DONE Being Down About This

I should have graduated by now. I should be able to drive by now. I should have a boyfriend by now. I should be studying for college right now; I should be writing my debut novel right now; I should be driving to a certain social event happening right now, to meet that potential future boyfriend, not sat alone writing this obscure blog post right now to an imaginary audience.

While these thoughts are justified, this mind frame is a most tired narrative of mine, and one I could (truly) live without. I am quite certain of what sparked this; this self-imposed condemnation of practically every word and deed I have (or have not) made from the day I developed a conscience. One rite of passage I continue to feel guilt and shame for is that I once said (not spiteful, but) prideful things that were “casually cruel, in the name of being honest” (Swift, 2012) to those I considered friends. Shocking stuff, I know (!) A written apology on suitably cutesy stationary was posted through a school locker, although before or after intimidation from the other girl’s older sister, I can’t recall, but amends were made (before the friendship later turned sour, something we do not need to dwell upon any further).  Regardless, the cheek-burning, stomach-churning feeling of being so completely and utterly in the wrong due to my blatant simplicity has left a lasting impression on me, and only today I realised, profoundly affected my spiritual life.

Allow me to elaborate; I am aware my naivety endures in many areas (see above), but in my general speech and demeanour, I am almost hyper-aware. For example, I just claimed that I am aware of what I am not aware of (a classic disclaimer of mine – oh, the irony). I do not want to be shown-up (though often am), to lose face, for someone to “point out my flaws again as if I don’t already see them” (Swift, 2010), therefore I down-play EVERYTHING I DAMN-WELL CAN, or I just don’t play at all. Another facet of this is that I cannot accept that whatever I do is the best thing I could have done, or should have done, or would have done. Sub-consciously, I have punished myself every single day since that time I opened my stupid mouth and spilled words that should have – SHOULD HAVE – stayed in my brain, or preferably, not been there at all in the first place. What those words were is not the issue, but the fact that I showed such a severe lack of discernment and what is worse, now that I think about it, it gets better; I had a copy of the serenity prayer blu-tacked to my own locker at the time! To refresh our memories, it says, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom (or discernment) to know the difference.” And you think God doesn’t have a sense of humour…

Anyway, the point I actually want to make is that, despite my belief that I have accepted God’s gift of grace through Jesus, my soul has yet to teach my brain this concept, which would rather continue to believe that I am fundamentally in error and worthy of punishment. While I remain deeply flawed, I am no longer fatally so, as in the Greek hubris or “fatal flaw”, which coincidentally is commonly found in Greek Tragedy to be “pride of thought”.  A friend recently helped me understand from a Christian perspective the importance of the oft-quoted sentiment that “humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less”, to which Christians would add, “and of Jesus more than yourself.” Why? I feel like it needs to be made known who Jesus is, who He really is. So many are not aware, even those who think they are – it sounds like I’m being prideful, doesn’t it, but I mean it with compassion, not pride. Why would you need to think of Jesus more than yourself, or even at all? I feel like the effect of being self-centred is like quicksand or a sinkhole, or a bottomless pit. Saint Teresa of Avila described it well when she said, “Our body has this defect that, the more it is provided care and comforts,” and I would hasten to add “attention or pre-occupation”, “the more needs and desires it finds.”

Being Christ-centred means being outward-focused to the needs of those around us, as a community, as a whole, playing our God-given role within it; something I would do well to remember more often. This kind of communion takes commitment, something our inherently self-indulgent natures resist, but Jesus is a living, present Saviour (“the same yesterday and today and forever”) and He brings with Him life in all its fullness, complete, without the need to search for more of it by any other means than through His Spirit, as our comforter, counsellor and advocate. Let us clear out the clutter of our ego to create capacity for this Spirit to activate our divine calling. A couple of months ago, a few days after the friend helped me realise the error of my ways, I listened to a preacher by the name of Phil Emerson (I think) and wrote down this statement he made, “God isn’t looking for golden vessels, only yielded vessels at the altar of self.”

“If Christ sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36

Release and Receive.

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Let It- No?

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January brought storms, January brought snow; January brought Winter in full frozen force to some of the world. My world, in a sense, was beginning to thaw.

Maybe that is a bold statement. I think it a fair observation that humankind makes much ado about beginnings. We each experience many in our lifetime from our birth. The beginnings of each chapter in our lives is perhaps something we are more fond of discussing than the endings because they hold so much hope, so much promise. “Once Upon A Time” is a given, “Happily Ever After” is a lot less guaranteed, in this life. My previous (and first) post dwelt on, as F. Scott Fitzgerald describes, being “borne back ceaselessly into the past”. Similar to something Professor Dumbledore once said; neither does it do to dwell on endings, in their uncertain or unknown future form (dreams), and forget to live – in the present, in the meantime. We do know this, as all of us experience endings brought about by disappointment or (perceived) failure, and so, we hedge our bets, lower our expectations, play it safe to some degree. At heart, I am a Dreamer, but with a jaded mind. For once, I will be bold enough to follow Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (KJV) Therefore, I will believe that my beginning of 2016 really has connected me to a new church family (a long-awaited answer to prayer) so that this tentative hope will become reality, God willing.

