On grace

Just over three years ago I was filling in application forms for my Blue Badge. It wasn’t the most pleasant of processes and I thought to myself, ‘At least I won’t have to do this again.’ I was pretty unwell and it seemed very unlikely that I would outlive my Blue Badge.
A few weeks ago my Badge was about to expire and so I sat down and filled out the forms for the second time.
And last month I celebrated the 10th anniversary of the day I was told that I’d probably live for another two to five years.

I’ll be honest, there have been several (OK, many) times throughout the last few years where I’ve thought that it would just be easier if I popped off (and it probably would have been). But here I am, 26 years old, with 22% lung function, able to live most of my life without extra oxygen and continually surpassing what I’m ‘meant’ to be able to do.

That, my friends, is called grace. God continues to be faithful and loving (despite how infrequently His plans for my life match up with my own!)
I am grateful indeed.


When running a bath makes me wonder if I have enough energy to get in it.

When taking something out of the freezer makes me need an half hour rest.

When I work hard to eat enough to keep me going and I just can’t keep it down.

When I watch my oxygen saturations drop and my heart rate rise.

When I phone the hospital in defeat and ask for an appointment as soon as possible.

Then I truly know that my life is not in my hands.

Again, I realise that I have no resources of my own to fall back upon.

Here is weakness.

Today I have nothing but my God.

On being helped

I love to help. I love to be the one that people come to when there’s a problem. I love the idea of cooking meals for people, driving people places, looking after their children and other great things.

I don’t love to be helped. I’m a very independent person. Doing things alone means a lot to me. I love being in control and getting things done.

Which means that the last year has been very difficult for me. Gradually I’ve found myself in the position of someone who needs to be helped. The help-ee, you might say. Family and friends bring us the odd meal and take me shopping, help clean our house and drive me places. It’s pretty hard. I always found it easy to be the helper but this new role is one that doesn’t fit me. It’s like putting on a new dress and realising that it’s too short and the sleeves are in the wrong place. It just looks stupid on me. I’m not the help-ee. This isn’t who I am. It ruins my own view of myself.

It takes a certain sort of grace to be helped. It requires a tearing down of pride. At times, I just can’t bear it. It feels as if everything is being taken away from me right down to my ability to cook and clean in my own home. After all, I should be able to do things for myself, right? Wrong.

I think I’m learning the real meaning of ‘The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.’ Sometimes I’m tempted to have a chat with the Almighty and set him straight: ‘You know, Lord, I’d much rather be able to do things for myself. I’ll trade back again. You can have your grace back and I’ll have my little independent world in order again. Thanks.’

But in my sane moments, the ones where I’m looking to my Lord, I realise that in the taking away itself there is a new giving. God never leaves you with nothing. That’s not His nature. When He takes something away he replaces it with something new and something better. Just like you’d expect from a ever-loving, gift-giving, cup-overflower like our God.

And so, my job is to pray, ‘Lord, thanks for the taking, thanks for the giving. And for now, give me ever more grace to be helped.’

Emma Scrivener’s ‘A New Name’

Words change us. Stories challenge us. And none more than those of hardship, pain, redemption and grace. And so as I sat down with Emma Scrivener’s new book, A New Name, I have to admit I was both nervous and excited.

Emma tells a gripping story. Unlike many books of its genre, this is a well-written book. Emma’s writing is simple but lovely, poignant and hard-hitting, with sparks of wit.

It starts out simply enough. Raised in a comfortable, safe, Northern Irish home, Emma was the good girl. She got the grades, obeyed the rules and did well. But the good girl eventually became controlled by her desire to be in control. Control comes in different forms for different people. For Emma, it came as anorexia. At thirteen, she began to fall into the trap.

I’m not familiar with anorexia. With the painful physical consequences Emma describes. With the sense of guilt that threatens to tear a person apart for thinking about eating a morsel of food. But I am familiar with some things. With the feeling of control when you are most out of control. With the false promises of an idol, whatever they may be. And with the realisation that there is only one way out. Perhaps that’s why I was drawn into the story. Because the spiritual story of anorexia is repeated in my own life.

