Category Archives: Something to think about

The art work in self-love

Acrylic painting of flowers as eyes - pinks and greens

I’m a late-bloomer, boomer when it comes to self-love.

When I first started blogging my spiritual diary, I was desperate to get rid of the inexplicable ‘yearning’ that has relentlessly dogged me all my life. It’s a persistent gnawing hum of longing that does not abate. And the roar was getting louder. I knew if I did not do something about this ‘yearning’, I would drown in its wake. The yearning

I began where I often find most comfort when life gets tough. I started writing down my feelings and thoughts. A central theme decorates my Fiftypluskiwi writings – God and love – for both have woven a well-trodden path of bittersweet moments in my life, and both, as I have come to understand, are connected. But when I started writing I knew nothing about self-love or, of the relationship between God and self-love.

I grew up in an affectionless family, where anything remotely emotive was considered ‘namby pamby’. Emotions were something to be ridiculed, crushed or criticised. Love was a vanity to be confessed rather than affirmed. From an early age, I learned to shape myself around those narratives handed down to me.

A child raised without love and affection will usually become an emotionally impoverished adult. That was me. How I felt didn’t count. And when I did feel, it was bad. Because of this I lived for years with a confused, poor self-image. I believed everyone knew better than me, and everything was better than me. I never considered the fact I had any sort of validity, or that self-love was anything more than a hippie concoction.

‘If you don’t love yourself, you cannot love others. If you have no compassion for yourself then you are not able of developing compassion for others’.  Dalai Lama.

The most important relationship in your life is the relationship you have with yourself. Self-love is often mistakenly seen as being selfish or self-seeking. But self-love means accepting, respecting, and valuing myself as the person I was created to be. The longing for love and acceptance is one of those life-threads that link us all. We search for it everywhere, through other people, power, pleasure, wealth, success, beauty and status. However, the full alchemy of love is inside you not outside. If we are to love others, we must start with ourselves. It is a matter for the heart, not the world.

Looking inside ourselves for love is usually the last place we look. But true love can only come out of you, it cannot come into you even though we spend our entire life trying to make it happen. And after years of trying, I have discovered this is impossible to do this without God. Anything else is just a relative.

The dictionary describes alchemy as the process of taking something ordinary and turning it into something extraordinary, sometimes in a way that cannot be explained. They use an example of a person who takes a pile of scrap metal and turns it into beautiful art. I can’t think of a better description to illustrate self-love.

The real alchemy, the way that cannot be explained, happens on the inside. God is that alchemy. There is nothing we can do but allow self-love to unfold. To love ourselves fully, we must first accept God’s unconditional love for us. Self-love is the quietest of all the loves. It doesn’t seek or depend on rules and regulations to exist. It doesn’t have to prove anything to exist. It wraps its arms around you so you can be that love for others.

What a journey! Many twists, bends and dead ends. And I’m not there yet. I’m not sure anyone does get there. It’s is a lifelong process. It wasn’t until I started exploring the yearning that self-love, or lack of, became visible. But what I can tell you is that the gnawing hum of longing is abating. No longer does it deafen me with its noise. I feel like I’ve arrived home after being away for many years.  My yearning has been turned into a beautiful piece of art. And I thank God for that.

Hopelessness … why not try God?

The only yellow flower growing out of parched, cracked soil.

The ‘wait’, every damn second of the ‘wait’, is consumed with survival, yet survival, is the one thing her Motor Neurone Disease (MND) cannot give her.

With her days numbered my visits with Kirsty are much quieter. Our conversation more intermittent as she rests from the effort of trying to live.  And while the disease continues to wreak havoc on every muscle in her body, despair and hopelessness also hover in the background. Like vultures. Persistent in their quest to ravage her soul.

The dictionary describes hopelessness as an emotion characterized by a lack of hope, optimism, and passion. From my perspective, as a bystander to my friends’ illness, the English language completely lacks words to describe the intensity of emotions encircling the dark, shadowy wasteland of this thing called ‘hopelessness’.  Fear, despair, helplessness, powerlessness, pain, loneliness, and ‘I feel so useless’, are words Kirsty has used at various times during my visits as she confronts her death – a death forced upon someone wanting to live.

