God’s favourite.

God’s favour was once explained to me as a kind of serendipitous blessing He gives when He is particularly pleased with a Christian person, and wants to make life a little easier for them and let them know they are loved. Favour, to my understanding, meant nailing that business deal, dodging the cancer bullet, even finding that very last parking spot close to the door of the hospital or shopping centre.

Then, a few things happened to me which nobody would’ve considered to be God’s favour, even though I did everything they said to do (pray, believe you deserve favour, be a Christian in the first place). And I came to see a few things.

Very often, the same circumstances I considered to be “favour” were actually a disaster (or at the very least, an inconvenience) for someone else. When I got an opportunity ahead of someone else, that someone else missed out, and I didn’t really care about that. When my test results came back clear, I never spared a thought for all those whose hadn’t. When I got that convenient parking spot, it never occurred to me the person I beat to it may have needed it more than I did.

And I also noticed the great things which happened to me also frequently happened to others who didn’t know God and weren’t Christians. They sealed great business deals too, and received terrific breaks and opportunities. I noticed in most cases these came because of hard work, creativity, courage, persistence, talent, integrity, relationship and building on past successes.

Or maybe God just loves everyone, and gives His favour to just anyone He’s pleased with, not just Christians?

In any case, I began to wonder why I’d want to bypass hard work, creativity, courage, persistence, talent, integrity, relationship and building on past successes to get something because of something called “favour”, and whether I really appreciated the great thing I had if I got it without using those things first anyway.

The biggest change happened once I realised fully what it’s like when things don’t miraculously go your way, even when you pray and ask God very nicely could things please, please be okay or I don’t know how on earth I’m going to cope. I now knew how it felt to have a failed business and a cancer diagnosis, and it didn’t feel very nice. And when I understood what it really feels like when you don’t seem to be God’s favourite, I stopped asking God to favour me with ease and success, and I began to search out in my everyday life the kinds of people who didn’t seem to be God’s favourite either, to see if I could help them out.

And I discovered when I did help others out, even in some small way, that person felt God smiling on them.

And it was then I began to understand what God’s favour really is.

Soul Letters For The Cancer Sojourner – #12 Not My Time

Today, a friend asked me:

“Name something you did today with all your heart.”

It was an easy question to answer.

Today I wrote some words about another day a few years ago – the day I decided I wanted to be alive for the rest of my life.

I was about halfway through my radiotherapy treatment, and the most ill I’ve ever been. Three months of chemotherapy, a stem cell harvest, blood transfusion, six weeks away from my family and a very nasty case of shingles on top of everything had pulled me down further than I’d been in my life, physically, emotionally and mentally. I honestly felt like dying was a reasonable, comfortable option, if going on living was going to be anything like that.

I slept – thank God, I slept – and dreamt of swimming. I swam laps and laps, up and down, all the time watching the bottom of the pool, wondering what it would be like to live down there. After swimming laps in my dream for what seemed like hours, I wanted to stop and just rest a while.

At the end of the last lap I don’t tumble turn, instead letting myself just sink into the deep end. I slowly drift to the bottom, unafraid, happy to be at rest. I stop breathing. I let my arms and legs just hang there. I close my eyes and start to drift off. Just what I need – a long, long sleep.

I am startled by a sound – a voice – a muffled scream. I feel a boiling in my throat. It’s my voice. I am screaming.

Image credit: iStockphoto

I shake myself awake from the dream. It’s not my time. This is not when I get to stop living. I must keep on being alive, and only I can do it. Keep swimming, keep going. This will not last forever. Keep breathing. Don’t sleep now.

I dredge my soul up heaving from the bottom of myself. I know it was close, as close as it gets, but here I am.

—–

I love today, every today, because every today I am here to write about that other day when I had the choice whether to hold out for a day like this. I will never cease to be astonished at how bright and close every day is to me now. I don’t have to swim so hard anymore, but the practice has made me lean and strong. Strong enough to hold my own, and others’ too. Strong enough to bear to remember when death whispered in my ear and made me think that sleeping would be better than waking, sinking better than swimming, dying better than surviving.

Name one thing I did today with all my heart?

I lived.

*****

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The Disingenuous Doctrine Of God’s Perfect Will – Why Your Failure Doesn’t Ruin His Reputation

Just a few years ago, I had no idea what Gods perfect will for my life was. Like most Christians, I prayed about it a lot. I listened to sermons on it in church, and read books about how to find out what it was. One thing I do know, actually trying to do Gods will is really confusing.

It’s the whole waiting on God thing that does my head in. You know what you’d like to do, all indicators point to you needing to do this thing, but everyone says oh, just wait on God. Which is a Christian way of saying don’t rush it. Because you might fail, and then God will get a bad reputation.

Because failing at something is the worst thing a Christian can do.