But that’s not to lessen the physical and emotional story. Even reading it felt like a punch in the stomach. I’m not familiar with anorexia. But I understand it a little more now. I understand that anorexics don’t just ‘need to snap out of it.’ I understand that what looks like self-destruction to the outside world actually looks like self-deliverance to the inside person. And I understand that it’s a trap of lies upon lies. Hard. Painful. Enclosing.

After her first time/spell/bout (all of those words sound patronising but I really don’t mean to be that) of anorexia, Emma seemed recovered. But years later, after becoming a Christian, working for a church and doing theological training, she relapses.

        My ‘quick-fix’ recovery only confirmed the fears that had triggered my anorexia. It taught me this: my identity did depend on my weight. I was disgusting, and my mess was too much for others to handle. If I wanted to fit in, I had to bury my feelings. I had to perform. (p89)

It’s clear now. This isn’t just a body problem. It’s a heart problem too. Pages 82-85 hold a gem. Emma de-constructs the ‘gospel of anorexia’.

 This may sound archaic, especially if you’re not a churchgoer. But we’re all worshippers. The question is not if we worship; it’s what.
… As my eating disorder took hold, I was just as ‘religious’ as I’d always been. I was still trusting in God. The difference was that this god had a small, rather than a capital ‘g’. And surprise, surprise, it was a god that looked just like me. The god of performance, hard work, externals and rituals. A god that gave nothing of itself, but demanded everything in return.
…In the Bible, worship takes place in the context of a wider body where we are free to be ourselves and speak the truth in love. With anorexia, the opposite is true. I retreat into myself and cut myself off from relationships. I hide and I lie. I turn my hatred against myself and against anyone who comes close.
…At the centre of the Christian faith is Christ’s body and blood, broken and poured out for us… At the centre of the anorexic faith is another body, also broken… It is mine. And it is punished by me and for me.
… The gospel of anorexia isn’t good news at all. It is a system of works, of slavery, of self-salvation and self-destruction. It feels like heaven, but leads to hell. It is a religion, as powerful and addictive as any cult. (p83-85)

Those are my favourite bits but they are only part of a very impressive whole. I’d almost say that the book is worth buying for those 4 pages alone.

Emma is brutally honest. Sometimes I wanted to look away. There’s heart-rending descriptions of what pain and suffering looks like from the inside. Emma talks us through her deep emotions and thoughts as she falls further into anorexia. And we rejoice with her in her real account of her ‘revelation’ as she encounters the Lord Jesus and as he changes her, her marriage and her life.

One of the things that struck me most, was the way that God used ‘normal’ Christians, including Glen, her husband, to help and influence Emma. Walking through hard times with people is one of the most powerful and life-changing things you can do.

This is hard stuff. Don’t come expecting a happy, easy ride. Jesus isn’t the sugar dusting on the nicely-iced cupcake of life. He’s the one who wades into the bog and pulls a filthy, hurting person out. This book is Emma’s testimony. A story of the gut-wrenching reality of anorexia. And a testimony to the power of the risen Christ.

Words change us. Stories challenge us. And none more than those of hardship, pain, redemption and grace. I came to the end of ‘A New Name’ a different person. And for that, Emma, I thank you.

The Standard

It scares me sometimes. The responsibility I have. Sometimes celebrating Life seems hard. I strain to glimpse Glory and it seems as if nothing’s there. Sometimes I wake up and the world seems dark and the air chills me. And I want to stay in the warm burrow of my bed. When I’m there, no one expects things of me.

But the absence of expectation itself is dark and cold. My soul desires expectation. Nature and nurture gave me my standards and I have to live by them. Or feel empty and useless. And I try. I really do. We’re taught by the world that trying is enough. But the more I see of the world, the less I believe it. Aside from the fact that I believe in Grace, of course.