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Life is not an entitlement

Life is a gift? It’s one of those clichés we all know but often give little attention to.

I certainly had no plans to use it or write about it. I didn’t even think about life as a gift, so, no one was more surprised, when, during a yoga class, the words, ‘Life is not an entitlement – life is a gift,’ entered my mind with such clarity and importance, I at first thought the yoga instructor had spoken them in a state of meditative bliss. As it turns out, it was one of my ‘moments of God’. Something that happens to me from time to time.

I had a fleeting sense something had shifted inside me. Did I take life for granted? Did I assume I was entitled to life?  Yes, perhaps I did. Once I removed the assumption I was entitled to life, I felt an immense appreciation and understanding of the preciousness of life. Of gratitude. Of how fleeting, fragile, precious and irreplaceable every moment is, between our first and last breath.

Life is but a breath. We don’t think of life as being so fragile. It is not until someone is dying, diagnosed with a chronic disease, we get old, or when we see or hear something terrible happen around us that we catch a glimpse of the fleetingness and fragility of life.

People don’t want to hear that life is a gift, but until we truly understand that each day is a gift, we can waste life so easily. Feeling entitled to life is a trap. How many lives have been wasted because someone said, ‘I have the right to have, to get rid of, to control, to take.  It is my right.’ Entitlement is rampant.

Author Cynthia Occelli says we feel we have a right to material abundance, comfort, physical beauty, zero-problems, careers, adoring relationships, good health and all the other things our entitlement culture tells us we deserve.

  “There’s nothing wrong with wanting all these things, or pursuing these things, but life doesn’t owe you anything. It doesn’t owe you perfect or even good parents. It doesn’t owe you health, happiness, abundance, success, comfort, or immunity from pain and problems. It doesn’t owe you a job, a house, a bed, or a single meal. No one owes you kindness, love, recognition, empathy, apologies, or understanding. You aren’t entitled to a single thing. Your family owes you nothing. Your government owes you nothing. No one owes you anything at all.”

Life is short, it is brief, and things can change in a split second. Not every moment will be magical. We are not owed a perfect life. We owe life to be the best we can be, whatever our circumstances. I read somewhere that life will only have meaning when we understand it as a gift, an amazing gift. When we see life this way it changes the way in which we view ourselves, our own lives, and the lives of others.

No, life is not an entitlement. It is a gift. But if these words were given to me, then they are also for you. Your life is just as precious as mine. And when I see your life as a gift, there is no way I would want to harm you. I wish we could all see each other this way. If you don’t understand the very fact that life is a gift all the beauty, wonder, love, and experiences to be found on earth are meaningless. Life is a gift, an incredible, wonderful, mysterious gift.

That damned ego

There’s a saying in yoga circles; ‘leave your ego at the door before you enter’.

I wish I had known this pearl of wisdom before I attempted my first yoga session. Having come from a running background I felt certain my ‘fitness level’ would serve me well for a simple yoga class.

My fellow yogis consisted of men and woman of all age, size, ability and disability. I could feel my competitive nature shift into gear as our instructor moved us into our first exercise, a standing forward fold or, more commonly known as, ‘touching your toes’.  ‘Poof!’ ‘Just how hard could this be,’ I thought.

As it turned out, very hard indeed.  My toes? I could barely touch my thighs! Muscles that served me so well in running, refused to budge. Legs wobbled like a pneumatic drill as they tried, and failed, to balance without the other. I felt like the human version of gobbledygook.

Finally, the soothing tones of the instructor led us into, ‘Savasana’, a lying down resting position. ‘Let us empty our minds,’ she crooned. At that point my eyes flew open. My mind revved into high gear, screeching and chattering with inane, pointless, non-productive mind chatter. I walked out of my first yoga ‘beginners’ class nursing an aching body and a sorely bruised ego.

