Friday, February 28, 2014


I love listening to Southern Gospel music... Contempory Christian is okay but the 'soft' stuff ends up sounding the same after awhile and 'rock' just seems like noise to me... the Southern Gospel has close ties to the folk music that I love so I find it very soothing and relaxing. But there's one thing about it that I just cannot wrap my head around. The musicians have an almost joyful blind faith in God and His goodness... Sometimes I wonder what they've got that I don't... maybe if I could switch my brain off, life really would be all roses. But I don't think so.

I have plenty of faith of my own, but it's nothing like that... I don't expect things to be black and white. I can see one HUGE weakness in that particular kind of faith, and I've seen it demonstrated in real life more than once - if God is a miracle-producing machine, when you pray and the miracles don't come, the wheels fall off your faith... there was a guy our old (Baptist-style) church adopted. He was mentally ill and alcoholic, and the pastor had utter faith that God was going to heal him if we just prayed long and hard enough... the guy bought into it, they got him into a religious rehab, and for about six months he was a different man. Everyone said 'this is what God can do, hallellujah, go forth and convert all the sinners you see and everyone will live happily ever after.' But then he crashed bigtime and the church said 'oh no, He's a Sinner, the Devil got to him, he didn't have enough faith and trust, etc etc etc. And the poor guy ended up back homeless in the gutter he came from because he had never heard about God's TRUE love. :( He thought he had to earn it, and that he couldn't possibly be good enough for God because he had a truly horrible tragedy in his past that broke him. He needed a ton of psychological help to move past, not a few prayers and admonitions to change his ways... when he told me his story I just wanted to hug him and love him and tell him that it wasn't his fault... but he wasn't ready to hear. I just pray that at some time, he did hear the true message... if God hadn't whispered it to me, and sent me my husband-to-be who really understood it too, I could have ended up in a similar position. I too believed that I wasn't 'good enough' for God, I couldn't set foot in the church for two years without breaking down because I'd disappointed God. Nobody told me that, I just felt it in my soul, and it took ten thousand patient repetitions of 'yes, you ARE Good' for me to truly believe it again (and even now I frequently get the urge to ask for verbal reassurance that I'm a 'good kitty' ie. doing the right thing and trying my hardest etc etc etc.)

Life is a journey. You're going to take five steps forward and then two or three, or maybe even four, back occasionally... what you have to do is to realise that if you are still moving forward further then you fall back, you are STILL MAKING PROGRESS. I've pulled myself up the mountain step by step, and so has my Love. We didn't say 'God, make us healthy and wealthy and give us a happy-ever-after' and have it happen just like that.

So, if God is not there for instant miracles, what IS He good for? Love. God loves you whatever you do, however you feel, and whatever you say... He's not going to turn His back on you. You can turn around and pout in the corner all you like, but it won't change His feelings one little bit. God is the constant... and if He can love, then we need to love too. That means loving ourselves as much as everyone else, treating ourselves with kindness and gentleness, and knowing in our hearts that WE DESERVE LOVE NOT HATE. The shit isn't going to miraculously disappear from your life... but when you say 'God, I need the strength to get through this, I can't do it any more by myself' somehow, the strength will appear. And that is what I believe...

Saturday, June 9, 2012

My Stewardship Moment by proxy

John and I were asked to give the Stewardship talk today, but as you know, I haven't been well and I'm not able to be with you in person even though I wish I was.

We were asked why we love this church? The moment we walked in the doors for the first time we both knew that this was the place we were meant to be. It's not just a place to spend Sunday mornings sitting in a pew. It's a place to be loved, to be encouraged, to be accepted, to be welcomed, and to be taught.

