a particularly vulnerable place. I had completed a week of mission at the church I work for, and it had been an absolute success, but the effort of spending so much time around so many people had really taken it out of me. I spent a week in bed/ not doing much in order to recover and then whipped off to Soul Survivor with a load of teenagers ready for God to do some awesome stuff. I always have that expectation at Soul Survivor, no matter how wrong it is, that something will connect with me (or with the young people) more so than a normal church service or bible study or spending time with Christian friends. Everything just seems so much... more.

Anyway, the theme of the week's teaching was about friendships & relationships (with God and with others). At first it didn't particularly strike me or affect me but there was one particular moment, during the ministry time in one of the evening sessions that got to me. I tend to try and keep my own emotions and feelings in check when watching over the teenagers, but this particular moment I could do nothing but curl up into a ball on the floor and cry my heart out. I was touched by young people (past and present) coming over to pray for me, but it was then in that moment that I decided to trust in God to heal me of the thoughts, feelings and mental health issues I had been having up until that moment in my life. I wanted so much to rid myself of all the darkness that clouded my soul, wanted God to shine a torch into all my dark places and just clean everything out. I made a decision, however wisely or not, to stop taking my anti-depressant medicine that had over previous months worked it way up to the maximum dose. I felt I just needed to trust.

My lack of withdrawal symptoms for the first few weeks I took as a sign I was doing the right thing. I enjoyed two whole weeks with Dan, adventuring in the Lake District for a week, and then seeing friends and family in and around Essex. When September 1st came around, I thought I was prepared for whatever the world was going to throw at me. How very wrong I was.

Things at work and home quickly got stressful, upsetting, and a number of things threw me off the track I thought I was sailing down. My so-called recovery ground to a gut-wrenching halt, and I was suddenly taking tender baby steps each day, just to keep myself from going back to relying on drugs to keep my mood stable. The withdrawal symptoms I had experienced last time I stopped taking my medication came thick and fast, broken sleep, exhaustion, vivid dreams, tearfulness... I began arguing with everyone and anyone, I started taking everything personally, because sensitive to everything, and once again began crying to myself whenever I was alone. And still I put off going back to the GP. I had, in the summer, planned to go back to her and announce myself cured by the power of the Almighty. All of a sudden, the doubts began to creep in, and I found myself more than once heading towards the GP surgery to make an appointment before dragging myself home to bed again. I decided I would wait until this darkness had passed, and I was truly better, before going back. 

A month later, and the improvements have been slow. The symptoms of depression have slowly taken over the withdrawal symptoms, and no matter what I do to try and motivate myself, every day is a struggle. My bad moods are a vicious cycle, causing me to withdraw from many around me, which makes me feel worse, which makes me less likely to want to spend time with people. I have been forced to make some decisions that have made me feel worse, but that I know are best in the long run. I have done some stupid things in lame attempts to make myself feel better. I have tried to guard my broken heart by avoiding those who may damage it further, but in doing so have cut out some special relationships from my life. I know only too well that anything good comes at a cost, and right now it is a cost I am not willing to take;  that I just can't afford to take.

I know He that is in me is stronger than these tears, these nightmares, this darkness that is drowning me. Every day when I wake up and feel the same heaviness sitting on my chest, I yearn for the peace that I know only God can give. I will not let go of my Saviour because the depression is shouting louder. It's hard. It's bloody hard. And I am not strong. I am a feeble, pathetic excuse for a human. But I will not let the doubts take me from me what He has promised. My prayer now remains the same as it was on that night in August - "Jesus, set me free."

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Chances (Or Why I Walk Slow, Forgive Quick and Love Loads)

N.B. I have depression. Clinical Depression. I have since I was a teenager, but I only really sought out medical help when I was studying at Uni and everything just got far too much to handle: March 2012. Almost 10 years after I probably first began displaying symptoms of depression, I finally plucked up the courage and the know-how to visit my Doctor and get medical help. I've been to counselling. Several different ones actually. I've never really found it to be very helpful. In fact, I've had late night MSN conversations with friends that have aided me more than counselling ever has. But that's just the way of the world, isn't it? The reason I am telling you this is that I have never really publicly spoken out about it before. And I guess if someone wants to understand me and the way my brain works... it's pretty important that you understand that simple fact first and foremost. I'm not looking or asking or wanting sympathy. I just think that it's time that everyone started being more honest with one another... even if it is from behind their computer screen.