Hm. I happen to think there’s two kinds of failure. There’s the failure you get when what you tried to do doesn’t work. And then there’s the failure you get when you don’t try in the first place.

I know why Christians say its way better to wait and see what God might do supernaturally than it is to just do something about it themselves. Its because we’ve believed if we rush in to take control, and things go wrong, someone will have to be held responsible for the failure. And God must never be blamed when things go wrong, because God is the God of rightness, perfection and success. Things must always turn out well, because Success = God was in it,  Failure = God wasn’t. And getting what you want, albeit by whatever spiritual-passive aggressive methods you prefer, definitely indicates that God was involved in the whole thing from woe to go. Failure means you must have done whatever it was via this weird thing called in your own strength.

I don’t know what that phrase even means anymore. Christians use it a lot, but it’s so ambiguous that it can mean anything from finding your own parking space to deciding whether or not to have chemotherapy. Oh, don’t even try to fight cancer/have a baby/enter into ministry/publish your book/find a partner/get a new job/change your abusive husband/give up your addiction in your own strength, just let God do it. Hmmm.

Funny thing is, I have seen God do all these things. And in every instance, He used other people using their own strength helping the first person with the problem when He did them. Sometimes He actually had to, because the person with the problem refused to do anything about it themselves. They were too afraid of being accused of doing it in their own strength.

Is doing something in our own strength really something bad? Is using our own intelligence, physical resources or capacity really the opposite to God using His? What if our intelligence, physical resources and capacity, and Gods, are actually the same thing?


What it all boils down to is the fact that many Christians believe the worst thing that can happen to them is failure. What is failure? Anything you said God told you to do that didn’t happen. It’s better to wait on God to do it supernaturally, and for nothing to ever happen at all, than to try and make something happen only to have it fall apart. Then, if nothing happens, we can attribute that to Gods will, and say He didn’t want it to happen in the first place. It’s not our fault. And we can’t be accused of failing. Phew.

Small print – because we never actually tried.

Look, I’m all for the supernatural, and I believe in miracles. Point in case – a few years ago, my husbands business failed and we were $20,000 in debt. We both prayed that God would help us, and that was a lot of praying, right there. We worked for a year to satisfy the creditors, in our own strength, and managed to repay half the debt. Then one day, God gave us the other $10,000. Gave it to us. Well, when I say He gave it to us, I had to do something to go get it. Here’s what happened.

One morning I got up and had an urge to take the dog for a walk on the beach. It was raining. Go, said God. OK, I said. I put the dog’s leash on and started walking. Not that way, said God, go the other way. But it’s further. Just go, said God. OK, I said. I got the to beach, in the rain, and started walking in the direction I usually did. Not that way, said God, go the other way. You must be joking, I said. Just do it, said God. As I walked up the beach in the opposite direction to the way I usually went, I looked down and saw something unusual. Unusual, but strangely familiar. Pick that up, said God, pick that up, and take it home. That right there is exactly what you think it is.

What was it? A huge lump of ambergris. It took me a couple of months, but eventually I sold it to the highest bidder – for $10,000.

Hilarious, don’t you think, that God helped us, not by having someone forgive our debt, or write us an anonymous cheque – but by giving us a piece of dried up old vomit? Did we fail, well, yeah. Did He help us? He sure did. Did we wait around sulking until then? Heck no. We paid off $10,000 at $200 a week, which was 20% of our combined income. And we were committed to paying the lot back that way. Did God decide to cut us a break because we were willing to do whatever it took? I have no idea. I do know that when I told the man I sold the ambergris to, that I considered my finding it was a miracle from God, he just kept right on counting out my cash and answered drily, “Yeah, I hear that a lot.”

God lets us do things in our own strength, and He doesn’t get mad when we do. After all, what on earth does He have to lose? Doing things in our own strength makes us strong. God also lets us make mistakes, and doesn’t mind when we fail, because it makes us wise. God also lets us do things that may or may not be His will, because that makes us interesting. God wants us to be strong, wise and interesting, because when you think about it, that would mean we are just like Him. And God knows – literally – how much we’re always rabbiting on about that.

When it comes to choices, decisions and consequences, don’t worry so much about this weird, passive-aggressive idea of Gods will. A very wise person once said to me that Gods will isn’t like a cattle chute a cow is forced to shuttle down – it’s like the huge, green paddock that she grazes in. Great advice. Loosen up. Have a go. Two things – just listen, He’s speaking. And stay alive – you’re not much good to anyone dead. Otherwise, go for it. What do you have to lose?

I know what God’s will for my life is now. It’s to be alive. To be alive means to sometimes fail, sometimes be hurt and sometimes fall down. Staying safe and getting things right, trying to keep to narrow idea of existential perfection isn’t being alive – it’s something else. Maybe madness. Maybe even death. My advice? Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, to fail, to try things out, because more than he wants you to be safe, perfect or right, God wants you to be strong, smart and infinitely interesting, because funnily enough, that would make you exactly like Him.

