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.’

On easy living

Call me strange, but I struggle with having an easy life.

I know, I know, my life doesn’t look that easy. But after a bad spell even the simplest things make my life easier. Being able to get up in 2 hours instead of 3 or 4. Not feeling ill all the time. Having a bit of energy to have people to visit or chat on the phone. Not being tired and thinking about bed all day long. Tiny things they may be but they make a big difference. And the difference they make is not just one of a slightly easier practical life but one of a slightly harder spiritual life.

The thing is, when I have quiet after my storm, when I have downhill strolls after my uphill hike, I slip, quickly and easily, into dissatisfaction. I have time and energy to think about the things that my life is missing. I notice the differences between my life and other people’s. I begin to think that things would be better if only I had a baby, a career, a long life expectancy, or whatever that day’s gripe might be.

You see, when I’m in a hospital room or sitting in our flat able to do nothing, I have to run to God. There’s no other way. When things are hard, it’s obvious we can’t do it alone. When illness pervades my life and my mind can only focus on one thing, it fixes on my Lord.

And that’s why David and I sit on our sofa in the evening and thank our Father for the trials and the hardships. That’s why we feel a little scared when we’re thrust into the world of easy living. And that’s why, in a strange, the-world-wouldn’t-understand kind of way, we look forward to our next lesson. No, we’re not being masochistic or martyr-like. We’re just learning lessons. And right now we’re realising that the best place to be is focusing on God and it’s worth whatever it takes to get there.

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.

Waiting here

On Sunday evening I thought I might be going to meet my King. But He said no. Apparently there’s more for me here. And when I look into my husband’s eyes, I know that it’s right. When I read emails from my sisters, I know that I need more time. And when I realise what such a thing would be to my parents, I’m glad  I’m still here.

But this is not the story I planned. This isn’t the 2.5 children, nice house, easy life that I wanted. I have no answers. What is going on?

I know there are good things even in the pain. And I know there are great things ahead. But still, when I wake up at night, I just want to say, ‘Lord, why? Why is this story for me?’

I had a shower today. My first in a few days. Disgusting, I know. But today I managed to stay off oxygen long enough. And I feel clean and happy. A lot cleaner and a lot happier than I do after my usual daily shower. The thing is, when you get really messy, getting clean again is glorious. That’s the way the world works. Loving makes pain worth it, like joy makes sadness worth it and emptying a full bladder makes needing the loo worth it. You laugh, but you know what I mean.

It’s ok to cry. It’s ok to come before the throne and ask what’s going on. Faith doesn’t mean blindly accepting. Faith involves grieving and pain. Faith involves hurting and asking, pleading and screaming.

‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

But faith knows there is an answer. Because faith trusts in a promise. And in the midst of the questions and the weeping, faith whispers:

‘Your will be done.’

Self made tombs

Good morning.

Sunshine? No.
Clouds? Decidedly yes.
Rain? In the foreseeable future.

In Hollywood it’s sunny. Well, either that or the air is filled with big fluffy white snowflakes, perfect for settling on some cute girl’s eyelashes. I’ll allow for some rain, as long as it’s torrential rain that makes for a romantic moment. But next thing, we’re back on with bright, warm sunshine.

I live here. I live in a world where mosquitoes and wasps exist. I live in a world that comes with an 18 certificate. I live in a world where hospital dramas are real, not scripted, cleaned up and wrapped in nice box sets.
A world that does have sunshine sometimes. A world with laughter. A world with daisies and roses. A world with a million books waiting to be read.

Yet I find myself looking at the bad. I find myself building my own tomb. A tomb of bad memories and fear of ones yet to be made. And I look out at the sunshine and the laughter, the daisies and the books from within my self made tomb. And as I do so I watch the death of my life. As I shut out the good and find it easier to focus on the bad, the spark dies.

And so I call out. Is anyone there who can help? I don’t want to be here. I want to be there, out in the sunshine, laughing with my family and friends.

And then I see it. At first it’s just a shadow but as my eyes strain to see it more, as I want it more, the outline of a figure becomes clearer. He walks nearer, rolls the stone of my carefully constructed tomb away, takes my hand and leads me into the sun. And as long as He’s holding my hand, I can’t go back. Sure, I’ll try to. Sunlight makes me blink and shows me cobwebs. But the more I look at Him, the tighter my grip becomes. That’s how I want it to be.

Small hard things

I sit on my sofa staring out into the world. I see the vivid green of the overgrown lawn. I see the tiny, moving specks of black that are flies hovering over plants. I see the great dark silhouette of a bird of prey. I see the darkening clouds fast approaching. All parts of life.

There’s a wasp in the room with me. He flies back and forth, crashing repeatedly against windows in his desperation to escape. After every crash, he flies back into the big, open space of our sitting room, braces himself and tries again. He sees something better. He wants more. I’ll try not to be offended that he doesn’t seem to enjoy my hospitality.

