scar

If you are one of the poor souls who reads my bloggages regularly you will know that from time to time I mention that I suffer from Chronic Migraine and Cluster Headaches. From about 2002 onwards there has been a constant Migraine headache going on inside my skull. The only variation was in intensity of the pain levels. To go with this is a regular routine of Cluster Headaches. The CH attacks make the migraine feel pleasant by comparison and are debilitating beyond belief.

Before you start getting the handkerchiefs out for a sob story let me say that since I had an operation to install an Occipital Nerve Stimulator I have been more or less Migraine and Cluster Headache free while it has been working, which is life-transforming. The headaches are still there. They are still firing away, which I discovered to my painful cost when the battery in my first ONS expired and the headache pain resurfaced almost instantaneously. But the ONS means that my brain no longer pays attention to the pain signals.

(If you don’t like the idea of surgical implantation you might like to skip the next paragraph and pick up the bloggage below the picture).

I am SO grateful to have this gadget implanted within me and to feel the reassurring ‘fizz’ in the back of my head where the wires are implanted. Each week I sit for a while and re-charge the battery that is inserted just under the skin at the top of my chest (no, I don’t plug in, it’s an induction charging process).

charge
recharging

 

 

(If you skipped the last paragraph, welcome back). The great news for me is that because of this implant I am pain free on the whole. The headaches are there still, but I can’t feel them because my brain has been tricked into ignoring the pain signals.

However, occasionally I get a bit self-conscious about the bits and pieces inside me. Last weekend I attended the Baptist Assembly and as we were sitting in a row in the auditorium one of my self-conscious moments came over me as I realised that all of the people behind me were able to see the scar in the back of my head (oops, sorry, another potential squeam moment). I started to wonder what they were thinking about it, and if they were put off by it. I started to feel uncomfortable about it and wanted to put a hat on to hide it.

And then I realised that most people weren’t likely to be feeling as awkward about it as I was. I realised that if anyone asked me about it I would be able to tell them about the wonderful life-transforming nature of the surgery that led to that scar. And I realised that, once again, I was grateful that I have the scar rather than the headaches. I still wouldn’t mind if my hair regrew in that area and covered it (or indeed the rest of my scalp too) but I became comfortable once again in my own skin, scars and all.

That then got me thinking about how people can be really uncomfortable about how other people perceive them. We all want to be liked and appreciated. We don’t want other people to think badly of us. We try to keep our weaknesses and failures and difficulties hidden from others.

But as a follower of Jesus I want people to know that I have not got myself completely sorted, I still make mistakes, I still let people down, I still get things wrong. I want people to know that I am a work in progress. And while I don’t rejoice or revel in these things they are like the visible scar on the back of my head and I am happy that they are visible because they are testimony to the change that God is bringing about in me. I want people to know that my relationship with God, the example, teaching, forgiveness and fresh start offered by Jesus Christ and the personal experience and presence of the Spirit of God make all the difference in the world to me. Slowly but surely I am being changed to become a better person. The scars and wounds of fragile human nature and fecklessness are still present, but they now point to the fact that my identity in God has been changed to ‘forgiven’.

Just as my ONS means that my headaches no longer have the debilitating effect on me they once had, and it gives me the opportunity to live life with a broader smile on my face, so my relationship with God described above makes all the difference. It’s not that I am perfect and that bad stuff will no longer affect me – far from it. The bad stuff still happens but it happens in the wider context of God’s forgiving, all-embracing gracious love, his gentle presence, a certainty, a hope and a meaning for life within me that are life-transforming for me.

And my story includes an experience that without that forgiving, all-embracing gracious love, presence, certainty, hope and meaning for life within me during the darkest days of the rampant Migraines and Cluster Headaches I would not have been able to live in even the semblance of coping that I had. God’s grace was enough when there was nothing else but pain. The pain didn’t go away, but the all-consuming meaninglessness of it was given a different context of life, hope, love and strength that came from God, not from within.