Seven Reasons Why I Am A Really Bad Christian Wife

1. I don’t care much for being cute.

I’m a Christian wife, mother and a writer, but believe me, I don’t look like Lisa Bevere. I have several tattoos, long, blonde dreadlocks and I wear size 14.  I found out that American clothes size numbers are smaller than Australian ones, so I’m trying to get my husband to move us to Portland, Oregon (in the US) so I can email everyone back home in Australia and tell them I have instantly become a size 10. Having dreadlocks means I save a heap on shampoo, styling product and haircuts, and I plan to spend what I save on those for the move to Portland. I hear they’re real big on things like tattoos and dreadlocks there.

2. I never make my husbands lunches.

We married on a sunny February morning, on a Saturday. I made my husbands first lunch to take to work on the Monday following our return from our honeymoon. On Friday of the same week, my husband came home from work and said he didn’t like what I was giving him for lunch. That was in 1989, and he started making his own sandwiches about 30 seconds later. So that, my friend, is how you get back fifteen minutes of your day and avoid a hell of a lot of shouting.

Image credit: whimsydream.wordpress.com

3. I hate to cook.

For some reason, Christian women are supposed to like cooking, and are supposed to cook a variety of nutritious tasty food for their families and provide same for sick members of the church community and the occasional pot luck dinner. I’ve given it a red hot try over the years, believe me, but I’m still just not into it. All that time and energy, for something that will be devoured in under a minute.  And that’s if they *like* it. Heaven forbid you should throw in something new every once in a while. Totally discouraged in the end by my family’s resistance to all experimentation mainly designed to try and keep up my own motivation, I resorted to cooking the same five things in rotation. After eating this menu for years, our older kids are now physically allergic to tuna casserole. I believe my spaghetti bolognese is probably responsible for my adult sons suspected coeliac disease.

On the upside, my husband and kids have decided that there are other ways to get interesting and tasty food. Make it themselves, or order it in. My evil plan is working.

4) I don’t go to Christian Women’s Conferences.

Large groups of just women – and Christian women particularly – make me very, very nervous. It could be just me, but it feels like there’s just way too much intuition in the room. You can never know what two, let alone two thousand, Spirit-filled women in a room might do. Literally. You also never know what they might say. They seldom stick to the script, the notes, or the program, even if the script, the notes and the program are their own creation. Women at a women’s conference love an itinerary. It makes great confetti. But there’s something else about women’s conferences. It’s not just the crowds, the noise and the unallocated seating that brings me out in a sweat. It’s the distinct lack of men. I like men, and I feel uncomfortable when I can’t find one, because I think the presence of men serves to remind women that the world and everything in it is made completely of dirt. I would prefer to stay home with my man and practice on my own marriage than sit a big room and listen to the pastors wife – or worse, the pastors wife’s husband – talk about theirs. You can read more about why I don’t go to Christian Women’s Conferences here.

5) I’m not bothered by my husbands sexual needs.

Most of the books I’ve read for Christian women on the subject of sex make the assumption that there will be problems in the marriage because he is going to want so much of it. Maybe there is something wrong, because my husbands needs have never been a problem for me. Oh yes, I’m a bad Christian wife.

6) I don’t like to entertain.

I think this is mostly because I am afraid of being judged, because I am not a very good housekeeper. You’re not even at my house, and you’re judging me now because of what I just told you, I know it. You really want to be in the house, eating the cupcakes and sipping the tea of someone with so many neurosis? Of course not. I realise this, and so I have mercifully spared us both the embarrassment. Not entertaining is good for my marriage because my husband likes me better when my neurosis are not aggravated. That will work.

7) I swear. A lot.

Clearly this makes it difficult for me to be a Really Good Christian Wife. I could be a really good bowery sea captain, however. My tattoos, I believe, help signficantly. My penchant for coarse language benefits our marriage because my husband need have no fear I will be stolen away by another man, at least not a tender-hearted one. I wouldn’t stand for being stolen away anyway. I’m also a bit of a shin-kicker.

I’m not really that bad of a Christian wife, my husband says, but he also said that these seven things are probably only funny if you don’t have to live them. That was right before I told him to shut up and eat his tuna casserole.