If you look at the calendar for this month you'll see plenty of activity that shows who we are and what we do - weddings, funerals, our first Summer Concert for the year, weekly AA and NA meetings to help people recovering from addiction, the Ruth's Ministry meals program for the homeless... how many people will walk through our doors this month needing to be loved? It's far too big a job for one person. No one can possibly do it, or even a major part of it, by themselves. Not Pastor Becky, not Thom, not Mark or Barbara, or me or anyone else. You could kill yourself trying. But the church is not one person. It's not just everyone who's here today. It's not even everyone who's sat through the membership class and stood up in front of the congregation to join. It's everyone who has ever shown up on Thursday morning to wash dishes, or gathered donations for the toy drive, or put an offering envelope in the plate to help support our ministries, or come to one of the ministry team meetings to help make things happen so that Pastor Becky doesn't have to try to do it all alone. It's everyone who loves this church family and who wants to make a real difference to other people's lives. The question is, are you one of these people? If you are, then know that you are not alone, and you do not have to try to do it all by yourself. Whether you have one hour a week to give or twenty, or no time at all but plenty of money, it still makes a difference! Many hands make light work, and the more of you who are willing to give some of your time and skills, the more we can do together. WE NEED YOU!

We are not just a church, we are a family, and I love every single one of you, and thank you for all the good things that you are doing to help us show the world that God's Love is there for Everybody.

Friday, March 23, 2012

I'm a (US) Citizen now!

My oath ceremony was this morning at Oakland Park Florida. We were told to be there at 10.30, so to make sure we were really early, we left home at quarter past nine and we got there about 20 to 10 and I went to the back of the already-long line. Then there was a crisis. We had a family emergency this week, and I was so flustered that I entirely forgot I needed to take my green card with me. I remembered it when I got into line and saw the lady ahead of me holding hers in her hand. Oh BLEEEP!!!!!!!! I ran back to the car, we raced home, I RAN upstairs and picked it up, and we raced back again, getting there exactly at 10.30am. The good thing about that was that we were still perfectly on time after that little crisis, and I didn't have to stand in line for very long because they started filing us into the building five minutes after I got there. So that's one reason for being early!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Dealing with Depression as a Christian

On Thursday morning, a guy came into the church through the front door, and went out in handcuffs. Not because of anything he did... but because he was actively suicidal, and Pastor Becky believed that he needed to be protected from himself. She called the police to escort him to the hospital, and when they arrived, he thought they were taking him to jail and tried to hit them (hence the cuffs).

His last words to us were 'I trusted you! I thought you were going to help me!' It was a cry that wrenched my heart. He might not have understood it, but we WERE helping him. Just talking to him wasn't going to change anything. All the prayers and reassurance in the world weren't going to make him feel better for more than a few minutes or hours. Then he'd be alone again without anybody to keep him safe.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Now is the season of Lent

Now is the season of Lent. Depending on your religious denomination and particular church, Lent can be observed ritually, automatically, religiously (literally!), casually, or not at all.

I didn't grow up in a Lenten-observant church. It was talked about casually, and the Holy Week itself was absolutely vital to us... Australia doesn't have the bee in its bonnet about seperation of church and state that the US does. They're not afraid to have a 'Christian' event as a national holiday, so we were free to fully and solemnly observe Good Friday every year. More about that closer to the day. That's still six weeks away. The point is, that I grew up celebrating Easter for a period of one week, from Palm Sunday through to Easter Sunday. Some people in the church 'did' Lent, but it wasn't expected. 

The little church we went to when we moved to the US shocked me. While our pastor believed in periodic periods of fasting and prayer, he didn't tie them into the official church calender. He fasted in January, or when he felt called to it later in the year, and encouraged the rest of the church to join him, but it was nothing to do with any particular 'season'. The Easter season itself lasted one single day. It began and ended on Easter Sunday, and even then it seemed to be almost irrelevant to them. I wondered whether ALL American churches were that unobservant. After a couple of years, I discovered the local Methodist church and I was able to go back to my lifelong practice of going to church at lunchtime on Good Friday and spending the afternoon in solemn prayer and reflection. Church members were encouraged to observe Lent, but it really wasn't something I was comfortable with or understood, so I let it go.

