On feeling useless

Today I got dressed and put a load of washing on. That’s pretty much it. Because today has been a bad day.
Today has been a day where the tightness in my chest feels like it’s suffocating me. That’s probably because it is.
Today has been a day where everything has been hard. It took an age to get dressed and another age to trek backwards and forwards to the washing machine with the tiny armfuls of clothes I could manage. All the things that good housewives are meant to do have been left undone. The house is messy, the kitchen surfaces dirty and it’s pizza for dinner.
Today I have felt useless.

It takes a complete reversal of our world’s view of things for me to feel like I mean something. There’s a reason that the elderly, the disabled and the unborn get ignored, or worse, treated as if they’re less than human. I’ve felt it. I’ve met people who don’t value me as much as they would a ‘normal’ person. I’ve conversed with people who would rather not walk with someone if it meant they had to walk more slowly. I’ve read articles by people who think it would have been better if I had not been born.
For them I am useless.

But you only have to take a quick look in the Bible to find that Jesus came for the lame, the blind, the elderly, the ill. Jesus spent time with those people. He cared for them in real ways. The gospel is for the ‘useless’ of this world. And if Jesus came for those ‘useless’ people then they can’t be all that useless after all. If Jesus came to create a kingdom and He chose the ‘useless’ people to fill it, then they must mean something to Him.

In the world’s sight, I may be useless but in my King’s sight, I am precious and I mean something. And that’s what truly matters.

On being different and not fitting in

I find that there are lots of hard things about being ill. But the one that creeps in and gets me just when I think I’m doing ok is the ‘being different’ one. 
In churches there are groups and boxes. You can fit into the children box, or the youth box, or the married box, or the single box, or the mummy box, or the blokes who go to the men’s breakfast box, or the women that work box. But where’s the box for me? Sure, in one way I fit into the married box but in that box there are the young married with careers, then the married with children, then the older marrieds. All the sub-boxes. And I feel left out. Where is the box for people who aren’t like other people?

The little voice in my head is good at showing me my differences. 
You don’t have a career.
You don’t have children.
You don’t have the things normal people have.
You don’t fit in.
You don’t belong here.

But that’s where the little voice in my head is so wrong. The church is for people like me. It’s for people who don’t fit the mould. It’s for people who feel as if there’s no box for them. The church is one big box labelled ‘People Who Don’t Fit.’ And Jesus is right there, the most Doesn’t Fitter of all.

Show me a normal person and I’ll show you someone with problems, someone who isn’t like anyone else, someone who at some point has been left out. I’ll show you someone who Jesus made a box for. 
Being different is hard, there’s no getting around it. But once you realise that we’re all different, once you realise that Jesus is different, it’s not so hard after all.

When…

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 battles

When ill people die the phrase that often gets thrown around is that the ill person has ‘lost their battle with their disease’. And I find that such a sad way of putting it. I know that’s often how it feels but it’s not the reality.

I think about death a lot. I suppose that’s pretty reasonable in my situation. After all, it’s coming soon. There’s no way out. 
All people die but Christians shouldn’t be scared of death. Death for us is not a sad ending. I love the way the Salvation Army put it. ‘Death is a promotion to Glory.’ For the soldiers of King Jesus, death is a great and wonderful promotion, death is winning the battle not losing it and death is the beginning of a party that will last forever.
I tell you this: I will not lose my battle. I will leave this earth having fought my battle and won it. I will not enter my Lord’s presence as a failure or a loser, but as a victor standing proudly alongside my King. The ultimate battle is fought and won. We just have to follow our King and he will help us win our small battles. And a victor’s crown is waiting for those who do.

And she said…

And she said, ‘I’ve been ill and weak for so long now. Surely this can’t be right.’

And her Father said, ‘ My power is made perfect in weakness. And you weren’t weak enough. Don’t worry. This is right. This is in My plan. I planned this just for you from before time. And My plans for you are good.’

~~~~~

2 Corinthians 12:9
Matthew 6:25
Jeremiah 29:11

The joining of worlds

It feels like a clash of worlds.

It’s a beautiful day. One that sings the song of Life so loudly. It’s a day where the Creator’s love for us is perfectly clear. 
‘Look,’ He says, ‘See the happy children playing in paddling pools, feel the warmth of the sun on your skin, hear the birds having the time of their lives, smell the heady scent of the flowers in bloom. Here is my Love for you. Here is a piece of Glory for you. Here is Beauty in abundance. Here I Am.’
But inside my body, the consequences of sin make themselves known. I am ill. Even on such a day as this. My Life song stumbles out of my mouth with halting breaths, quietly and slowly. And the Creator’s love feels so far away. He created this body, this frail, weak thing. Why? What was the point? And in the silence, in the confusion and in the questions, the answer comes.
‘Look,’ He says, ‘My power is made perfect in weakness. Here is my Love for you. Here is a piece of Glory for you. Here is Beauty in abundance. Just for you. Here I Am.’
For all the joy of a summer’s day, I can bring a greater smile to my Father’s face. For all my weakness, I have a great task. I am loved. I am made glorious. I am made beautiful. And I will strive to see the Glory in my weakness. As easily as I can see the Glory in the beautiful day. Because it is given to me and asked of me.
It feels like a joining of worlds. The glorious day and the glorious task. Made one through the Creator who calls all things to glorify his Name.

For Claire

I believe in life. I believe in hope. I believe in joy. And yet there are days when believing is hard. When the reality of sin and its consequences hit home in sad ways. Having an illness makes you feel the pinpricks of life often. There isn’t a day when I’m not reminded of illness and sadness, of pain and discomfort. And sometimes, some days I feel those pinpricks harder and bigger than before.

Today I learned of the death of a friend with Cystic Fibrosis. I didn’t know her very well but I knew enough to be amazed at her life, at her hope and at her joy. She fought for over 30 years, she ran the race and crossed the finish line into the arms of the Saviour she loved. She will have a new body one day, a body made perfect, a body with lungs that can breathe long and deep breaths, a body with energy enough to run marathons.

And I weep. Not for Claire. She has found Glory. But for her family and friends. For the fight they will have to believe in life and hope and joy. For my own struggles yet to come. And for my own fight to believe.

But in the sadness, the Life Giver is there. He knows the pinpricks. And he knows the nail wounds. And he tells me that life is eternal, that hope is here and that joy can be found. It’s our job to trust.

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.