On trials and joy

Back in hospital.

Back being ill.

Back with things being tough.

But to be honest, though my heart sank when I realised I was getting not so well again, a tiny bit of me felt relieved. You see, I really do struggle spiritually when things get easy and nothing kills my love of gospel like a smooth life.

I’m not trying to be super pious. But these feelings excite me. Perhaps this is what walking along the road of James 1:2 looks like. Maybe this is what it means to count it joy when I meet trials of various kinds.

There’s a part of me that loves the easier life and not a day goes by when I don’t wish for a ‘normal’, healthy, 2.5 children, live long with my husband set up. But the thing is, if I really, deep down, want things to get easier, I know I should just stop praying that we become more faithful, more loving and more like Jesus. And if I look at it that way, it becomes so obvious.
His way is best.
Simple as that.

The School of Pain

I used to go to a bright school
Where Youth and Frolic taught in turn;
But idle scholar that I was,
I liked to play, I would not learn;
So the Great Teacher did ordain
That I should try the School of Pain.
One of the infant class I am
With little, easy lessons, set
In a great book; the higher class
Have harder ones than I, and yet
I find mine hard, and can’t restrain
My tears while studying thus with Pain.
There are two Teachers in the school,
One has a gentle voice and low,
And smiles upon her scholars, as
She softly passes to and fro.
Her name is Love; tis very plain
She shuns the sharper teacher, Pain.
Or so I sometimes think; and then,
At other times, they meet and kiss,
And look so strangely like, that I
Am puzzled to tell how it is,
Or whence the change which makes it vain
To guess if it be Love or Pain.
They tell me if I study well,
And learn my lessons, I shall be
Moved upward to that higher class
Where dear Love teaches constantly;
And I work hard, in hopes to gain
Reward, and get away from Pain.
Yet Pain is sometimes kind, and helps
Me on when I am very dull;
I thank him often in my heart;
But Love is far more beautiful;
Under her tender, gentle reign
I must learn faster than of Pain.
So I will do my very best,
Nor chide the clock, nor call it slow
That when the Teacher calls me up
To see if I am fit to go,
I may to Love’s high class attain,
And bid a sweet good-bye to Pain.
~ Susan Coolidge
When I was little, I used to love the What Katy Did books where the above poem can be found. As with so many things, I’ve wanted to adapt it slightly so that it becomes more grace filled than reward based but there’s still a whole host of things that have been helpful to me and that I’m grateful for.
I love metaphors. I love pictures. I love different ways of understanding reality. And I love the idea of a School of Pain and Love. Because life is about learning. And I just can’t stop learning, even if I wanted to. The Great Teacher is everywhere. His lessons are all around. I can learn in the quietness and stillness of a sleepless night. I can learn in the hustle and bustle of a tube train. I can learn in the laughter and joy on my nephew’s face. And I can even learn in Hospital Room 16.
And that’s where I’ve been. On my own little intensive course. The Teacher sent me off. Away from the comfort of my home and my husband and into a new environment with new and harder lessons. I know I haven’t learned the lessons that He has for me. But I’ve made a start. My handwriting’s still messy. I still can’t walk in a straight line. And you should see the way I mispronounce words. But over the course of 16 days in Room 16, I’ve begun learning lessons that last.
I’ve learned that a hospital room doesn’t have to be a place of spiritual barrenness. I’ve struggled with that in the past. They are some of the places that I’ve felt most alone. But it isn’t good for people to be alone. And so God showed himself to me in Room 16 and I knew I was truly loved. I’m not a very emotional person, the emotional capacity of a teaspoon is the way my family often describe it. But I cried more than once because I knew that my Father was with me right there in Room 16. 
I’ve learned to give thanks for small blessings. They’re always there, these small blessings. Even if they come in the form of having an IV line in my left arm instead of my right. Or being able to bless people in little ways – nurses like to be smiled at, cleaners like to be chatted to, catering staff like to be thanked.
I’ve learned the power of prayer. I had an inbox full of emails from people saying that they were praying. Some of the things we were praying for got answered with a no. But the power of prayer isn’t just about getting a yes. It’s about being able to ask in the first place. It’s about the joining of hearts and minds asking that God’s will be done. It’s about the encouragement that knowing people are praying can bring. And it’s about the privilege of talking to the King.
I’ve learned to say thank you. My thank you prayers are often hollow. But I thanked God for the suffering and meant it. I’m learning the joy that comes with saying, ‘Your will be done.’ Joy can be found in the strangest and hardest of places. But it’s worth it. 
I’m not perfect. Far from it. So far from it that God sent me to Room 16. I’m grumpy. I’m ungrateful. My refrain is often, ‘It’s not fair.’ I’m short-sighted. Don’t be fooled into thinking anything else. God is love. And I’m the loved. Wonderful, crazy love.
I need to keep learning these lessons. I know I have many intensive courses in my future. It may not be Room 16 but it’ll be somewhere. And right here, right now that scares me. But the lessons I began to learn in Room 16 are true. They are hard. They are big. But they are the lessons that my God has for me. And I’m here, with tears in my eyes and a smile on my face, learning them.