I love to walk. I guess that comes in handy, not being able to drive. But I don't mean walking is my preferred method of travel: I regularly use buses, trains, taxis and other people to get around. What I mean is, I love to just... walk. Wander. Hike. Meander. Dilly-Dally. Wherever and whatever I'm doing, I like to take my sweet time about it. Especially if I have no fixed schedule. There is a art in walking slowly. In observing every aspect of your surroundings. The birds. The trees. The clouds. The sun. The warmth. The breeze. The bugs on the ground. The traffic, or lack thereof. The feel.

There are some days when to wander around outside is like you are walking around in heaven. To be in God's world, but to know that it is only temporary, and yet to appreciate every aspect of that perfect day that God has gifted into your hands. He has placed you exactly where you are, and in whatever difficulty or circumstance you are facing... God has given you a chance to just BE. When I am walking slowly, I am not under pressure. I am not at anyone's beck and call. I am not being summoned, or bothered, or interrupted. It is just me and God, taking a stroll. A chance to chat over those ideas and dreams in my head, or listen to the one's in God's. A time to seek forgiveness, guidance, direction, calling and gifting. A time to rethink. A time to let go. Yes, walking slowly is an art form, but that is why I do it.

Some people find it easy to hold grudges. I don't. In fact, I find it's more effort than it's worth. If you hold someone's mistakes against them, you are basically saying that the relationship you had with them; whatever it was; is not as important as the stupid or horrible thing they did or said. It also comes from an assumption that the person is so perfect that they are not going to do anything that hurts or upsets you. And let me be frank: there is NO-ONE in your life who will never upset and hurt you. In fact, those closest to us are the most likely to hurt us. Why? Because they are whom we place on pedestals, assuming that they are so awesome they are infallible. Who is infallible but God?

I'm not advocating letting people walk all over you because they are imperfect and they are bound to hurt you. But if someone does something that upsets or hurts you: Talk to them about it. And then forgive them. And then move on. Holding on to our grudge and our hurt and our bitterness diseases none but our own heart. You may need help to forgive. You will most definitely need prayer. But the more we practice it in our everyday lives, the easier it becomes. I have had a number of people who have been very close to me do things that have really upset me. But I have learned to forgive each and every one of them, because I am incapable of holding grudges. They sit like an ugliness in my heart and a heaviness in my chest and it causes all normal function and life to cease until I let it go. So I have learned to forgive quickly. It's just something that has to be done.

The longer I work as a youth worker, the more I realise that I am incapable of not loving a child. There is something that happens inside of me, the minute I connect with someone, I feel a loving and caring feeling towards them. (Not in a romantic way....) Sometimes, it's from the minute I see their shining little smile looking up at me. For others, the love hits me the minute I see something of their character, or strength, or passion, or hopes, or dreams, or fears. But there is always something... something of God that I see in each and every child and young person I meet. I love that. I love that I love my job. I love that I love my young people. It doesn't mean that they won't annoy me, or frustrate me, or even make me angry. There are definitely days when I feel like throwing in the towel. But then I think about one smile, one laugh, one sparkling or tearful eye, and I remember. To feel loved and accepted for who you are: Surely it is the single most important and desperate search in every young person's life. And ultimately, the answer to that struggle is found in God. But what chance does a young person have in finding that in God if they don't see it in the ones who tell them about God? So I love all my young people. The ones I see weekly. The ones I see monthly. The ones I've met once. The ones I will pass on my way somewhere. The friends of the ones I meet and work with. I love them all. Because God does. What other reason is there?

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Loud and Clear

N.B. Today, has been an awesome day. Read on to find out more.