This connection began with my ministry placement (work experience) in this church’s charity shop and cafe. I was anxious, as always, of my ability to perform the daily domestic duties involved in the job. Indeed, the old inadequacies from my brief experience of employment swiftly returned; I am not time-efficient enough, not skilful enough, not enough of a “people person”. However, – praise God that we belong to such an unorthodox Kingdom – I believe in the silver lining to these negatives, never mind the fact that God neither requires nor expects any perfect performances from us, only our will to wait on His perfect timing in order to use our ineptitude. We know this, but it is worth reiterating as we too often forget. Words and actions I wish I had said and done or planned to say and do sooner and/or more skilfully (with more control) have a way of coming back around at a more opportune time, often providing a chance to benefit someone else (including this post, I trust 😉 ) which is far more fulfilling than filling-but-never-quite-filling-up yourself with some form of addictive, second-hand pick-me-up.  If I could only wait in quietness and trust for God-inspired moments, not striving to manufacture them myself by my own meagre abilities. On the other hand, I could focus on the task(s) at hand, performing as quickly and efficiently as possible in order to please my superiors, but I may miss a God-given opportunity (from my Ultimate Superior) to connect with the people around me – which, after all, is part of what makes life worth living. I could stay inside my own whimsical mind until home time, as I quite often do, serving merely on a surface level and avoiding that vital connection with others for another reason; fear of embarrassing myself.

I all too often have found myself frozen; speechless, motionless. I return to my default setting (I like the phrase “default cosmic sadness” coined by one of my inspirations, Andrea Balt), repeating mistakes I thought I’d previously learned from using a narrow-minded attitude or perspective; Simple mistakes such as worrying about the quantity of demands or tasks and the pace I am working, living, breathing at, rather than the quality of my service – and reflecting who I am serving other than and above those around me. I don’t mean to be but, my insecurities make me too closed-off and shy – even cold.

Therefore, in one sense, I do need to let this anxiety, this fear of ridicule and rejection go. However, how do I give up control and let the love and grace of God flow through me? HOW?

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Why can’t I just relax, laugh it off, not take life so seriously, wringing my hands (and my brain) over every little issue? Why do matters affect me as intensely as they do, or rather, why do I let them? Is it because of pride?

I think the only way for me to really let it go is, like Elsa (coincidentally, one of the other volunteers is called Elsa – I even watched her de-frost a freezer, irony I was sure to point out), to leave my constraints behind and live as I please, preferably in my own king- (Queen?)dom of isolation. I could belt out this Snow Queen’s anthem on a snowy mountainside to my heart’s content. I could build myself an impenetrable fortress, and inside, surround myself with ice statues, like I used to imaginary friends – and still do, I suppose, with my stories; with characters I can control and manipulate for my entertainment. Brrr. Not the case. I cannot say they respond to manipulation very well, unless to spite me. As the (mostly) good (some evil) residents of Storybrooke repeatedly remind each other, “All magic comes with a price”; my invisible friends’ price is simply attention and so I scribe whichever secrets they reveal to me. The flip-side of this coin I gave to them was that I would come to avoid looking real, tangible emotion in the eye, having been romanced by the lucid imaginary. I would forget what it is to love flesh and bone, and instead love ice and snow, how clean it keeps my hands. But the Intentional Ignorant is as guilty of wrong as the Instigator, and twice as foolish. As much as I cherish these friends, in this case, it is not much better to give than to receive; much better to give to my fellow humankind of the visible world. After all, Elsa has no Queendom without the people she was born to counsel and protect. Furthermore, however well-intended, such a selfish act (the seclusion, not the singing!) will still hurt loved ones in the process. Look at poor little Anna. Still, she never gave up on loving Elsa, and she forgave her, even after her sister hurt her almost irreparably. Perhaps, blood ties are so because there is a perfectly good reason why they should not be broken; blood is the only catalyst for salvation lest we be cast adrift on the ocean of our indifference – and then on the deserted island of delirium we claim and inhabit. In actuality, in solitude I would not be free. I would be even more prone to revert to my “smaller, territorial self” (another Andrea Balt-ism); that has certainly been the case whenever I have attempted to retreat from people before, guarding my boundaries with defensive protection. Acting on behalf of self is not to one’s own benefit. As it is said; “No man is an island”. Haven’t you always wanted to live in the tropical tree-house from Swiss Family Robinson, though?