I sit on my sofa listening to the world. I hear the deep rumble as a train approaches the nearby station and the almighty clatter as it passes through. I hear the slam of a car door as our neighbour returns from her working day. I hear the rustle of the leaves as the wind teases them playfully. All parts of life.

And I am here, alone. Quiet. Peaceful.

Sometimes I like to be alone. There’s beauty and simplicity in a day spent quietly alone. Running errands, clearing up and cleaning, reading, sewing, sitting, thinking, seeing, listening, being. That’s the introvert in me. But at other times the extrovert, tiny little girl that she is, fights her way through and asks to be with people. And at those times, on those days, being alone is a hard thing.

There’s a whole lot of my life that is made up of easy things. Maybe that’s why I notice the hard things and feel them keenly. But it’s ok to notice hard things and to feel hard things. God gives us hard things and expects them to be hard. If they weren’t then they’d be easy things. Doh. And while easy things are good, they don’t help you to do much growing.

Speaking of hard things, I should go and make dinner. Don’t laugh at me. Cooking day in, day out, is a hard thing for me. Hard things can be small. Don’t worry if you find small things hard. It’s ok. That’s fine. But keep at them. Come on, let’s face the hard things together. Jesus is here too. He’s good at hard things.

But first, I’ll just let out that wasp.

Look up and look out

‘Be careful what you pray for because it might just happen.’
It’s true. Answers to prayer come in ways that I was never expecting. And often they’re extremely annoying ways. I pray for patience and end up in hospital. I pray for strength and have a diabetes scare. I pray for joy and watch as another part of my world comes crumbling down.

Life is a battle. It’s hard down here in the trenches. It’s hard fighting for your life every day. Fighting for joy. Fighting for hope. Fighting for strength. That’s the thing about being in the trenches. It’s hard to look up and see out over the battlefield. But it’s vital.

Come with me. I need you to see something. You stand on my shoulders, then I’ll stand on yours. Look out, up above the trenches, over the muddied field. Look out past the old, wooden cross. Do you see that flash of white? Do you hear that sound? That’s our King, that’s our Captain. He’s on his white horse, his sword’s in his mouth and his crown is firmly on his head. That’s the sound of the armies of heaven following him. That, my friend, is the sight and sound of victory.

It should be easier to fight when the victory has been won. But often it doesn’t seem like it. And that’s because I forget to look up. I forget the glory. I forget the honour. And I forget how God answers prayer. Just ask Jesus. Not my will but yours. But be careful praying that because it might just happen.

The joys of blue nail varnish

It’s 10.15am. I’m sitting in the lounge area of a local old people’s home waiting for the lady I’m visiting to finish dressing.

For a while, all is quiet, save for the ticking of an old grandfather clock in the corner of a room. And then all at once, several old ladies and gentlemen come in and I stand up. This, you see, is coffee time and one and all are eager for their mid morning beverage. They are various ages and in various degrees of ill health.

One tiny, well dressed lady catches my eye. At least, the flash of bright blue on her fingernails does. She smiles at me and apologises for the amount of time it’s taking her to walk past me. I smile back and on an impulse tell her that I love her brightly coloured nails. With a sweet smile, she leans her head close to mine and whispers to me.

‘I do it to shock, you know. Most people think it’s disgusting!’ 

She laughs a child’s giggle and continues on her way. I go back to my chair with a smile on my face, filled with a ridiculous happiness. Oh, the joys of blue nail varnish. 

Life given from the Life Giver

Some days it seems as though Life has been stolen from me. Taken away in different ways. I won’t live long. The average life expectancy for a person with cystic fibrosis is 31. My prediction isn’t even that good. And while that is a hard thing, it still feels like a distant thing. My struggle right now is in the fact that I can’t give life. I can’t live life for long and I can’t give life. Yes, yet again, this comes back to motherhood. Or the absence of it.

I had a dream. I had a little girl. But at 8 hours old she passed away. Even in my dreams life is taken from me. I woke up, knelt on the floor and wept. I cried out to the Life Giver. ‘Why? Your Gospel is about Life. How can I be living something so contrary to your Gospel. It seems so empty. So foolish. So void. You give Life. You give abundantly to others. Why not me? I feel like I’m living Death. I wake up breathless, clinging onto life. I fill my body with chemicals in the morning to help it through the day, and in the evening to help it through the night.’

Yet my life is not my body. My true Life is my soul. I will live forever because that was the plan of the One who made me. He didn’t make my body to last. My body will stop working, perhaps before yours, perhaps after. Who knows? Calmness overwhelms me. The tumult of my soul over something as small as my body seems crazy in the grand scheme of things. What’s made to last, will last. My everlasting parts need not worry over the decay of my passing body. God creates, he breathes Life into beings. And the true Life lives on. God’s plan.

My body matters. It’s ok to weep over hard life, over lost life, over life that will never be. Jesus wept. But looking forward helps me. It helps me to see true Life. The Life that never ends. And I have that. It’s a gift from the Life Giver. And no one can take that from me.

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.