SPRING SPRINGS FORTH!

SPRING IS SPRINGING forth! I am so thankful for that. Here in South East Queensland it has been an exceptionally cold winter with the mornings often down to freezing—on one occasion -3 degrees. Quite frankly, I was over winter months ago! I am not a winter person at all.

Butterfly on wisteriaAnd yet, there are many people who love the cold and thrive in the cooler months. They have a bounce in their steps that reflects their enjoyment of the crisp days and chilly evenings. Similarly, there are those who embrace summer with a fervour that energises them and brings them alive, the sweltering days enlivening them in ways that others just don’t understand.

I come alive in spring, the season that bridges the two extremes of winter and summer bringing with it newness of life, fresh optimism, hope, joy, gladness. It’s as though the world stirs from its slumber, ready to embrace life once again. The harshness of a cold winter is shed and the starkness of a hot summer is yet to come.

Just as some come alive in winter, others in spring, summer or autumn, so we are all different in many other ways. That’s what adds to the vibrancy of life, the effervescence and enthusiasm that we enjoy in our small corner of the world.

How we relate to one another in our diversity builds community, accepting one another as we are and respecting each other, as we would like others to respect us. It makes such a difference, and it begins with each one of us—you and me—right here, right now.

Four seasons

FEAR NOT!

FEAR TAKES MANY forms and for me it has often been with me when I set out in the car. Why? Whether it is to Christian events such as an inter-church meeting on the Sunshine Coast eight years ago, or non-church outings such as driving up the Toowoomba Range, going to and from Charleville, to Karana Downs and Ipswich, Manly, Highgate Hill, Norman Park or Brisbane’s northside—always, always fear and anxiety abound. Why?
Fear

Fear, in particular of breaking down—even when my car was brand new!  Fear now, with the slight “hiccup” when I move from 80 to 90kph—but which has caused no other problems, and which so seldom happens.  Why fear?

Is this a hangover from when I was married and never drove when my husband was in the car because I felt inadequate compared to him? Is it because I don’t think I can look after myself on the road? To call the RACQ if I need them? To trust my car that I have kept well serviced?

Is this telling me I am afraid of being alone—a woman on my own—when the reality is I am not alone and I know God is always with me? Why am I afraid of driving? On two occasions when I have had significant issues with the car—once when it needed a new gearbox and I was a long way from my home in Charleville, and another time when I had two flat tyres, again a long way from home—I managed the situations with ease, called RACQ and was able to have both issues attended to quickly with no added hassles. Because the problems happened where I could access a mechanic they were attended to before I had to get back on the road for the long drive home.

I had never thought about this fear until recently when I was about to set out for the Sunshine Coast and felt yet again fear take over. I was looking forward to my time away, and I did not want my journey to be spoiled by fear. Enough was enough.

We’re encouraged to face our fears, and as I did—very definitFaith over fearely questioning what was going on and why—they suddenly dissipated. I was rid of them. I knew that I was a competent driver and that if needed the RACQ would be there to help along the way. In particular I reminded myself that wherever I may be, on the road or at home, my awesome God is with me watching over me and protecting me.

The Old Testament prophet Isaiah repeatedly encourages us not to fear—at last I’m taking notice:

“Be strong, do not fear; your God will come” (Isaiah 35:4).

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

“For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you” (Isaiah 41:14).

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).Faith over fear 2

I had the smoothest drive to the Sunshine Coast and arrived safely without getting lost, something of a miracle for me—I have often wound up in the weirdest places  when my lack of navigation skills and inability to read a map have led me astray. But that’s another story.

 

THE JESUS I KNOW

WHAT IS IT about Christians that they think they can treat other believers with contempt, but not be held responsible for their own bad behaviour? Are we really meant to be all sweetness and angelic niceness towards those who abuse us?

Recently I lost my temper.  It was not pretty.  I was very angry with a guy, a Christian, who had, for the past twelve months, promised to do a job for me but who had no intention of doing it.  When I decided to do the task myself, and was thoroughly enjoying myself, he was not happy.  And I reacted, badly.  His response was to tell me I was not a good Christian and that I was just having a bad day.  I was not amused.

I wasn’t happy with my reaction to this guy. Although I wanted to respond appropriately – nicely – I also want to be real in how I relate to others. As I talked with God about the incident and how it was the authenticity of Jesus in his humanity that drew me to himself, I told him how my reality was not like his, my reality is not pretty. It is not neat or attractive, not like his. It is ugly. I was surprised and encouraged by his response:

“Not so, Irene. Do you think it was pretty when I raged against the tax collectors, the money changers in the temple, the Pharisees—those white sepulchred beings who destroyed my people with their religious lies and false teachings? There was nothing pretty about that.  Being real is often not pretty.”

That is so true. I baulk at being with church people who are all niceness, but who are not genuine. I long to be with fellow believers who are not afraid to acknowledge they’re finding life tough and who, by conceding that, are authentic in their walk with God.

God’s call to me is to be real, that I must be real so that those around me can see Christ in me—despite my failings. Jesus related to those around him with love and compassion, kindness and care and, at times, very assertively and forthrightly.  I have much to learn about living authentically for him.Jesus in the temple

 

This journey I’m on

GOD HAS ME on a fascinating journey, deconstructing my bigoted view of him and challenging me in a host of ways. I am deeply ashamed of the judgemental views I had absorbed over the years from fundamental churches.

Cloned sheepWhen Jesus spoke about having other sheep in another fold, I was sure they were those who did not believe as my church believed and that in time he would bring them into the one fold that I was in (John 10:14-18). I shake my head at that belief.