 

Ps: If you punch “good Christian wife” into Google images, funnily enough you get a whole lot of pictures of Christian Bale, who coincidentally looks remarkably like my husband Ben, and on whom I have a very  famous crush. How serendipitous 🙂

 

Love Means Never Having To Say I’m Not The One Who’s The Alcoholic

I don’t drink. Alcohol, that is. I stopped drinking December 2009. Before that, I liked to drink, and did so whenever I liked. No too much, you understand, just a glass of red or two probably five nights a week, and sometimes the whole bottle except for the last half a glass I’d toddle over and tip down the sink swearing not to do it again the next night. I don’t quite know how I ended up with that habit. I think it was medicinal, and probably started around the same time my husbands drinking did. I think I started drinking a lot to cope with the issues which arose from the fact my husband was drinking a lot. And he was drinking a lot. In the end, he had to leave, because his alcoholism was driving me to something resembling it and more besides. He went away to rehab, actually, and to his credit, he sorted it out, with a lot of help. He’s back home now and things are grand.

While he was away at rehab, I used the solace and privacy as an excuse to do a bit of therapeutic drinking. I’m fairly sure this is how I carried on the whole time he was gone. I see now the unfairness and hypocrisy of it, but my excuse was that I was not the alcoholic, he was, and technically, it was true. But if he had a problem with drink, then we had a problem with drink, and not just my drinking or his drinking, but the reasons we thought drinking could help whatever was wrong with us. It was the fact that something was wrong which was the real issue. It wasn’t my husband, it wasn’t even the drinking. There were, as is usually the case in dysfunctional, codependent, enabling relationships, deeper problems we had no capacity to face up to which were the problem. Drinking was just anaesthetic, avoidance, suspension of animation. My husband has no memory of vast sections of the two years when he was drinking heavily; things and events he simply doesn’t recall. Significant events – moving house, holidays, big decisions that were made and conversations that were pivotal. I’d say they were gone from his memory, but I doubt they really ever went in. They came at him and merely rebounded clean off his conciousness like a poorly aimed beer bottle thrown at a bin. We have sections of our married life that he was physically present for, but which he conducted in some kind of mental, emotional and spiritual automatic state; his real self was trapped in a world of pain inside his chest, inside his head. I see I was right when I perceived back then he was not there with me somehow. He was a personality perfectly preserved, pickled for posterity in a brown glass bottle.

The month he came home from rehab, we went to his prospective boss’ Christmas Party. It was a flash do on a charter boat. The bar was open and gratis to all. We talked about it beforehand, and we knew it would be his first real test. But he did great. I’d decided before we went I wouldn’t drink at the party, to show my support, although we hadn’t had a big discussion about the issue of whether I would drink in the future, and if I did, how that was going to work. While we were at the party, my husband bumped into a guy who’d been in the rehab a few months before he had. He was working for the company my husband would be working for, and doing great. He too was finding it hard with the alcohol flowing freely all around us, and no way to get off the boat, but he was holding up manfully. He had his partner with him. She had a beer bottle in one hand, and a glass of wine in the other – both for herself. The pressure on her man to keep up his bargain with God and with himself was his alone to bear. She told me “Well, why not? I’m not the alcoholic, am I?”

It was then I decided I didn’t need to drink any more.

Over the past year, friends have invited me out with them, touting it as my chance to imbibe independent of my ‘dry’ husband, a chance to really enjoy myself, as if going out and not drinking were the equivalent of bathing in public in a vat of cold porridge. I sincerely thank them; I’m not as much offended by the fact they want to sneak me out to drink behind my husbands back as I am disheartened. I guess the fact that we had such a long road to reconcile our marriage just brings this whole element of loyalty to the issue. As hard as it was for me to allow a sneaky, lying drunk back into the house, it must have been just as hard for him to come back to a distrustful, anxiety ridden female. I think my teetotalling is the least I can do to show him 1) I’m not frightened of him anymore and 2) we’re actually doing this whole thing together.

It’s been a year, and it hasn’t been hard for me – the drinking part at least. For my husband, it’s been harder, and it’s an ongoing journey. God’s grace is all we have going for us, and we see it every day extended toward us in ways we could never have imagined, great and small. We are happy and love each other so much; more than we ever have or had the capacity to in the 22 years before now that we’ve been married. It’s been said that he who has been forgiven much loves much, and both my husband and I appreciate how much the other had to forgive for this present happiness to exist. A great gift, precious, and to be treated with respect and deference. He is a drunk redeemed by mercy….I am a shrew redeemed by giving it.

My husband being an alcoholic, and my potential to follow him, is not as big a deal now, but it certainly was when it was with us. I won’t easily forget finding spirit bottles refilled with cold tea and water, seeing him drive up with our son in the car and a beer bottle between his thighs, or stumbling across secret caches of empty beer bottles…..or finding a wine bottle with one glass left in it at the back of the cupboard, months after he’d gone away to rehab….and realising I must have been the one who hid it.

There but for the grace of God.

Read here about the work of Sherwood Cliffs Christian Community Rehabilitation Centre, where my husband Ben completed his program in 2009.

