Healing

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Soaring not Striving

So is this really healing that is happening in my life?

Well, certainly God is doing a work in my heart, in my deepest place of me-ish-ness, which has enabled me to live in a place of peace and rest, stillness and smiles that I have never inhabited before.

As a result my life is not characterised by hiding away in fear – looking around nervously for escape routes. I am no longer living in a state of flight or fight mode, phobic of waking up to face another scary day in which I wouldn’t be good enough and in which others wouldn’t be able to make up for my failures.

Yes, life is full of mess – but now I can let messy people into the mess and messily love them there. And when your aim is to love, failure is taken out of the equation. And when failure is taken out of the equation a lot of the fear goes. And when the fear goes my need to be in control decreases. In an agenda of love rather than fear it is much easier to manage my need for order. Previously when fear had snatched the reins of my life every detail of disorder pained, distracted and tired me. When love, in the context of grace, is your aim then giving the situation to God and seeing where he takes it (5 loaves and fish come to mind) is simply much more peaceful.

In these words from the hymn Blessed Assurance:

“Perfect submission, all is at rest, I in my saviour am happy and blessed….”

When I try to give people me and my perfect handling of a scenario – a set piece as it were – then I am full of fear and tighten my grip on whatever I am doing. When I aim to give love I seem to be able to go with the flow (all be it in a very me-ish way!).

A good spell before was a season in which I managed to juggle everything really well – keeping on top of things and feeling relatively in control. But of course there always came a time when I dropped a ball – for whatever reason. Even when I felt I was winning there was always a sense that I was only just outrunning a monster that would eventually catch up with me. And when he did I would drop everything and hide.

Now the monster and I are jogging partners! I have stopped trying to outrun life.

If life is like a trip from the laundry basket to the washing machine – arms slightly too full and a trail of dirty socks and pants left behind you – I have stopped feeling the need to bend down while my arms are still overflowing with washing and pick up everything along the way.

The secret of my well-ness is not that I am now better at coping, but that life doesn’t constantly feel like something that needs to be coped with. I am not chasing after an equilibrium at the end of my to do list that simply doesn’t exist.

This means that not feeling on top of things has become normal and acceptable! A crazy day or set of unusual challenges does not cost me the emotional fortune it would have previously. It doesn’t deplete me or send me into a panic. I don’t pay for it the next day, nor the next. I process it as I go along, let go of things when my hands get too full and avoid looking back over my shoulder.

I am still me and I need to apply the wisdom I have gained over the years in managing my emotional energies, No doubt there is much still to learn and many things that will still manage to floor me.

BUT something has changed. In one sense virtually overnight, but in another sense very slowly over years and years of healing since our son’s death [and in all probability just the lifelong struggle of being a broken me in a broken world].

Over the past 12 years I have prayed and read and planned and processed. I have written and prayed and learned; reflected and prayed some more. I have read about grief and depression, anxiety and fear, contentment and trust and while I have learned much these lessons have hovered slightly out of easy reach.

But just recently I have learned – and when I say learned I don’t mean intellectually, but deep in the very depths of who I am – the very simple and yet profoundly wonderful truth that God is completely good – not just in the abstract – but personally completely good to me and that my heart is truly safe with him. I am completely loved, with no expectations on me whatsoever. I am just loved – plain and simple.

And all those other lessons which seem to have been stored away in some sort of very hard to access holding area seem to have poured into my HQ like marbles clunking noisily, but pleasingly, one by one through a funnel in a marble run.

Who knows what will happen as the winter continues and the sunshine of summer is still far off – but I do think there has been a shift in my mental health and it is linked to my trust in God. “You will keep her in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because she trusts in you.”

Basically I am not so afraid of life any more – it is liked I have finally turned on the light and seen that the shadow lurking in the corner is not the menacing beast that I thought it was, but just a coat on a chair casting a funny shadow. And take away the fear and much of the urgency, perfectionism and panic goes with it – because the realities of life are no longer the enemy. Take away the perfectionism and the constant fight with life and the anger goes. Take all of that away; and failure and human error – both yours and other people’s – become acceptable, unsurprising and non-threatening. Take all that away and life is a LOT less tiring. And before you know it love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control find some space to grow.

Phew – that was a bit of a … not a rant, but the positive version of a rant – a rave perhaps? Thanks for putting up with that – it was good to put it down.

Church Tent-sions

As my regular readers will know, my recent focus in this blog has been on my mental health and parenting.