 

The dictionary describes the ego as, ‘a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance.’  It is who I think I am, not who I really am. If I were to give my ego a physical description, I would liken it to a photo filter – a layer that slides over me, making me appear, better and greater than I really am. It turns out I have many of these layers. They fit so perfectly it is difficult to recognize the true me underneath them all.

There is nothing wrong with aspiring to become the hero of your dreams. Confidence is healthy. It’s the ego that is destructive as it begins to grow and take control of our life and our thoughts.

Having and ego is not the same as having confidence. When you have confidence, you have faith in your own abilities and believe in yourself, says writer, Cy Wakeman.

“But the ego is something else, entirely. Unlike confidence, the ego operates out of self-interest. It seeks approval, accolades and validation at all costs in order to be seen as “right…”. Confidence vs Ego

I read somewhere that a bad day for your ego is a good day for your soul.  I’ve had an awful lot of bad days if I’m to be honest. About ten years ago my personal unhappiness threatened to annihilate me. When I tried to ignore or run from my unhappiness, I would run smack bang into myself.  For the first time in my life I started to ask: Who am I? Why am I?  So much time had been invested in creating me from the ‘outside in’, I had given no thought to my ‘inside out’. I did not consider my spirit needed attention at all. A mid-life crisis? A break-down? Yes, probably both of those; but more than anything, it was my moment of reckoning. I did not know who I was.

When the ego clashes with the soul, life can get messy. Eventually I landed in a place I didn’t expect. I had to look within. And I didn’t really know how to access that part of me. But as I unraveled the messes of my life from the inside-out, I could see how my ego had been crafted from the tendrils of my past. The ego is constructed from past life experiences. It disguises fear, anxiety and loneliness with grandiose masks of self-importance.

It’s easy to delete the layers of filters on your phone. But to be laid bare without those layers in real life, takes courage. The ego does not want you to know your true self. To embark on a journey of self-discovery is threatening to the ego. It takes a lot of personal work to discover who you are, and not to be enticed by the illusions of the ego.

I am not my ego. But sometimes I still feel like I have an inbuilt default button, that overrides all commonsense and spiritual sensibility. It can happen in a split second and I find myself responding or behaving in a way that is not truly me. Like my yoga class; given that I have years of health of fitness knowledge, why did I think I could partake in my first yoga class believing I would be better than anyone else? The real me knows this is not possible. The answer is simple – it was my ego!

That damned ego!

Out, loud and proud – Coming out of the God closet (Part 2)

In Part 1, I talked about fear being a constant companion of mine, in my self-imposed God closet. How scared I was to openly love God, and the doubts that plagued my mind. Fear and doubt – what a paralysing concoction.

Fear does not travel alone. Anxiety and doubt always accompany fear and once fear takes hold of your thought life, you see everything through the lens of fear. In denying the truth about my love for God and my faith in Jesus, doubt become my master.  Oh Yes! Morning, noon and night my thoughts sat with me like best buddies. Here’s a little sample of just how messy the inside of my God closet looked.

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What does a loving church look like?

The church is its people, not its religion. I think we’ve forgotten this.

Coffee with my yoga group is one of my more enjoyable moments of the week. Our conversations cover a wide range of topics – from the day-to-day routine of our lives, to the more complex issues around love and relationships. Sometimes conversation takes place as we traverse the hills of Papamoa, other times they are a quick one-on-one after class, but mostly they take place at our favourite cafe. Our banter is always lively, and everyone contributes from their perspective on life.  I feel safe with this group.  Safe to download, upload and explode. A couple of weeks ago I did just that, last week it was someone else’s turn. These conversations, this group of people, are precious to me.

Likewise, so is my conversation with my terminally ill friend. With Kirsty there is a piece of treasure in every conversation. We discuss, rant and rave about this God we love and seek to know better. Again, I feel safe having these conversations with Kirsty. Secure to voice my often-wavering and questioning faith. Safe to be who I am. And again, these conversations are incredibly precious to me.

Then there is my elderly neighbour. Our weekly coffee morning chats are most enjoyable. Her perspective on life is intelligent and interesting and I always leave with a sense of well-being from having had a good healthy, robust conversation with someone who knows their topic.