Our current church is the most observant I've been to. Last year was our first Lent with them, and the first time I felt drawn to try to give something up for Lent. I surrendered my recent obsession with Facebook games and made it a whole four weeks before my life got too stressed and I retreated back to the games to survive. This year I haven't felt called to give anything up for Lent. I'm not physically able to fast, I don't care about television enough for giving it up to be a sacrifice, and I'm too busy working for the church to really have time for anything else give-up-able. Okay, I COULD give up icecream or chocolate, but I know I wouldn't make it more than a week. Seriously, instead of subtracting from my life, this year I've been feeling the pull to add to it instead. All week I've been feeling like I need to be physically on my knees before God. Is that because it's Lent? Because I'm so much more involved in church leadership, and have so much emotionally invested in our church, and I'm passionate about trying to make it the best possible place for us all? Or just because God is calling me? It doesn't matter. I need to listen to Him and to do what I'm told. And right now I'm told to pray...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The parable of the ducklings

When I took the trash out this morning, there was a fire truck parked outside in the street, with the crew crouched around an open manhole cover by our building, peering in. Had some small child suffered a disaster, like Timmy down the well? Somebody dropped something potentially toxic down there? Was a valuable diamond ring missing from somebody's finger and fallen down the grate? Nope. None of the above. The cause, as is common in breeding season, were a couple of the local ducklings who had gone astray. Somehow they wandered away from their mama and either fell down a drainage grate, or possibly swam into the drainage pipe from the lake. We only know they're there when they swim under one of the open drainage grates and you can see a flash of yellow, or hear plaintive peeping wafting up through the grate. They're small enough to paddle through the pipes as long as their strength holds out, but they don't know how to get out of the maze, and there's not much, if any, food down there for them, nor good places for them to rest.  And mama duck can't get them out of trouble, even if she saw them fall in - she's far too big to fit through the pipe. All she can do is worry over her remaining brood and mourn the ones who are missing.

Who knows how long they've been swimming around down there... but somebody saw them and the fire crew came to try to pull them out before they could starve to death down there. Meanwhile, the ducklings were totally oblivious to their danger. All THEY saw was that somebody big and scary was trying to grab them, and they were swimming back down the pipe to 'safety'. The fire crew could have said 'it's just a bunch of ducks, it's a waste of our time, we've got REAL work to do' and gone away to do more important things. But they didn't. When the ducklings backed down the pipe and refused to be rescued, they sat back patiently and waited. Eventually the silly little ducklings swam back into view, and the fire crew gently grabbed them with a long looped pole to pull them out to safety. Even rescued, the ducklings are still oblivious to how very lucky they are... but they will live to swim another day, and hopefully grow up to be much older and wiser adult ducks.

How often are we those ducklings? We're so intent on what we're doing with our lives that we don't notice the pit in front of us until we've fallen in. Even then, we'll continue trying to climb our own way out when it's obviously impossible. It takes somebody else reaching out to save us... and it takes us having the courage to allow them to help. Otherwise we'll swim in circles in the darkness for the rest of our lives, wondering why we can't find the daylight. What is the pit in your life today? Are you swimming in the darkness? And to those who stand in lieu of the fire crew, may God give you the strength and courage to grab the right moment to help, and the patience to wait for it to occur. God doesn't want us swimming in the dark - there's a whole world of love and light waiting for us. All we have to do is to say yes. And when somebody older and wiser reaches out to you, take their hand and let them show you the way.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Tis the gift to be... spiritual?

I had one of those dreams last night that shows me where I've failed... ie. another teaching dream, where I was standing in front of a class of 12-yos and making a complete hash of everything no matter how hard I tried. I was passionate about what I was trying to teach, but I wasn't getting through to them, or teaching them anything. Sometimes those dreams are just to make me feel like a failure and I wake up wanting to curl up in a hole and never come out again... but this one just made me thoughtful. I think this one was to remind me that I can't do everything, and nor should I try...