Over the last few weeks, I've not had many of them. There have been plenty of okay days. And a few alright ones. And a fair few really crappy ones. But rare are the days when I can say, "Today has been great." The last few weeks I've been feeling pretty low and vulnerable to hurt, criticism and things not going to plan. All of those things, as well as general busyness and not managing my time very well led to me feeling particularly down last week, and then with my back playing up... everything was pretty dire. I generally try not to show that part of me to most people, but those closest to me see it, or know it.

Anyway, at the weekend I was away(ish) camping with the Junior Section of Hutton Free Church. 8 boys, 4 leaders including me. It was a nice weekend... albeit exhausting, frustrating, loud, pretty sleepless, and because of my trapped nerve, painful. The problem is, that I am one of those people who feels lonely a good 80% of the time, especially when I am surrounded by people who I don't really know 'me.' So although it was a good weekend, and I enjoyed it, I was lonely, and by the time I got home on Sunday afternoon I was desperate for a hug. (It had also been 4 weeks since I last saw Dan, so I was pining.) My two best friends were in London at HTB so they weren't around to meet up/talk to. But instead of laying on my bed crying (which is a general post-weekend away reaction) I somehow found the strength to spend the afternoon doing random little things, (like re-stringing my guitar and browsing Wikipedia) to keep myself busy. And wouldn't you know, my awesome best friends popped in for ten minutes to see me on their way home that night, so I didn't feel forgotten and left out.

But Monday morning I awoke feeling less than energetic about the day. It was my day off, and I'd woke early so I could book myself a Doctor's appointment, and spent the morning pottering about doing odd bits. After the Doctors appt. I wandered over to HSUC where I share an office with Alex to collect my folder for the groups that evening that I had stupidly left behind. Alex was having an 'out of the office working' kind of day, but he popped in for something I was just sitting at my desk sorting some bits out. We didn't speak much, but Alex is one of my best friends in the world, and he just knew that I was feeling 'bleurgh.' So just before he left again he leant down to where I was sitting and kissed me on the top of my head. It was such a spontaneous thing, but in that single second, my day changed. That one small act of love and care broke through my dark clouds and melted my apathy. It made me smile.

The rest of the day went really well. I felt so much more calm and relaxed about the day. Both the clubs that I was helping at/leading that evening went great. I felt energetic, enthusiastic, cheery. And as I went to bed that evening, I felt okay. I wasn't surrounded by the usual dark mist of loneliness that tends to settle in around that time everyone else logs off. I got myself into bed before midnight, and I lay awake in the darkness, I remembered how it felt to be kissed on the head, like a child sitting on her parent's lap, I felt protected and cared for, loved and reassured that everything was going to be okay. And although it was Alex that did it, it was more than that. It was God, knocking on all the bad cloudy thoughts and telling them to be quiet for just a few seconds. It was God, surrounding me with His love and care and reminding me that He would protect me through the storms. It was God's great Fatherly arms that wrapped around me and held me tight. And so as I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep, I smiled to myself, knowing it was going to be okay.

And that was yesterday. And today was also a great day. I was happy, but I was more than that. I had found rest in my soul. I could laugh and joke and be silly and enjoy being with my friends, colleagues and the kids I work with. I could genuinely say that I was 'good' when someone asked how my day was. That is such a rare moment in my life that I was almost willing people to ask me how I was!

But you know, I'm not saying that every morning I am going to awake feeling on top of the world: I have lived long enough to know that mountain top experiences don't last forever. The dark clouds that frequent my heart and mind come thick and fast, like a thunderstorm, but that one small gesture, that amazingly awesome moment when God barged into my life with flashing lights and a siren... well, I just thought that deserved a blog.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Hidden

N.B. I've been thinking about this blog for a few weeks now. It just so happens that I have nothing else to do on this Saturday evening so the blog has been written! No apologies if this blog offends you in any way. I speak from my heart, and this was on it.

Children & Adults = Church.