But what of church life?

The sad truth is that the congregations of the churches where my husband in the vicar are dwindling. The rotas and committees and structures are slowly collapsing.

If our churches were tents – this is what they would look like:

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So what’s gone wrong?  

Well of course that’s a huge question with lots of different answers. It is also a question that I care passionately about, that has massive implications for our ministry and our family, but that I have little structural ‘right’ to comment on / have an opinion on amongst those with the power to do anything about it.

Which means I’m going to tell you all about it and then I can at least imagine that someone is listening!

So here’s what I think lies behind (or underneath!) our saggy tent…

The visible church in area has basically lost its central pole – cultural religiosity.

For a very long time this pillar of religion has done a ‘good’ job of holding things up – and an even better job of disguising the spiritual reality – but it is well and truly gone now and we ‘suddenly’ find ourselves standing in a tent being held up by the tallest person’s head.

Why suddenly? Because, whilst the societal norm of going to church twice a Sunday and giving to the church regularly (if not necessarily cheerfully) is long gone, the residual ‘benefits’ of that have lasted much longer. The pole has gone on functioning relatively ‘well’ whilst those residual effects have remained, masking the structural decay going on behind the scenes. For a long time there has been a large and active generation of people who grew up in a strongly religious culture and for whom it was still their norm. In addition their children were still quite heavily influenced by the culture their parents had grown up in – all be it a bit diluted by their own cultural norms. Christmas and Easter, harvest, remembrance, baptisms and confirmations still drew a crowd and filled the coffers and gave us a sense of strength and purpose.  There was still a sense of connection with church (if not commitment and belonging) that kept people giving – if not on a Sunday morning, or in a regular way – at least at the church fund raisers.

But it was just a matter of time. Now we two generations on from that and it is the influence of great-grandparent’s that we are relying on – an influence that is inevitably diluted by the generational gap and which is competing with new cultural norms that are increasingly distant from even the most nominal Christianity. Not only does the average person not have much of a sense of connection to the church, but they are more and more likely to find its teaching and existence at best alien and at worse offensive. Add to that the increasing pressure on everyone’s time and it is a long shot to expect even the sympathetic to show up. 

At the same time the stalwarts are struggling – in so many ways. Their numbers, health and strength are diminishing. They are at ‘best’ very discouraged, and at worst increasingly ashamed of the cultural norms they used to cherish and confused as to what they should be holding on to and what they can let go of.  

Today it is as though in each of our tents there is an ever decreasing team of people left desperately holding their hands up high to stop the tent collapsing completely. Which is a scary, tiring, heartbreaking job! But one that it is very hard to stop doing. No one will change or move a muscle in fear that the whole thing will collapse. The idea of those of us remaining gathering in just one tent is not to be contemplated. So the plan seems to be for everyone to keep going until they can’t keep going. And who knows (and in some cases who cares) what then?

I thought that what these tents needed was a better tent pole. A gospel pole. I thought this pole would be tolerated, perhaps even welcomed by some. But it has largely been rejected. It has been sidelined to the bits that ‘don’t matter’ (small groups, evangelism, school’s work…”because in 300 years time our small groups will have nothing to show for them, unlike the building which will still be standing”) Even there in the corner of visible church life the gospel is unwelcome to those who control the frame of the tent. Key holder-uppers have abandoned their post to get away from its offensive presence and those who remain are even more antagonistic, even more committed to their ever decreasing pole of religion.

And so we have a very saggy visible church!

And who gets the blame? That dangerous gospel pole and those dreadful people who insisted on trying to strengthen the church with it.    

So what shall I do? Pray and love and trust. Repent and serve faithfully, hand over each betrayal, each thwarted opportunity, and of course if all else fails – just smile and wave!

Dear God, I can’t imagine what sadness our church must bring you. It is not a pretty picture – and I’m not talking about the lack of numbers, and money, but the lack of love and unity. I’m sorry for my part in its ugliness. For my impatience and lack of love, for my arrogance and for my lack of trust and prayer. I’ve been sighing over this in despair rather than breathing in your strength and breathing out my need to fix it all. I have been testing you in my heart by not trusting you in my heart. I have been cross and unloving and ill at ease. I have been panicking rather than praying, accusing rather than loving. May there always be a light in my eyes and a smile on my lips because of you! Help me Lord. In Jesus’ name, Amen.       