John has to look at a book about Spiritual Gifts for church (he hasn't had time to open it yet!) and of course I read through it while it was sitting on the table waiting for him. I'm always intrigued by the whole question of 'spiritual gifts' and figuring out where I fit into the bigger picture, as I am with learning more about myself in general. This one takes a narrower view of 'gifts' than some and it focuses in on the ones that are directly mentioned in the bible, leaving things like musicianship, creativity, craftsmanship etc. out of the picture entirely. It says that things like that are abilities and talents that anybody can have, not spiritual gifts, because you don't have to be a Christian to demonstrate them. I kind of take issue at that - the actual skills aren't the issue. It's how you USE them that counts. God put them into your spirit for a reason. The book says that they're just a vehicle to demonstrate whatever your actual spiritual gifts are. A musician with the gift of healing might leave their audiences feeling very comforted and soothed etc etc. or an Evangelist will fire people up with their words. And so on. I really don't know where that leaves me. Going back to the music ministries and picking up my music again has demonstrated to me clearly that music is one of the greatest joys of my life. God gave me a voice to be able to sing - I don't pretend it's anything special and it's nothing to be particularly proud of or to show off and boast about - but using it is pure joy, whether there's anybody listening to me or not.  Lately, I'm not even nervous to get up and sing solo in front of the congregation. I find that a surprising development because I used to be paralysed by stage fright. But I'm not worrying about their judging me, or whether I'm going to mess it up and embarrass myself.  I'm not singing to try to make them think I'm something wonderful, or to impress them etc etc., I'm singing for God. I considered dropping out of the choir and leaving the music ministry because I'm seriously over-committed and something is going to have to give sooner or later, but I really and truly do not want to do that. It would break my heart to have to leave music behind in my life yet again, whether it was voluntary or not. Music is welded into my soul, and to deny it is to deny a vitally important part of myself.

Anyway, back to teaching. Teaching IS a named spiritual gift. The difference between somebody who learned the skills of teaching (like me) and somebody who has a real gift for it is how their students react... and I definitely fall into the former category. And I'm okay with that. I wouldn't have been for a long time, because I wanted to teach from the time I was about five years old. But I didn't really want to TEACH. I wanted to nurture and encourage and spend time loving on the innocent before the world ruined them. And I wanted to protect children who were like me, and nurture them the way that my beloved teachers did me, to save them from the childhood I endured, and to let them know that somebody understood their position and really cared about them. Probably all very worthy ambitions, but none of them are directly related to TEACHING. That's one of the things that the teacher does, but it's not their job. I was trying to be something that I wasn't really meant to be, which is why it ended in total and utter disaster. I love learning, I love books, and I love knowledge in general - but I don't want to be in the position of authority of having to be 'the teacher' ever again. I'm too loving and gentle (okay, wishy-washy) to be a disciplinarian.I don't do 'authority' very well, and anybody in the same room with me for more than two minutes knows it!

My gifts lie in the practical realm, and I have a lot of trouble relating to the more airy-fairy biblical stuff like prophecy, tongues, interpretation, healing, and prayer in general. God has never demonstrated any of them concretely in my life, and a lot of the time I've never seen them demonstrated believably through anybody else. I've seen people who WANTED the gifts, and who honestly believed that they had them - but they didn't have any positive results to demonstrate from them. Anybody can babble, or make people be 'overcome by the holy spirit' by giving them a push! And it's easy to stand there and tell somebody what they want to hear when there's somebody who knows them whispering cues in your ear - but it's much rarer to hear directly from God and to KNOW what's needed. I tend to say 'seeing is believing'. On occasion, I've had deeply moving spiritual 'god times' - but they have been few and far between. It's not something that happens just because you want it to. I could sit here and pray myself blue in the face asking God to give me one of these gifts, but there hasn't been any sign of it in thirty years.  I believe that there ARE miracles - there have been miracles of healing in John's family that none of us expected until God gave them to us... I believe that God really does give some people the revelation of what they need to pray about and say - I've seen it myself and nobody was giving the guy any cues when it came my turn to have him lay hands on me, but he knew something important about me that I didn't even know myself. God just doesn't give those things directly to me. If I have trouble with all this, you might ask why am I so tied up in the God thing anyway? But it was inborn in me to love God and to trust God and to have faith in Him, whether I can see Him or not. In one way, I've moved way beyond simple faith - nothing in life is EVER simple. In another, it's as simple as they come. God loves us and He wants the best for us. I pray to God the Comforter more than God the Miracle-Maker. God is the one who is with us when we walk through the times of trouble. He is the invisible hand on our shoulder and the voice in our ear telling us that everything will be right in the end. That doesn't make everything that happens to us easy, or right, or even deserved... horrible things happen every day. Sometimes God gives us a miracle to take us out of them, but more often He's just holding our hand to lead us through. But He is always and absolutely there loving us from now until the end of time.