Do you or someone you love have a problem with alcohol? Click here for Alcoholics Anonymous Australia.

The God Shaped Hole – The Myth Of The Problem Free Life

You know, a lot of people think the whole purpose of human existence is to try get rid of all your problems, and a lot of those people are Christians. If this is what you think life is all about, you’re nailed, because you’ll never do it. I think the best we can hope for is to just exchange the problems we don’t like for other problems we can live with. For most people I know, this is what life consists of; the perpetual, sometimes exhausting, often expensive, pursuit of new, more manageable and socially acceptable problems.

I myself have quite a few problems. At the moment, they relate mostly to money, to my need to maintain the aging and quite weathered body I inhabit, and to having four children ranging in age from twenty two to ten years old to mother. Luckily, a lot of my problems aren’t mine to bear alone. I have a husband to share them with, and I’m pleased to say that right now my marriage is probably the least of my problems. It hasn’t always been so, but we’ve been working pretty hard on it and it’s going well. There have been times when the set of problems associated with our marriage seemed insurmountable, and we lost hope that we would ever be able to make it work, but by the grace of God, and because it’s still illegal to kill your spouse, we’ve been able to see it through. I think marriage works best when you both have the same set of problems to work on, and is even better when those problems don’t include each other.

What are problems anyway? I think they are things someone else is able to convince us we have wrong with us. I know I wouldn’t have half my problems if I didn’t have a television. If you ask me, advertising is just one long, steady stream of information designed to undermine all sense of happiness and wellbeing, a constant reminder of what I haven’t accumulated yet, as if I needed reminding. If television is to be believed, things, and perhaps rock hard abs, are what make us happy. I guess if solving the problems that come with owning lots of stuff is what you enjoy doing, then probably having stuff will make you happy. Not me. Call me lazy, but if it were up to me, I’d live in a caravan and never do housework, and just drive my car into the ground. I don’t really want the problems that come with having lots of new things. I have enough trouble trying to stay in one size of pants and remembering the birthdays of everyone in my family. I hate to think what I’ll be like when I’m eighty.

In my twenties, I thought it was possible to eradicate my problems. I thought I could just choose my way through them and out the other side. For example, I cured my issues with body image by keeping myself pregnant for about a decade. I think my becoming a Christian was probably meant to serve the same purpose. Christianity promised me freedom from the burden of past problems, and freedom from the worry of any new ones. I have wondered since then whether all the things that happened between then and now were as a result of a misunderstanding on my part, or a shortcoming on God’s.

One thing I could not have predicted is that my inability to manage any of my problems, my cancer, my marriage collapse, my husbands alcoholism and breakdown, was actually what ended up bringing God and I together after twenty five years of Christianity. I thought that my being imperfect was what kept me from being close to God, that my problems showed how bereft I was and how far I had to go. I thought my crappy life was evidence of my wrongness, of Gods distance, of my un-Christianness. But if I were as fixed up as I wished I was, I’d never have been able to receive the grace that cost God so much to give me.

When I was a little girl, the greatest compliment someone could pay my parents after they had minded me was “Oh, she was no trouble.” And that’s what I still want in my heart so much to be seen as…no trouble. I am not too much. I am not a pest. I can be good and well-behaved and low-maintainance. You don’t need to fix me, keep me, mend me God. I am worth keeping. I’m worth not leaving. But God is not a man that He would leave, or leave me, or lie. He is God, and He knows I can’t do this on my own, that it can’t be done. And doing it right isn’t about doing it right, getting it right, making it all perfect…it’s about doing it together. It’s about needing Him and being able to be content with myself as someone who needs Him. It’s about accepting that problems are part of my life, and because they are, He is.

My self-sufficiency may impress my friends, relieve my parents and irritate my enemies, but it pretty much renders God’s grace toward me void. And it’s not that I make problems in order to validate God’s grace; I don’t need to. Problems are coming whether I want them or not. As my friends and I say, everyone’s got the stuff. But the thing is, if you’ve got the stuff, you’ve also got God’s grace. If you’ve solved all your shortcomings, you don’t need it. And He wants to give it. Two weeks ago, I saw God move to bring two people together with something uncommon in common who needed each other desperately and didn’t know how to find each other…and neither of them are Christians, but everyone who watched it unfold sat back in awe of what was happening. The only other believer in the room and I whispered the same thing in each others ears  – that, right there, is Gods grace…extended to people who don’t even know Him, who don’t even acknowledge He exists. I’ve seen with my own two eyes God reach out to bless a needy sinner, and I’ve also seen Him take a wide berth around a self-sufficient, self-congratulatory Christian.