What does that equation mean to you? Perhaps you have a vision of children and adults, worshipping together in collective song, giving, prayer, teaching and Bible reading. Perhaps there is a few under enthusiastic-ly sung kids songs, and perhaps a 'Something for Everyone' talk. But more and more I see this happening:

Adults - Children = Church.

I witness children being ignored, told to be quiet, shuffled into a corner, talked over, talked about, glared at if they are making noise, told to sit still during the prayers, and more often than not expected to want to sing songs that are 60+ years old with no real explanation of the complex theological words used within them; and sometimes for no other reason than they rhyme... sort of. What is this "church" we have created? 

During a Baptist child dedication service, the church congregation says they will do all they can to assist the child in their faith as they grow. Is that what we are doing in our church services*? I used to be optimistic. Or maybe I just used to be slightly more ignorant. But more and more recently, I've recognised the general attitude towards children in churches... and it's shocking when you take stock of it. As adults we like to send our children to the best schools we can, with good teachers who encourage and take care of and inspire our children to achieve goals and dreams as they are able.  We choose people to be around our children that we think will care for them, inspire them and teach them about the ways of the world and how to live right. Why then, are we not wanting the same for them in their faith?

When did the enthusiasm for holding children at the HEART of God's family wane so badly? Did we just forget? Did we get so tied up in Hymn 104 that we forgot that our principal duty as stewards of God's kingdom is to pass the joy and acceptance and belonging in Christ's family onto the next generation and the next generation? What are we teaching our children by waiting until they are out of room before we do anything of real spiritual significance? That they aren't good enough or old enough to be followers of Christ? No wonder the 11-30's are leaving the UK church in their drones. They feel pushed away. They feel cheated. They feel bored. They feel out of place.

The thing I love about the Soul Survivor summer camp is that nothing is hidden from the young people. During the services, worship, prayer, communion, ministry, healing, jokes, songs, fun times, bad times, are all shared. As one family of 8000 or more children AND youth workers, they don't hide from the teenagers the struggles, nor the times of connecting with God. They see and experience God at work. In that place. And they see and experience the adults around them worshipping with their heart. Did the kids think I was a bit crazy when I felt like dancing during worship? Sure they did! But did I hide my joy in Christ from them? No. Why do we feel then that we must hide these things from them in our own little congregations?

We MUSTN'T be afraid to invite these children to the heart of our collective meeting with Jesus. We must involve them in the prayer, the worship, the tears, the laughter and the relationship.  We must not give the impression that we know all the answers. We must widen our tolerance. We must not allow negativity and choosiness to enter our churches as we seek to worship as collective individuals. Let ALL be welcome. Otherwise we're just a dying congregation, a clanging cymbal that has no love for the small or the vulnerable of this world. And we miss out on all the blessings God has poured on our young people and our children to share with us.

I leave you with this:

"After the christening of his baby brother in church, Jason sobbed all the way home in the back seat of the car. His father asked him three times what was wrong. Finally, the boy replied, "That preacher said he wanted us brought up in a Christian home, and I wanted to stay with you guys."

* I know that church services aren't the only thing that churches involve children in. You might have the most spectacular youth and children's clubs, or even Sunday school. But if we can't accommodate children in the oldest, most central way of meeting together as God's family, then what's the point?

Friday, 23 August 2013

Heartbroken

N.B. I have just returned from a trip to Soul survivor with some young people, during which I must have cried more in that one week than I have done all year. This is what got me thinking about this blog, and the thoughts I have had since I share now.

Many times over the last few months I have looked at the life I am living and thought about how blessed I am. I have come to really appreciate the small things in life that allow you to let worries slip away from your mind, appreciate the friendships that allow you to feel like you can face the world, appreciate the relationships that make you thankful for each day, having a job, that pays just enough so that you don’t have to constantly worry about your bank balance, the home that you can feel comfortable and relaxed in, the family around you that although you don’t always get on with, you are grateful that they are around. And the church that you go to without having to think about what you’ve forgotten to do, the friends that encourage you, the members that are grateful for you and appreciate you for who you are AND what you do. I have all of these things and more in my life.