Although these conversations vary in subject and participants, one connecting strand links them; I am having conversations with people I feel safe with. Friends I can openly share how I’m feeling about my life at that moment.  I trust these people with the ups, downs and anguishes of my story, and they trust me with theirs.  You cannot intellectualise that feeling of ‘feeling safe’ it is something you just know. When I leave these people, I leave with all of me intact. My heart and soul unjudged and undamaged.  I feel loved. And I’ve been thinking about this – wouldn’t it be great if the church was like this.  A place for everyone to engage in robust, hearty discussion about God, life and love, and feel safe doing so. The church, becoming THE place for conversation.

For most people their first introduction to God is by going to church. I have always felt a bit like ‘a square peg in a round hole’ in church settings. And for years I have blamed myself. I have had such amazing experiences of God’s love so going to church should be a breeze. But it’s not. Dread and anxiety accompany me and euphoria escorts me out; a relief that I made it.  When I attend church, I feel like a lion being tamed for a circus. My experiences of God and love become masked by religion and religiosity and I sense life being sucked from me, as a woman and as a person. My joy. My weirdness and humour, my creativity and energy, all that my wonderful God created me to be, feels silenced.

God is becoming irrelevant the media are telling us, and statistics show declining church attendances across several denominations. We can blame this on external influences all we like, but the truth is, the church is doing a pretty good job of adding to the problem. As my friend Kirsty so accurately describes, love has been ‘trodden down under religious mores’.  Yes, God and religion are difficult to untangle. When we merge God with religion, we are in danger of extinguishing the real message of God – the message of love.  I think it’s time for the church to wake up.  Love is the by-product of God, not religion.  There is nothing, we need to do, or be, to experience God’s love.  God’s pure unadulterated, unfettered, untamed love is free for everyone.

Thankfully, the Bible presents us with a list of characteristics, a bit like a recipe, of what this love should look like.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy; it does not boast. It is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8a, NIV)

There’s a lifetime of living in those 15 ingredients. The aching for love and acceptance is a strand of yearning that links all people. Thankfully there’s no time limit on love. It is the greatest weapon we have, but it cannot be forced or imposed on anyone. We must be the love. The church is its people, not its religion. I think we’ve forgotten this.

Let’s bring back the people. Revitalise love, using Corinthians 13 as a guideline. Make church a place for both believers and non-believers. A place to interact with people who are different than us in some way, whether it be culture, language, identity, or something else. A place for people to be listened to and heard. People everywhere having conversations, sharing their lives, making sense of their lives. Feeling accepted. Feeling safe. Feeling loved for who they are, where they are. ­­­

What an opportunity!  What would the Church look like for you if love was present?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My friend Kirsty is dying

There will be no reprieve, no remission and no cure. The medical profession describe it as Motor Neurone Disease (MND). For two years now, this ogre of a disease has ransacked Kirsty’s body, causing chaos as it plunders and pillages, weakening and wasting all her muscles. I liken it to a home invasion; when all you can do is watch as someone violently strips your home of all its precious belongings.  Motor neurone disease is a progressive wasting and weakness of muscles responsible for speech, chewing and swallowing. Kirsty lost the ability to talk, cough, eat and swallow in the early stages of the disease. Her gait is now a lurching stagger and her head too heavy to hold up.  Motor neurone disease is fatal. Kirsty can do nothing but watch and wait, fully conscious of what is happening, for her end to come. Even her family of doctors, one a prominent Neurosurgeon, are powerless to offer lifesaving intervention – because there is none to offer.

But I don’t want this article to be about MND. This article is about the soul – mine, yours and especially Kirsty’s.  Does MND leave the soul alone. No!  Not even the soul has a free ‘get out of jail’ card.  MND taunts with power, boasts with its relentless destruction of the body. ‘Where’s your God now,’ it scoffs. But with the help of voice assist technology and some rather hilarious miming, I can tell you, Kirsty’s soul is alive, alight and very much on fire. Much, much more alive than the ravages of the disease. You do not see the illness when you talk with Kirsty. Her love for her God, her unwavering faith and the sureness of God’s love for her, stirs something in you. ‘What’? I hear you say. ‘If this God is so loving why the disease?’ ‘Why doesn’t God just heal her?’.  Good questions.  Kirsty and I touch on this from time to time, especially on the topic of healing.