I’m done being embarrassed about my problems. I often make errors of judgement that take me places I don’t want to be, and I’m working on that. But I don’t care what people think as much as I once did. Everyone’s got the stuff, you know? If it’s a toss up between keeping up appearances, pretending I don’t need God’s grace because I’m so worked out, and looking like a loser because I need his grace like I need oxygen, it’s the latter I choose. With the problems, comes the grace. With the grace comes Him. With me, I just get…me. The problem free life is a myth, and can’t be organised or even purchased. What you really need the most has already been paid for.

Things Not To Say To Someone Who Has Cancer

In July 2003, I was diagnosed with aggressive Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. At stage 3B (there are only 4 stages, and B means it had begun spreading around my body) the tumour in my chest was as big as a saucer. My treatment consisted of three months of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiotherapy. During this time, we had the wonderful opportunity to be supported by a church community who cooked my family hot meals most evenings and provided nothing less than amazing support.

However, as well as the good, there was the bad and the downright ugly. There were times when I wondered what belief systems people limp around with, and about what was being preached in churches and printed in books about sickness and supportive care. For the information of those wishing to be a support to those with cancer or other life-threatening illnesses, I offer the following. This list will be based on actual statements which were made to me either whilst I had cancer or in the months following my successful treatment.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. This comes from the idea that adversity breeds resilience. Often and ideally it can do just that. However, what doesn’t kill you can still frighten you witless. Being told you have cancer and may not see the year out, let alone never your children grow to adulthood, is a soul-withering concept, often accompanied with a varying range of intense emotions which may last days, weeks and even months. Being told that if you don’t die, at least you may end up having a more highly evolved character is not particularly comforting. Being told there is a chemotherapy that will get rid of your cancer is.

My friend/cousin/uncle/neighbour had that, and they died. A clear example of how the truth doesn’t always set you free.

Just pray, and God will heal you. Sometimes people recover from cancer, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes, people pray and cancer goes away, sometimes nobody prays and cancer goes away. Instead of the above, tell them sincerely “I will pray for you”, then go away and actually do it.

You must have unconfessed sin in your life/family lineage/household. This statement serves no purpose whatsoever, as condemnation has always failed in facilitating repentance anyway. The precursor for cancer is possession of a human body in a messed up world. If you believe and plan to say the above statement, be prepared to back it up with Scripture. Because you can’t, and you and I both know it, I am already primed to come to your house and punch you in the mouth if you actually go ahead.

God is trying to teach you something through this. When I was little, my mother taught me to avoid touching the hot stove by holding my hand on the heat until I screamed in pain and had to be hospitalised for months. Not really. My mum loves me. She found other ways to teach me which wouldn’t leave me permanently disfigured and hate her forever.

You don’t need chemotherapy, you just need faith. David was assured by God he would be valiant over Goliath, but he still used a rock and a sling. And he finished the job with Goliaths own sword. If you have issue with “worldly” medicine, I say fight fire with fire: after all, disease is not a condition that occurs in heaven.

I would love to come around and see you. What you probably mean is “I would love to come around and look at you. I would like you to see my sad face, and my “coffin eyes”. I would like you to hear all the things God/my neighbour/the internet has told me about your disease and how to become better.” The last thing someone who has cancer wants to be is an exhibit. Don’t get a committee together from the church for a drop-in and expect to be welcomed. We had to put a sign on our door to stop people just wandering into our home uninvited to “see” me. Having cancer does not cancel out a person’s dignity or right to privacy.

I have a book for you. Please do not take your book, especially if it is about special cancer curing food, juice or vitamin supplements. Most cancer patients have a television, a phone, a car, the internet, and access to every store that you do. Offer to get them anything they would like that they can’t seem to be able to get for themselves. If they want to know about the Praise Jesus Diet or some Guatemalan beetle juice, then they will call you and ask you to get it for them.

I can make a lasagne. Anything but lasagne. They have probably had as much pasta bake as they can eat brought by well-meaning friends and relatives. Be creative, call first with the offer, and actually follow through. And please don’t expect them to remember that you sent it in Aunty Betty’s special wedding present casserole dish. Stress does funny things to the memory. They will be hard pressed thanking you, let alone getting your heirloom back to your house.

Tell me everything. I knew people understood what I was really going through when they didn’t ask me to tell them.. After being prodded, poked and punctured, and having my bodily dysfunctions discussed in minute detail the last thing I wanted to converse about was cancer. I wanted someone to look into my face and really see me, the person inside the body. Now some people like to talk about their disease, treatment and operations with great animation and detail: they may be enemy focussed, and if this helps them, well, great. I find that most people with cancer will enjoy an opportunity to talk about the outside world, the place where living occurs: normal life. Indulge them, not your own morbid fascinations.

Well, we all have to die from something. If you had walked among the dying, you would never speak of death so lightly.