Back off! It’s mine. (See, territorial – by the time this reaches you, I’ll be an unshaven cannibal roaming darkest Peru… or, at least, unshaven :-/ ) (Hey, we are talking liberation, folks – Don’t judge, it’s Winter.)

Similarly, one can relish the prospect of the gypsy lifestyle, never settling or putting down roots in one place, but of course other people would be needed to aid these travels in some capacity. When left to my own devices – to quote the band Bastille – many days fall away with nothing to show, and I too often become despondent and direction-less; lethargic; apathetic. Some discipline, some control is absolutely necessary. If I were to pander to my every whim, my interests would surely eventually neglect or even be to the detriment of someone else’s and upset the balance of mutual respect. It is of mutual benefit when we consider others before ourselves. When my personal struggles become my sole concern, detached from the greater struggle of humanity, that is when my shrunken microscopic view of the world becomes distorted, folding in on itself. We are a needy people, never satisfied when serving ourselves, never getting enough of anything to sate our indulgent desires; they are a bottomless pit. How true that it is much better to give than to receive. What a tragedy it would be to reach my final earthly ending having contributed little to the wider world community of which I too am a member, having wasted much of my good health, time, talents; having ROBBED the hungry, homeless, and deprived I could have helped. How often we need others – and others need us – to sharpen our senses, our awareness of whether what we are focusing on is a worthy receiver of our time and attention or if our energy would be better spent elsewhere, perhaps somewhere we were not aware or would not have considered previously. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17 (NIV)

If only navigating the minefield of communication did not also involve so many obstacles. Perhaps, I simply need to trust that others extend more grace than they may appear to. I wish people would mean what they say and say what they mean; I cannot keep up with this incessant sarcasm and how-close-is-too-close criticism disguised as “banter”, unless I have gotten that wrong too; sometimes I really cannot tell when people are joking and when they are serious. Even if it is “just a joke”, that should not always excuse it. Jokes made it permissible, even acceptable for me to criticise myself into a perpetual paranoid state of abashed self-judgement. I don’t know if I will ever recover from that, quite truthfully. It’s hard-wired in me – around me – now, like so many of us. I must remember that God can and does change lives, and that He does work with and through our flaws. He does not seek to eradicate each and every one of them, and much less expects us to. If I were not as reserved as I am in reality, perhaps I would not feel the need to be open in this way and therefore, potentially, relate to as many people as the World Wide Web offers.

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I am reminded of Once Upon A Time’s Emma Swan (google it) who becomes unrecognisable to her loved ones after becoming The Dark One. (She does this sacrificially, almost like Anna does for Elsa. How this works out for Emma I have yet to discover with the remainder of the fifth season.) This sounds like a curse but, in a way, it is liberating for her because she finds she has gained the confidence she has always lacked and lost her fear. However, those who love her can no longer provide her with the same love they used to and vice versa because her needs have lessened along with her character and theirs have not. She no longer (thinks she) has much need of nor use for faith, or hope. She holds the power, but has not love. She may have lost her fear but her family now fear her, and with good reason.

Therefore, besides some control, a little (natural, not man-made) fear is also necessary to everyone’s experience. It provides an opening for others to be helped through helping you and vice versa. It all joins together in The Weaver’s great tapestry.

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Therefore, this popular “Let It Go” adage – my favourite variation being “let go and let God” – does apply to carrying negative emotions and thought-patterns. However, how we implement letting it go should not solely free ourselves, but also empower others at the same time, in turn liberating us all the more. I suppose that is what a Church is, and does, because of Jesus’ loving sacrifice – and will hopefully do with/through me. How we fulfil our own needs seems to be the most ambivalent practice of all, and impossible to achieve, because only  Jesus can satisfy our souls. The act of receiving His salvation is not enough, either; we require continual spiritual renewal. I think the most fulfilled are those whose motivation (though not once, but daily) is this sacrifice of self for another’s/others’ well-being (though not usually through physical death!); a concept people are obviously still influenced by to this day, even in the secular world. I think this is part of what Jesus meant when He said, “Whoever finds” (NLT uses the word ‘cling’ – accurate indeed) “their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:39 (NIV) For “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40 (NIV)

I don’t think we can help it (or ourselves); it is how we are designed.

Excuse Me, can I please talk to you for a minute?

Allow me to introduce myself properly; my name is Judith Kerr (yes, like the children’s author and illustrator, which incidentally is what I have desired to become since the age of “what do you want to be when you grow up?”). However, in the virtual world I adopt various pseudonyms, not as much to protect my true identity as to reveal it, although I am simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the idea.