I find it amazing that people believe that trying is enough. ‘Trying doesn’t work,’ I want to cry, ‘Don’t you see all the people who have tried and failed?’ All the sad people, the ill people, the destitute people. They tried. It goes without saying that trying is good. But it’s simply not good enough.

And that’s why Grace is there. If we could have peace and fellowship with the Creator by trying, if we could truly celebrate Life without him, would he have sacrificed his Son? He has his standards too. They’re so much greater than mine that I can hardly even begin to grasp them. But I know they’re there. And I give thanks to God for his standards. I thank him because he is The Standard. And the more I look to The Standard, the more I see Grace.

On colds, worlds and Glory

I’m sitting on a chair in the living room. I’ve just got dressed. It was a huge effort, much bigger than it should have been. I can’t speak. At least, when I try to nothing more than a croak comes out. My ears are misbehaving so that sounds seem more distant than I know they really are. I feel like I’m in a different world. My own private world. It’s lonely and it’s me-centred.

I don’t imagine that anyone likes being unwell. No, me neither. For one thing, it’s so annoying. Doesn’t my body know that I have things to do? Surely worlds will stop when I’m not there doing my bit. I am very important. Or perhaps not. Perhaps everything will carry on without me. It seems to be doing fine while I’m here sitting on my chair.
Well, ok. Maybe life doesn’t stop. But what about my opinions? I can’t speak, can’t enter conversations. I have things to say, worlds to change by my words, people to influence. But maybe they’re better off without my words. Maybe more of my words tear down than build up.

Being ill comes as a sharp reality check. Even though I know that my plans for myself aren’t guaranteed, it’s always a bit of a shock when God’s plans are different. When I have to cancel those dinner plans. Miss seeing those people. Keep those thoughts to myself.
Being ill tears down the wall of pride and self-importance that I like to build. Oh, I’m pretty quick at building it but God breathes and it crumbles beneath his glorious plans. I don’t like to see it crumble. In fact, I get pretty cross about the whole affair. Sure, I know what I’m supposed to do. I know the thank you prayers I’m supposed to pray. But seeing my wall fall down hurts. Every time.
Being ill pushes me along the path to Glory. It’s not a gentle push. It’s more like a poke with a cattle prod. I often try to resist it but, God be praised, he’s a lot stronger than I am.

I say this stuff. I believe this stuff. But I’m not sure that before I’m made new and perfect, before I meet Jesus I’ll even begin to really understand this. But as I sit here on my chair, I don’t have to understand it. I know that Glory is coming, and I’m getting a preview right now.

Being Saved From Morbid Introspection

One of the things that I struggle most with is not feeling busy enough. I try not to mention it to other people too often since it’s a) not a common struggle and b) one that people actually want to have. But for me it’s a struggle. One of the biggest problems is that I’m usually teetering along the edge on the chasm called Morbid Introspection and when I don’t have enough to do, I fall in. Some people like to poke around in other people’s dirty linen. I like to hang my own out, have a look at it, stress over it and then put it away without washing it. And I don’t have to tell you that this is not healthy .

For me, it’s fairly easy to see the sins in my own life but very hard to deal with them. I just sit and look at the big pile of sins in front of me and get all sad about how horrible I am, depressed about how I’ll never be worth anything and then get distracted by something else and forget for a bit before I walk into the big pile again and it starts over.

Part of this is a self-worth thing. Not that I need a good opinion of myself but I’ve obviously forgotten God’s opinion of me. That’s a really stupid thing to do. Yes, I’m horrible, no, I’ll never amount to anything by myself but Jesus is amazing and I’ll amount to something through him. That’s what counts.

Grace really does save my daily life. Imagine just how awful it would be if there was no antidote to my periods of Morbid Introspection. I’d be stuck thinking about myself forever. But instead I get to think about Jesus. And know that because of him I don’t need to stress about my pile of sins. He’s pretty good at clearing things up around here.