And yet, at Soul Survivor, I found plenty of reasons to cry. But this year, there was a difference in my tears. I have been to SS eight times now, and many times I have cried because of fear, disappointment, worry, hurt, pain and the unknown. But this year, I cried for the pain of others, the disappointment of others, the unknown that others face, the worry and hurt that others experience. I cried when I heard the heart-wrenching stories of young people living in pain.

I cried for the millions across the world who live in slavery and entrapment. I cried for the children dying of hunger and thirst. I cried for the women and children sold into the sex trade. I cried for the thousands of Christians who have been attacked, threatened, imprisoned, forced to flee their country or even killed for their belief in Jesus. I cried for the children who have lost parents. I cried for the parents who have lost children. And I cried in anger at how unfair it was that so few of us (globally) live with plenty, when so many more go without.

Last year at Soul Survivor, I pleaded with God to break my heart for the things that broke his. And this year I realised that He had. Despite how blessed my life is, I am utterly heartbroken. My heart has been torn in two, trodden on, crushed, split and is bleeding for the pain of this world. Just like Jesus’ heart is. And this heart-ache has no cure on earth. Because until the last tear is wiped away from the last hurt and broken child of this world – my heart will remain broken. I can no longer live a single day in ignorance of the pain and the suffering of this world. The problem is no longer someone else’s problem – it is mine. And it is no longer someone else’s job to fix it, it is mine. And there is no longer a future time to do something about it. That time is now.

And that doesn’t mean that I know all the answers or I know what I’m going to be doing about it. All I know is that I am going to be paying attention to the opportunities God gives me to help someone. Anyone. Because there are plenty of opportunities, aren’t there? Some of us chose to ignore them, to walk on by, to ‘do it another day’ or ‘another time’. But not me. Today is the day, and now is the time.

And God provided me with a chance to help someone about ten minutes after I walked through the door from Soul Survivor. I was smelly, sweaty, hungry and needed a nap, but the *knock knock* at my door put an end to all that. The poor don’t stop being poor when we are eating our dinner. The hurt and broken don’t stop being broken because we are tired and need a nap or a shower. So I breathed a deep breath, and I did all that I could in God’s strength, and afterwards I thanked God for being faithful. And for blessing me so much that I was able to bless others. 

And so, today, just like yesterday, the work begins. Every new day, a new opportunity to get back up on my feet, and search for the moment. It’s going to be an epic journey. Why don’t you come for the ride too? Ask God to break your heart for the things that break His. Allow him to show you what you can do to change the world. And be prepared for tears. God cries them for this world a lot. And now, so do I.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Name


N.B. I know it's always been a while since my last post but I had some good excuses this time. I'll try and fill in my Philippines blogs when I find where I've written them....
Just before Christmas I made the decision to move out of the flat I'd been staying in for the last three and a half years. It wasn't a decision that was made lightly, but I without a job or a steady/decent income, it was just too expensive to stay. So I put my life in boxes, and in the week in between Christmas and New Year, transported it to various lofts, garages, and my Mum's lounge. I then said goodbye to the town that had been my life and my home for five years, and headed back to where it all began: Brentwood. Although I love my family, moving back in with Mum (minus all my stuff) and not being independent has been a bit of an identity shock. I'm not quite sure where I fit in, and it has taken me almost a month to get used to the way things work. I'm so used to having my own space, and doing everything for myself, and now I don't really get that. I feel out of place.
Since finishing my job as a youth worker at the end of August, I've also been 'out of work' although I spent 2 of those months in the Philippines, being a 'big sister' to lots of gorgeous children; at no point was I 'doing' youth work. And back in my home town and at my home church, where people have known me since the tender age of 5, I'm just Ami, who has been missing for five years and who happens to be a qualified youth worker. People have asked for my opinion, but I'm not in charge of anything, and none of the kids/young people really know me so far. And actually, none of the adults really know me very well either. They don't know what I stand for, what I'm good at, what I'm passionate about, what I'm capable of.