I lived with a man who in his last weeks of life was dealing with the fact he caused his own lung cancer and would soon be leaving his teenage son behind. I also lived with a couple who had saved up all their working lives so they could travel, only to have the husband diagnosed with brain cancer two months after retiring. I met countless young women who lost the breasts they nurtured their children at, and the partners they conceived them with, because of what cancer brought into their world. I know a woman who died of mouth cancer who I am sure would rather have died of anything else. In the end, her face was eaten away, and she was unable to eat or kiss her husband, who remained faithfully at her side until she died. Six months later, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Yes, everyone must die sometime, of something. The fortunate ones are blessed with the time and the opportunity to ask themselves the following three questions: Is this my time to die? If not, am I able to do what is required to survive? If this is my time, am I prepared? If you are in a position to be beside someone who is faced with these questions, pray for wisdom to help them find their answers, and for the strength to walk beside them through their valley of the shadow. And remember, whenever you are with them, it really is all about them.

Creativity – It’s Not About Quality, It’s About Permission

“All children are born artists, the trick is to remain one as you grow up.” – Pablo Picasso

My most memorable creative moment happened when I was a small child of about five or six. It was a significant point in my life as an artist, but unfortunately, it’s all been pretty much downhill from there.

I was the kind of precocious youngster that liked to make sure everyone knew I was around. I liked to sing and dance and make up plays where I would parade around in my mother’s nightdresses, pretending to be Indian royalty. You get the picture. I didn’t realise that a significant thing was happening in the actual moment; it’s only now when I think back I really wish I’d held on to that flash of genius. If I had by now I’d probably have created a vast body of artistic work, but as it stands, I have wasted about twenty of the last forty two years not making the art I love so much. And why? Well, mostly because I was afraid it would not be any good.

I was singing, you see, just before it happened. I was singing my head right off, and by God, I was good, just about as good as a five or six year old can be. I was thinking how amazing it was to be able to produce such a wondrous noise just by opening one’s mouth and sending the voice out as big and wide as possible. Now, this was not just self expression or exuberance – this was technical. My big ‘ole voice could go up and down, and up and down again, and oh, what a wonderful feeling! I was quite lost in this place of pure joy, just being a small child singing its heart out, when someone who should have known better interrupted me. “Oh!” they exclaimed, actually putting their hands up over their ears, “What a terrible noise!”

That, by the way, was not the significant moment. It came immediately afterwards.

I looked up at the person who should have known better, and I thought, you know what? You’re wrong. You are just wrong, because that was not a terrible noise. That, right there,was some mighty fine singing. You don’t know what you’re talking about.

And there it was. I’ve struggled to get back there ever since.

Oh, if only I’d been able to bring that six year old back into the room every time I put down my guitar because the inner person who should have known better said “Oh, what a terrible noise!” I wish I’d asked that little girl what she thought all those times I laid down the paintbrush, or pushed my chair away from the keyboard, or dropped out of the dance class. I wish I’d remembered my significant moment when I burned the romantic poems of my adolescence because I thought they were stupid, and when I refused to play my songs in public. I wish I’d listened to her every time my inner perfectionist refused to let me waste time making bad art, and made me get a job I was good at instead. Imagine what a musician, what a dancer, what a poet, what a painter, what a writer I’d be by now, if only, if only I’d never stopped every time I heard a voice say “Ah! That’s awful! For the love of God, stop it!” I wish that I’d remembered to say “Are you out of your mind? Of course it’s bad! Who are you – the friggin’ art police?”….and then just got on with it anyway.

I know now that it takes a long time to get as good as you’d like to be when you first begin. You learn to do something by doing it, says John Holt, there is no other way. A very wise friend of mine says you need about ten thousand hours to become proficient at something, be it throwing a pot, writing a sonnet, or probably even raising a child. Nobody can make something incredible right away. When it comes to creating art, it’s not about quality, it’s about permission. And permission to make your art, good, bad and ugly, is a gift only you can give yourself.

Creativity is subversive. It needs room to move. It needs to be allowed to rebel, to think, to explore, to explode, to sleep, to feed and to question. It will eat everything you feed it and eliminate its waste as its requirements dictate. Your creativity will boldly announce itself as having arrived, and then may sit by and do nothing. It may take over, it may undermine. It may sleep all day, and work all night. But in the end, creativity will be the essence of wonderful, because it is greater than all conventions. If you want to excel in convention, do just what has been done before and merely seek to improve upon it. But if you wish to be an artist, break faith with convention; starve it in the dark, smash it and crush it and put it outside while you fly around the room with paintbrushes and flugelhorns. Chase your convention screaming from the room and throw its pretentious crown out after it into the street. Take your creativity and kiss it with passion right on the mouth, then let it kiss you back. Give yourself permission to love that part of you that scares others to death; your muse, your thinker, your child, your dreamer, your explorer, your artist, your heart, your ideas, your creations. They are yours, they are you, and that alone makes them great and worthy.