It gets harder…

It’s always a sign that things aren’t going well when the baby steps you take get even harder. Foetus steps isn’t a phrase and there’s a good reason for that! Marathons get harder and feel longer when you slow up.

Things took a turn for the worse in our house recently. It was pretty grim. It ended with a GP’s visit, a hospital appointment and a hospital bed. We found out a couple of days ago that if we hadn’t gone through the GP and had a hospital appointment, I would have been put onto a 5 week long waiting list. God never ceases to amaze.

And yet it makes me so ashamed that when God was sorting out my not having to wait for 5 weeks, I was complaining. ‘God, why am I so ill? What is this? Can’t we just have a year of marriage when things go smoothly? Ok, 3 months? Even better, just take CF away, Lord. I don’t want it. It’s not fair, surely you can see that.’ I’m called to trust in the small things and so often I’m blind and so often I’m ungrateful.

This little bout of illness has done two things, taken me into two phases.
The first is the realisation that life will never again be easy. I used to think it was. But I’m older now, a tiny bit wiser. And I know. I know when things aren’t going well. I know when life gets harder.
The second is the realisation that life will never be as wonderful as what’s coming. I watch people having babies and it hurts. Look at the King, Ruth. Look at his Glorious Kingdom. That’s where you’re going. Now go and have fun playing with the baby. I watch people playing sports and having fun and it hurts. Look at the King, Ruth. Look at his Glorious Kingdom. That’s where you’re going. Now go and have fun being a cheerleader. I watch people advancing in careers and it hurts. Look at the King, Ruth. Look at his Glorious Kingdom. That’s where you’re going. Now go and have fun listening to people’s stories and encouraging them.

There’s a reason we’re told that God does all things for our good. It’s because it’s true. And in tiny ways I’m being allowed to see this truth. Come and look through the cracks in life with me. Light seems brightest when it’s shining through a small crack. Walk into its glare and you’re dazzled. Better yet, sit down in the ray and bask in the warmth and light of our Father’s choices for us.

There’s a lot I can’t do. I can’t run, some days walking is hard. But I will outrun my illness. For now I can run metaphorically into the arms of my Saviour. I look forward to the day when I will physically run into Glory taking deep gulps of breath. And maybe even yell ‘Hooray!’ at the same time.

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

Servant leadership – a real life example

We talk and hear about servant leadership a great deal. I was listening to a sermon about it only the other Sunday.
I’ve been in hospital for the last two weeks and, when I’m there and I can, I go to St Paul’s, the Holy Trinity Brompton plant at Onslow Square. I very much enjoy it there especially because they have great music. But I digress. On that Sunday I took Esther along and we heard this sermon on servant leadership. We got back to the hospital and didn’t talk about it much more. Halfway through the afternoon we heard a knock on my door and a small old lady came in. She introduced herself as Margaret, one of the members of the hospital chaplaincy team. I wasn’t meant to go out of my room unless I was going outside the hospital building so wasn’t able to make it to the hospital service and so Margaret gave me a prayer card and assured me that they would pray for me at the service. She then left and Esther remarked on what a sweet lovely person she was. I asked Esther if she knew who that was and Esther replied that she didn’t. I told her that that sweet lovely old lady was in fact Professor Margaret Hodson, lead Cystic Fibrosis Professor in the UK and that she volunteered for the hospital chaplaincy service on Sundays.
Servant leadership indeed.