 

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Exploring Life Post Depression

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Soaring not Striving

Before I begin, please let me apologise for the reduced and sporadic nature of my posts recently. In the past this has often been linked to a low spell in my life – happily, on this occasion, it is not my low mood squashing my musings, but various commitments linked to a possible new venture the NTV and I are considering for us a family. 

Returning to the matter in hand….

I recently published a post entitled: ‘Post Depression?’

This sat nicely with me as a handle for a blog post given previous references to post natal depression and post primary depression – but is there more to it than a nifty link?

Is there really such a thing as life post depression? Mental illness is nothing if it isn’t complicated, multifaceted and a bit of a mystery – even to the people with really big brains. Can you really recover from it as you would pneumonia or a broken leg? Come to think of it even physical injuries and diseases often leave their mark, a risk of return, a vulnerability – how much less confident can we be that someone’s depression can be ‘all better’?

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Part of the difficulty, as I mentioned above, is that because we don’t really understand the various dynamics at play it is hard to know if they have all been dealt with, and if so how permanent, how resilient that ‘dealing with’ will be. It puts me in mind of the phrase ‘herding cats’.

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It’s like trying to track down and imprison a vast criminal gang of brain villains without knowing exactly how big the gang is, and who the master mind behind it all is.

Let’s start with the usual suspects – brain chemicals and hormones – and send a highly effective task force with an excellent success rate to bring them to justice.

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In that task force we have anti-depressants, beta blockers, vitamins, light therapy, even good sleep and diet……and they do their job well. Thanks to them the physical elements of my struggles are in the main part safely behind bars.

They are not beyond the need for surveillance – I imagine they are pretty handy with a lock pick, rather talented at conning the guards and will almost definitely still have some links and influence with the rest of the gang – but that arm of the gang has basically been neutralised.

But that alone doesn’t make me eligible for a sticker.

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Sadly this gang of brain villains is much bigger than the likes of hormones, chemicals and heart rates. In fact I am pretty convinced that while they are well known to the law they are neither the scariest members of the gang, nor the master criminals behind it all.

And it is the other members of this criminal gang who have proved far more slippery. For one thing they are much harder to identify, they are master of disguises and brilliant at camouflage, disappearing into the shadows.

This makes the wanted posters all too vague!

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So who are these villains, and who can possibly hope to track them down? Well stay tuned…..

Taking a deep breath

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Soaring not Striving

I find myself sighing less these days. And when I say sighing I don’t mean the nicer varieties – sighing in satisfaction, or relief, but rather the ‘hear we go again’ variety.

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Instead I find myself taking a deep, slow breath which ends with a smile – a proper inside to outside smile.

What’s the difference? Well I came up with the following this morning:

A sigh gives up, a breath draws in and gives over.

A thought which made me smile some more!

Post Depression?

 

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Soaring not Striving

So Post Depression.

No – I’m not missing a word in the middle. As in Post…..Natal Depression or Post …..Primary Depression.

I’m genuinely, although tentatively exploring the concept of life post depression. Is there such a thing? And if so am I there?

Stay tuned!

Post-Primary Depression

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Soaring not Striving

A word or two more on what I introduced in my last post as post-primary depression .

As many of you know I suffered from post-natal depression, or postpartum depression following the birth of our first child.

While the depression continues to be a reality for me, those early years were certainly a distinct stage of the ongoing difficulties I face. It was therefore quite a surprise to me to find myself experiencing a very similar set of symptoms more recently and also quite a help to me when I started to see the parallels that may have caused that.

I didn’t find pregnancy easy. I worried a lot. I felt so responsible for this precious bundle I was carrying  and at the same time so impotent – so unable to help her if anything went wrong. But… in comparison to life after birth, pregnancy was never-the-less a time when I felt increasingly prepared and on top of things and bizarrely confident that this state of affairs was only going to improve as life as a mummy continued.

During pregnancy I planned and read and decided and studied and prepared for having a baby, for being a mummy. One month before my due date my bag was packed, the house was ready and I was as confident that I could tell the difference between a cry for milk and a cry of tiredness as any experienced twitcher distinguishing between the calls of different birds.

My due date came and went. 15 days later I was definitely not feeling in control. I ended up never going into labour and having an emergency Cesarean at three in the morning. As to discerning her different cries – all I could tell you was that it was either very loud, or very, very loud.  I cried and worried a lot. I found myself at a complete loss and worse than that – I was completely surprised to find myself at a complete loss and even worse completely unforgiving of myself for being so.