Write the book you cannot find, the one that tells your story. Sing the song that haunts you in your dreams. Bring your wild vision forth and fill the hungry canvas.  Get that art out of you, as if you could push your own heart right out of your mouth. Don’t worry about it being wrong; don’t worry about it being good enough. There is no art police but your own inner judge, your critic, your resistance to wrongness and imperfection and mistakes. It’s not an awful noise I promise you; it’s wonderful. Your creativity is not just what you do….it’s who you are. And I…I am the Queen of India. :0)

*****

Time Life – The Creative Life Has Time For Dreams

Blaine Hogan has written this great blog about the attitude we as artists, and as humans, have to time, and its relationship to the creative process.

Blain Hogan – It Takes Time

I know what he means, and so do many of you, if the responses I have recieved via my Facebook link to Blaine’s post. It seems the idea that we could possibly leave time in our busy, structured lives for any meaningful kind of unintentional reflection, introspection or creative process is pretty much anathema to us.

Since I stopped doing paid work a few months ago, I have struggled to define myself in my interactions with other people. “And what are you doing with yourself?” is the standard salutation when you meet a friend or are introduced to a new aquaintance. What do you say when what you do has nothing to do with the attainment of money or a degree of some kind? What do you tell people when for the most part what you do, besides the minimum amount of housework possible to maintain good health, is sit down and write stuff no one reads and no one pays you for? This is the first time in my adult life I have been able not to work, other than when I was heavily pregnant or just had a baby, and it’s only because my husband has released me to not feel I have to. I wanted time to just…..breathe.

I have always been a super-busy person. I have always has at least ten things on the go at once. I have worked and volunteered and had babies and homeschooled and run my own businesses, and in between that I’ve had health problems including cancer, my marriage broke down and my husband had a breakdown and went away to rehab for six months. It’s been a busy twenty four or so years since I joined the world in it’s obsessive mania of accumulation, consumption and production. And what have I to show for it all?

We don’t own our own house any more. We had a house once, but we were so incredibly stressed trying to earn the monet it cost to pay the bank for it and actually keep it properly that we sold it. Even if we had held on to it, we’d have lost it at least twice since. Not having a mortgage probably saved us from bankrupcy a couple of times. We have a car, some furniture and some cash for emergencies. I don’t know what we’ll do when we can’t work any more. Probably buy a tent and live in one of our kids backyards. There already fighting over who gets the crazy old lady…none of them would mind having their dad. He’s the quiet one.

I have tried to be the good little capitalist my country and my community would like me to be, but I’m not good at it. Someone wise once said to me that you may win the rat race, but you are still just another rat. It’s taken nearly dying for me to realise I need time to live. I need time to create, and write, and think, and read, and talk to my kids, because that is living, that is life. I have no idea how long I have left, and I mean that most sincerely. I am living on borrowed time now… I have been on my second chance since 2004 when i went tino remission…and I am not going to waste any of it racing on a wheel of someone elses making.

Art takes time. Thought takes time. Beauty takes time. Inspiration takes time. Love takes time. You can’t make time, or even take time. It just has to be there. You have to leave it. You have to wait, and not fill the waiting with anything else. You have to resist the urge to stay busy so others will think you’re productive, prolific, useful, worthy. You have to just have big swathes of emptiness and nothingness and peace for life to come and fill you up. Life is what we were made for, not to make a living. This is the abundant life Christ speaks of – a life where we are relieved from the pressure of being full and needing to be filled, a life where we are prepared to be empty to allow something to come and fill us. We are so busy stuffing ourselves with information and experiences, we have lost the ability to imagine and to dream for ourselves. Art comes in the void…..in the beginning was the void, and God made from the void….and He saw that it was good.

The rest is not just for the time after the work. Sometimes, the rest is the work. When people ask me what i am doing, I don’t know what to say, so now I am just telling them “Nothing!” Unfortunately, there’s nowhere to go from there, but it is the truth. I don’t know if I will be able to create my magnum opus in this time I have, and I have no idea when it will come to an end. Perhaps it won’t. I can only hope.

Leave time, leave space in your life for your own thoughts and imaginings. I know it feels like fears of being poor or bereft or stupid will come in and overwhelm you, and you will need to get up and start producing again, but I promise you, the fears pass. You come to a place of seeing yourself as more than merely what you can produce. Hebrews were only of value to the Egyptians because they made bricks the Egyptians needed to build their monuments. The abundant life we are promised by our Maker is release from the indentity this Egypt has fashioned for us; fit only for producing consumables. But you, you, are an artist, you are a work of art. You were made to create, not just to make. You were created from an idea, not from a brick-mould. You are more than what you produce. Leave time. Time is where your dreams lie waiting to be realised.