As Christians we are taught and told of the miracles of healing the sick and raising the dead. Just pray and believe they said.  As a young Christian I believed this implicitly. But as I traversed the highs and lows of my faith, I began questioning. The multiplication of the loaves and the fishes, the blind to see, the lame to walk, bringing the dead to life, did they really happen and, if they did, is there any real, fail safe evidence that physical healing is happening now?  Will God answer my prayer and heal Kirsty? And if God doesn’t heal Kirsty, what does this say about God? What does it say about me? What does it say about Kirsty?  There had to be something we’re missing I mused.  The first part of the answer came from Kirsty herself.  I have reprinted it here.

Heaven or Healing?

It wasn’t so long ago that I had strong opinions about healing. I held a gritty assumption that healing was the rightful expectation of the believer. With sufficient faith and power-packed Scriptures, Satan would be disarmed, and God would triumph.

And then I got MND. I was the one needing healing.

As I faced this giant, I found that my thinking had changed. My growing understanding of God and deepening relationship with him had altered my perspective on the matter of healing. Also relevant was watching some mighty believers struck down by ‘untimely’ deaths.

Maybe there was no formula after all … and no guarantee. Maybe insufficient faith was not the culprit when healing did not happen? An element of divine mystery seemed so apparent.

From diagnosis I experienced a strong faith inside me. It was not faith explicitly for my healing, though there has never been an iota of doubt that my God heals. It was a faith that my Beloved held me securely in his hands and he was ordering the path before me. He called me to trust him with the unknown, with the fearsome.

As the months have gone by with MND’s unrelenting assault on my body, that faith has never wavered. His pleasure over me is real, his presence wrapped around me is strong and sweet.

Jesus the Immanuel … God with us … God with me. I gave him permission to have his way with my life, no matter what that looked like. I loved him so much that I just wanted him to be glorified – whether by healing me and letting me testify, or by taking me home. My real home. I trust in his wisdom and kindness.

So that is where is I am positioned this day. Almost overwhelmed by the ravages of MND but peacefully held. I would have it no other way. Hallelujah!

My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever. Psalm 73:26 NLT.

What an inspiring piece. This issue of physical healing is still a mystery to Kirsty.  She, me and we, do not have the answers to physical healing. But even though she is, as she says, ‘… almost overwhelmed by the ravages of MND’, Kirsty’s faith in God’s love for her, never wavers. And although I want, pray, cajole,  and demand, Kirsty be physically healed, God has been silent on the issue.  But God is bigger than our demands, expectations and perceptions – that’s the lesson I get from Kirsty’s writing.  She never stops seeking and searching to know her God better.  I love this about her.

In an earlier blog, I asked the question, ‘What if everything you perceive God to be is a lie?’.  It’s a thought-provoking question: It nudges, irks and challenges our ego. This is what it means to search and seek. It’s a question that excludes no-one – a God question that includes the atheist to the most ‘devout’.  A question daring us to let go of our perceptions of God. A question worth going back to time and time again because of the potential to discover new and greater possibilities of God’s love for us, every time we ask. This is the essence of Kirsty’s writing.

Whenever I visit Kirsty, I always hope I may be of some comfort to her as she faces the day to day grind of MND.  But exactly the opposite happens. I always leave with this weird feeling that Kirsty has comforted me. That my soul has been gently guided back onto the right track, as if I had been lost, and didn’t realise.   In our last conversation she was a bit down, “I just feel sitting here all day, I’m not contributing to anything,” she said. Well, I want my friend to know there is no bigger job than the work of contributing to the soul. Kirsty, you do that in bucket loads!

If you would like to follow Kirsty’s as she writes about her journey with God and MND you can search for her on Facebook – Prayers  for Kirsty.

 

 

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