A verse that was a part of my early teachings was about all our righteousness and any good in us being as filthy rags. I learned that anything that was not done in the name of Christ was worthless (Isaiah 64:6). Despite the verse being taken out of context, it led to harshly judging people and dismissing any good they may have done as of no value.

As I reflected on these cruel teachings, I was in tears. What have we in the church done to the name of Jesus? What have I done, because, not overtly but in my heart, I have judged others for not being of my fold and believed the “good works” they were doing were, in the eyes of the church, worthless.

Over the decades I have balked at many teachings of the church, but when I tried raising issues with ministers I ended up being reprimanded and made to feel that I was critical and rebellious. They need to reread Ezekiel 34 and Matthew 23.

Once again I am reminded of the words of Jesus that he spoke to me so long ago:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).

 

 

I STAND AMAZED

I SOMETIMES BECOME overwhelmed with the grandeur of my God, his awesomeness, majesty, might and power, and how, though Creator King, Maker of the Universe, he still has time for us mere mortals.

Shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks in America, I began my morning community radio program with two songs: Bette Midler’s From a Distance, and The Bachelors’ I Believe. The first describes how God watches over us from a distance, the second that in the storms of life he hears our smallest prayers.

Psalm 8’s anthem of adoration to Almighty God captures the paradox that, while launching the sun, moon and stars into space, his thoughts were upon his people, making them a little lower than angels and crowning them with glory and honour (Psalm 8:5)

So many people have such a limited view of God, created according to their church’s creeds, their brand of biblical exegesis, according to their status in life or because of the unacceptable behaviour of those who claim to know him, but who fail miserably to demonstrate his reality. These restrictive images, the idols we make, leave little room for us to know God in all his glory or to experience the life and liberty he has for us.

On one of the many occasions when my life had fallen apart, I realised that the image I had of God, formed by restrictive church teachings, was far too small for the enormity of what I was going through. At my lowest point I decided to go back to the Gospels and learn for myself who Jesus is and what he really taught. It was a revelation like no other. Through him I experienced the reality of his love, grace and mercy and came to know his Father as my own. The words of an old hymn came to mind:Jesus

I stand amazed in the presence
Of Jesus the Nazarene,
And wonder how he could love me 
A sinner condemned, unclean
How marvellous! How wonderful!
And my song shall ever be:
How marvellous! How wonderful!
Is my Saviour’s love for me.

 

 

Embracing retirement

AFTER MUCH resistance I have finally accepted my need to embrace retirement and adjust to the changes it brings. This move has not been easy, made even more difficult because of the many complex challenges I have experienced throughout the seven decades of my life. However, I am at peace with this phase of my life and with the older woman I am, notwithstanding the profound sadness embedded in my soul that remains unresolved despite my many feeble attempts to address it. Whether that will ever be settled depends on others, and ultimately upon God.

As I reflect upon my life and the incredible journey I have been on, the places where I’ve lived – Darwin, Papua New Guinea, Israel, Outback Queensland – and the experiences I have encountered along the way as a writer, and social worker in a variety of settings including mental health services, palliative care and in the Outback, it would be so easy to dismiss the decades of intense psychological distress and resultant psychiatric care I went through for me to become the person I am.

Despite increased media attention in recent years, mental illness remains a taboo topic, shunted away in society’s psyche, its stigma preventing those experiencing it from accessing the support they need as they confront one of life’s greatest challenges. Regrettably, many people with mental health issues choose not to speak of them preferring instead to pretend all is well when it is not.

For me to “forget” my dreadful difficulties would be to present a picture of an idyllic, hassle free life, which would be a lie. To remember is fraught with its own challenges, not the least of which is to be misunderstood and judged by those whose lives have been relatively simple and problem free.I simply am2

Throughout my life my heart’s cry has been that I want to be real. And to be that I must accept my whole being, warts and all. Not perfect, by any means, but at the very least a person of worth and value – just like everyone else.

IN HIS STEPS

AS I HAVE continued to mull over what authentic Christian living means, my thoughts turned to the words of the apostle Peter:

  To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:21, New International Version).

Those words reminded me of the Christian classic, In His Steps, written by Charles Sheldon in the late nineteenth century. In it he relates the story of Reverend Henry Maxwell who challenges his upper middle class congregants to live as Jesus would live, asking themselves before they did anything, “What would Jesus do?”

Over the following twelve months the impact upon those who accepted the call, upon the church and community was outstandingly revolutionary. The impact of such a challenge illustrated vividly what authentic Christian living really means. There would be a similar response today if all church people accepted such a call.

Several issues struck me about this story. Individuals were encouraged to respond to this call for themselves in their unique situations without basing their decisions on what others thought and without judging others for how they may or may not have responded.   Christians were challenged to consider Jesus in every aspect of their lives: their work ethic, relationships, finances, community and church involvement. The issue delved deep into the core of one’s faith, just as it would for us today.

It is no secret that I struggle with today’s institutionalised church. So much of what I have experienced has been detrimental to my mental, emotional and spiritual well being—it is impossible to share the full extent of what all but destroyed me, so disturbing was its enormity. And yet, despite all I have been through, my faith in God has remained strong. I value significant interaction with fellow believers; I crave meaningful Christian conversation, and I thrive on solid godly teaching.

Since picking up In His Steps, and as I seek to live each day for him, I have begun to ask myself the question—“What would Jesus do?”  This is just the beginning of a fresh phase in my life; one I trust will become life enriching for myself and for those around me.

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.footprints