6 months.

New world, new people, new purposes. A lot changed six months ago as we said ‘I will.’ 2 little words changed us, changed our lives, changed our identities. And it’s a lot to get to grips with. Six months in, I still haven’t got it. Maybe it’s because I’m a slow learner, I’ll be the first to admit that. Maybe it’s because these changes are hard. Or maybe it’s because these changes never really stop still, never give you a minute to get used to them.

There have been hard changes. I always knew that would happen. I sat in a hospital room with a wall between me and my husband. A wall of physical pain and emotional pain with the question Why? written all over it in capital letters. I watched relationships change and knew that I’d never be able to get the old ones back. I had my daily schedule interrupted, my habits questioned and my property shared. Petty, perhaps, but still harder than you might think.

But I’ve tasted goodness in new ways. God pronounced his creation to be very good. And so do I. This thing works. We’re still babies. We can’t colour in the lines. We can’t look after ourselves. We can’t even walk without falling over. But we’re growing. We’ll never get there, whatever ‘there’ might be, but we’re noticing the growing and that counts. I believe in God’s grace now more than ever. I understand Jesus’s death now more than ever. I feel the Spirit working now more than ever. In just six months.

It’s funny how you think you know what’s coming and yet what actually comes is so different and so much more glorious than you thought. It’s funny how small our minds are. I’ve been given a glimpse of something more and something greater. I’m living this bride thing in a more tangible way than I was. And the beauty of it scares me. How can I do this? This bright, beautiful, wonderful, pure thing? And yet the very one who asks me to be his bride helps me to become his bride. I see love lived out in front of me and it helps me become lovely. I see purity lived out in front of me and it helps me become pure. I see strength and kindness and laughter and weeping and prayer and in those things I am changed.

It is a new world. I have a new calling. I’m to be a new person. I have a new person to die for and a new one to live for. I’m to breath a new breath of life and live it out. Here I am.

Thank you, David.
I love you.

Reason to breathe

As I’ve got more ill over the past few weeks it’s been more difficult to breathe. Sometimes I just sit and have to concentrate on breathing in and breathing out. I’ve got to admit, at times like these it’s hard to believe that there’s a reason for all this. I’m pretty sure there is but it sure ain’t fun.

People often ask me how I stay positive or how I keep going. My answer is that there is no choice. I can’t just give up. I have to keep going and I may as well be positive about it most of the time.

Having said that, there are times when the last thing I feel like doing is being positive. Especially over the last 2 weeks as I’ve been back in hospital. I’ve had times when I’ve been so angry at everything, at my illness, at my pathetic lungs, at my lot in life and, yes, even at my God for allowing this all to happen. At least, for allowing this to happen to me. It’s easy to feel sorry for someone else when they’re ill but then you move on with your life and it doesn’t actually affect you that much. But when it’s you, that’s a whole different thing. And you have big questions that you think deserve answers right here, right now. And not getting those answers is hard. Really hard. But you have to keep going. You have no choice. You can’t just give up. And you may as well be positive about it.

And so when I sit there struggling to breathe, I need to remember that Jesus has been here first. That he struggled to breathe because he was dying on a cross for the sins of other people. That it was part of the plan for him and it sure wasn’t fun. And that I’m struggling to breathe because I too am part of that great plan. No, I’m not dying for the same reason but I can still stand with Jesus and say, ‘Father, not my will but yours be done.’ And I can say that knowing that his will is far greater and better than mine. I don’t know why right now but someday I will and I have no doubt that I’ll look back and exclaim with wonder and joy, ‘THAT was my reason to breathe.’

The Valley of Vision

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,
Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see Thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold Thy glory.
Let me learn by paradox that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.
Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells the brighter Thy stars shine;
let me find Thy light in my darkness,
Thy life in my death,
Thy joy in my sorrow,
Thy grace in my sin,
Thy riches in my poverty,
Thy glory in my valley.
             ~ Arthur Bennett