A feeling that didn’t really let up! At no stage in the infant years do you feel an expert – the babies and toddlers are always ahead of you! You get one thing in place and they change all the rules!

Then suddenly – well about 9 years, 3 more pregnancies, and one very sad stillbirth later – I found myself in my children’s primary years.

Once again my sense of being on top of things tentatively crept out of its hole and showed its face. As time went on I once again grew confident that this more settled state of affairs might go on making itself more and more at home with us.

It isn’t that I found this stage a doddle. Not by a long shot. I don’t tend to do easy.

Life with me is rather like watching the England football team play: it’s a ‘never quite sure if they’ll pull it off, edge of your seat, watch it through your fingers’ kind of game.

Until Sunday’s 6-1 victory against Panama  that is. What a totally different experience as a viewer. I actually enjoyed watching them!

No it certainly hasn’t been easy…

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UNDERSTATEMENT 

But it was a particular stage that, for our family at least, had a certain stability to it and which is now coming to an end.

As I planned and read and decided and studied and worked at being a great mum I was in a sort of second pregnancy. A holding, growing, and developing space within which I was still highly influential and where my intentionality could be put to work on the front line of our children’s lives, – spread out at the meal table, played with as a family in the sitting room and given pride of place in the family diary.

Releasing my eldest child into secondary school was (from the vantage point of nearly two years) rather like giving birth all over again – although thankfully she wasn’t two weeks late second time around time and it didn’t stop me driving for six weeks!

I have no idea whether this will ring any bells with anyone, but recognising the return of old struggles and feelings and anxiety within this context has helped me in lots of ways. Not least because I realise I have been here before – emotionally anyway.

What would I say to my new-mum self if I could somehow get a message to her across the years?

I would tell her to relax and play the long game. To not over analyse every cry and nappy and worry every time my daughter fell asleep in the ‘wrong’ place or at the ‘wrong’ time. I would tell her to enjoy the lovely moments and sit as lightly as possible with the trickier ones. To enjoy HER – not the baby from the book, but a unique new person designed from head to toe by God. 

I look back now and see that I planned and prepared for a baby for me to be a mummy to and not for an individual to be in relationship with.

Of course I probably wouldn’t listen to myself even if I could send that message – in fact I’m sure plenty of people did give me that message!

BUT… I can listen to myself now.

And not only can I listen, but I might even believe myself this time.

So here I go, with the Lord’s help and remembering that I am still me and that’s o.k…I am going to relax and keep playing the long game.

I’m not going to over analyse every curled lip and ridiculous attempt to justify the unjustifiable.

I will help her with, but not lose sleep over, her sleep routines. At the end of that day (literally!) it is up to her to work out ways to get to sleep and she’ll manage and she’ll learn, and I’ll be there for her in her tiredness as she does so. And if it means ‘having to’ read Anne of Green Gables to her – well that’s a sacrifice I am prepared to pay!

I’ll enjoy the lovely moments with her – remembering to celebrate who she is. And I will run to the Lord with lament and tears and then patience and trust when those moments are overshadowed either by her rebellion, self-satisfaction and independence by my own many failings and fears. I’ll ask him to give me more love, more grace, more patience and more mercy and with his peace garrisoning my heart I’ll emerge, leaving my fears with him and myself free (or free-er) to parent without panic.

So does this mean I will not be at a loss? By no means. But it might mean that I am less at a loss at being at a loss and kinder to myself and therefore to those around me in my lostness.

Perhaps I have finally grasped that whatever books I read I’m never going to read the future and therefore I am going to need to be prepared to be surprised. And perhaps I have finally grasped a little more of the trust I can have in the one who is never surprised, who not only knows the future, but who writes it.

Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. Psalm 139:16

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Maybe I have accepted that no matter how well-developed my theories and skills are they will be put into play not on a blank canvas that is mine to design, but poured into the melting pot of relationship and therefore into a complicated, unpredictable, beautiful mess.

Perhaps I have seen and repented that my preparation, my intentionality, was always too much about me. Our children are not our projects; our identity or our life’s work. They are individuals whom God has made fearfully and wonderfully and given to us for a time, with a remit to nurture and bring up in the training of the Lord.

Which brings us full circle back to…

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Pitfall 1: Being intentional and being self-forgetful / humble is a tricky combination.

 

So I guess I will press on in my me-ish way – but just maybe I’ll manage to be a bit more intentional in avoiding the pitfalls of intentionality.