I would apologise for interrupting your day, but since my very birth prematurely interrupted my comfortable stay in my mother’s womb (ME, a human sloth with the tendency to cling – to both wistful possibilities and nostalgic notions) to become a twin-less Gemini, and Saturday’s child of late May Nineteen-Ninety-Four, rather than the fearless Leo of early August I should/would/could have been, this is me taking back some control.

Although, perhaps I should think of my premature birth as a head start; A head start on this thing that follows me around, ready and willing to – and does more often than not – consume me every time, every day I – more often than not – lag behind in this race we call life. And every time, every day it grows more and more difficult to outrun. I feel its soporific gravity reach for me, close its grasp, and pull me back and back, down and down deeper every time – pulling me under, because it’s true what people say; sometimes it feels like drowning, like water filling my lungs until I can no longer express, silence being my loudest scream. This liquid partition separates me from all others, until the thing must tire of tired me and releases its grip once more, until next time, leaving me to kick my own way back to the surface with burning lungs.

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Processed with MOLDIV

Processed with MOLDIV

This demon on my back I have accredited to time I suppose you could call my shadow, like that of Peter Pan – although traditionally he chased his and not the opposite. As a child, it confused me to see my shadow stretched out to look as though I were an adult. My shadow must have wanted to grow up sooner than I did – but again, that goes against the Peter Pan logic. Confusing.

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I must find a way to grow wings, so that I can fly above these constraints of the ground, and never have to run from my shadow again. I am not fit for this pursuit being the mere dust that I am, but then won’t my shadow also be able to fly? Perhaps all this talk of flying is foolish fantasy and I must learn to accept the limitations of my mere dust form. Maybe then my shadow will cease pursuing me, although it won’t need to, because I will have ceased running. Or what else does it want? Perhaps… (I know. I’m as confused as you are) perhaps, it is the other way around after all; I am the shadowy one and my pursuer is not a shadow at all, but the better me I want and need to be, to live as more than a shadow of myself. How can we become one and the same person?

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So now you know something of my struggle. I know I’m not alone. To paraphrase Plato, as many others have done before me, everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing of.

Good moments are only that; mere moments, fleeting in nature. We must always be propelling ourself towards the next good moment, and not shrink into a corner, back to the world, eyes squeezed shut in fear of the in-between. Trust me, the shadows lurking in the in-between only grow bigger then – bigger than you – and you can ignore them all you want, but that good moment can’t stay and won’t come back even if it could because it must make room for another to come along. If you don’t move towards the next moment, the shadows will (as they do) overshadow you and you will be stuck, cornered in that dark in-between place for as long as you try to hide from it. Just because you close your eyes, does not mean you’re invisible; that life will go away and stop happening to you; there’s no way (or opt) out but through. There is an inherent requirement within a human being for action, motion, kinetic energy. To remain immobile and stationary is to stagnate and stagnation is a poison. There is a reason this life has no pause button, but, sometimes, boy do I really wish I owned that Bernard’s watch.

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(Credit to @andreabalt and randomactsofwisdom on Instagram & Tumblr)

I am aware that I cling to past comforts, habits, familiarities in a futile attempt to attain some balance and stability, a firm hold or even foundation, and that my over-dependency on these has caused this foundation to crumble over time. Not only have I clung to these things of the past, but it feels as though they cling to me, afflicting me like a disease of the mind. Like the foolish man, I based myself upon a foundation of sinking sand and dust that blows away on the changing wind, rather than Christ the solid rock and all He has established with His Word of truth and life.

When family life unsettles us with illness and disharmony, peers reach the milestone of marriage so soon, and even younger siblings and relatives overtake us on our venture into maturity that is when we tend to either retreat or to push ourselves harder, and farther over the edge of the unknown. And I have the tendency to retreat. Could it be true what Kurt Vonnegut said, “We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down”? *gulp* Could it be time to take that leap of faith?

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During this grey in-between time of year, between old and new/past and future (as we always are), it can be all too easy to linger on the regrets, doubts and disappointments of the past year – past life – allowing them to diminish our capacity for wonder, our resolve to fix our eyes on hope for the year ahead. As they say, failure need not be failure if we learn from it, but thanks to the sinful curse of pride, we are hard-wired to respond more negatively than positively to failure if it goes against our egotistical intentions. For me, this year has been something of an undoing, with the need for change fully (I hope!) realised, urging me toward new life. After a prolonged season of hibernation, I am still between sleep and awake, (where, as Tinker Bell said, one can still remember dreaming) but I am finally waking up.

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“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

2nd Corinthians 5:17-21