At Housegroup the other week, we were discussing the Nooma DVD 'Name', and in church, one of the sermons was talking all about how our identity mustn't be found in what we do, or our service becomes a self-service rather than to benefit God's kingdom, and ultimately, is damaging to ourselves and others. Although I would never normally admit it openly, it really hit home to me how much of my identity is caught up in what I do, and what I perceive to be my 'service' to God, might actually be a lot more about allowing me to find myself rather than to help others. I don't consciously serve others to help myself, I like helping others, and am happy to do so, but perhaps over the years, I have gotten so used to doing things that now that I'm not, I feel lost... As if I have no place in God's kingdom.

I do have this desire to please people. I cannot cope with people being upset with me, and often go out of my way to ensure that whatever hurt I think I have caused is atoned for... even if there wasn't any. The thought that someone is holding a grudge against me really gets to me, and so a lot of the time I will try extra hard to get people to like me by doing things, helpful things, so that people won't think of me as lazy or unwilling to help others. Sometimes I am conscious of this decision, and other times I have volunteered to do something before I am even aware of it myself. I have a real problem with saying no, often because I feel I have no good reason to say no. Other people have kids or partners or families to take care of, and I don't, so why don't I help? The idea of saying 'no' to someone just because I have something better I'd rather be doing doesn't sit too well with me.

So anyway, I guess what I'm saying is that I'm not quite sure who I am. And I wanted to record that in my blogs, so that people who think of me as having everything sorted and always being strong can know the truth. I'm just as confused and unsure of myself as you. Perhaps I'm just better at hiding it.


Sunday, 25 November 2012

Araw 54

I was restless this morning, and I kept waking and dozing from around 5am onwards. Manila is noisy, as is Joyland but the noise here is traffic, motorbike engines and horns, which doesn't calm anyone to sleep. When I woke at 7am , due to someone poking my face, I saw Paul staring at me. This roused me from my dozy state, and I rolled over to play with him and Lance, who was clambering onto the bed. I lay in bed till around 9am, (apart from getting up to eat Milo and cheesey loaf) as I was still fairly tired, and then got up to shower. I then headed out to sit with the Watermelon sellers, amusing myself by sweeping, playing with the kids, and helping to arrange plastic bags onto a bottle. During the course of the morning, nearly every time I was gifted a slice of watermelon by Des's Ate, a street boy (or 6) appeared, hands out to me, asking for money or something to eat. At one time, I was actually quite frightened, as I looked up to find myself surrounded by about 10 boys of various sizes and scruffiness, all trying to talk to me in Tagalog. JR ushered them away, but one boy lingered, and I could not very well continue to enjoy my watermelon while he was watching, so I handed over my half-eaten slice, and he slid away smiling.

After lunch, Des and me set about trying to finish her Inventory Report, but she fell asleep mid-sentence, so I played games on my iPod until she woke up, knowing how tired she was. We worked for a few hours, until her Ate went home with the girls and Raymond, Lhiz and Dang showed up to see me. After an hour or so we headed out to dinner, (my treat) as everyone was hungry and I knew Des didn't have much food in the house. Des dressed Paul up in his neat clothes, showered and changed, and we headed off, 6.5 of us in a tricycle to Mang Inasal. Paul was after a balloon that belonged to a girl at the next table so when we got outside I bought him one (only 50php) and we crossed the road to FCM to World of Fun to play basketball, shooting and driving games. We stayed until 9pm, when it shut, and left, laughing and joking back to Des's. 

The Payatas guys don't stay long as they have to get back to Payatas and we (me, Des, JR and Paul) are all tired anyway and want to get to bed. Des settles Paul down, and I notice that the cut on the top of his ear looks deeper than earlier. It looks painful, but Paul doesn't seem bothered. He soon falls asleep and I get ready for bed, but Des wants help  finishing her inventory report, so we slug on, Des getting snottier by the minute (she has a cold) and me struggling to fall asleep. We finish around midnight, and I waste no time falling asleep - I'm shattered!