I hope and pray that you might experience that for yourself too.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Christmas present

As I am recycling at the moment (eg Nora the Noisy Angel) I thought I would recycle a ‘thought for the week’ I sent to the Ministers in the Eastern Baptist Association this week.

giftI had a clever mailing from a well-known Swedish furniture store come through my letter box last week. On the front it said, “Christmas is all about the present.” I groaned inwardly and decided not to open it because it was so far from what Christmas is all about. I was about to recycle it but curiosity got the better of me and I opened it. The text inside reads, “It’s the present (not the presents) that counts. And those moments with loved ones are the best of all…”

“That’s clever,” I thought to myself, “I wonder if I can include that in a Christmas message?” And then I started to reflect on whether it really is all about the present:

Advent is a season of time-travel. We travel back in time to the period before BC became AD and anticipate Jesus’ arrival. We empathise with the longing of his people for God to act. We hope and pray for a better future. We lament. We ache. We wait.

Christmas Carol Services and Nativity Plays are wonderfully nostalgic (which is why they are attended by the regular ‘once a year at Christmas’ part of our church family). They are a familiar touching place with the Unchangeable Story (which we soon discover if we dare to change things too radically). Of course they can also be incredibly poignant and painful for those who are reminded of past loss. In these moments the past is triggering our emotional response to the present.

And yet, in the midst of it, is the small voice of a child crying in a cattle feeding trough reminding us that this is the season of God, the eternal One, with us – Immanuel . In the present.

Christmas really is all about the present, God present with us.

Be blessed, be a blessing

not much has happened

Dear Bloggists, sorry that it has been a while since my last bloggage. Not much has happened in the intervening time…

We have been on holiday to Sweden, meeting up with lots of Sally’s friends (and me making new friends). So I have seen lots of lakes, lots of words that in Swedish are normal but in English are funny (such as the delicious chocolate sweet in this photo).

I have seen castles and visited the Royal Palace at Drottningholm (in my mind a bit like Windsor Palace for the Queen in the UK as it’s a bit out of Stockholm). I have walked in a national park and heard some interesting noises that may or may not have been an elk or a wild boar.

I have discovered a new special concept: fika. This is stopping for tea / coffee and a cake, and can be at any time. Indeed as I write this bloggage I am also enjoying fika with a cup of coffee and the last of the Swedish cinnamon buns we brought back.

I have performed some magic for some of our Swedish friends, and also for an 8 year-old daughter of the friend of one of our Swedish friends on her birthday. It’s quite a challenge performing illusions when you don’t share a language, but it seemed to go well. I think an open mouth and wide eyes means the same thing for audiences in most languages!

And I have performed magic with a message at Heart for Harlow’s town centre service (not long after two women performed songs from Disney’s Frozen, complete with costumes.

I have had the date confirmed for my interview to join the Magic Circle. If I get through the interview I will then have an examination (audition) to perform later on.

We have been welcomed into Membership of our local church, South Woodham Evangelical Church.

Oh yes, and my friend Richard Jones only went and won Britain’s Got Talent! Well done Richard! You can see the two of us performing together last year here at the end of a show when we hired out a local village hall. I guess his days of performing in village halls may be over!

So not much has happened.

It is easy to get caught up and carried away with events, especially when they are either really positive or really negative, and forget that God wants us to involve him in these things too. When it’s good we sometimes forget to be grateful to him. When it’s bad we sometimes forget to call out to him (unless it’s to blame him).

I have written before about having an attitude of gratitude, and I am so grateful for all of the above experiences.

I am grateful that when things are not so good I know that I do not have to face those things alone. I know that He is with me when I walk through the darkest valley and I am grateful that nothing can separate me from his love.

I guess I am even grateful for the ability to be grateful. And I am also grateful that I have someone to be grateful to. If you don’t have a relationship with God, who are you able to be grateful to?

Today why not try listing things for which you are grateful, and be grateful to the One who gave you the ability to be grateful?

Be blessed, be a blessing

fancy seeing you here

Photo by permission from http://www.sxc.hu/profile/bigevil600
Photo by permission from http://www.sxc.hu/profile/bigevil600

Yesterday I was at church for our lunch club and absent-mindedly left my briefcase at the church when I drove home. I almost got home when I realised what I had done. So I turned around and headed back to the church where those who were clearing up had found it and were about to put it in a safe place for me. Very gratefully I gathered up the bag and headed back out of the church, when my mobile phone chirped at me to tell me that I had a message, It also chirped at me to say that someone had sent me a Facebook Message.

I walked across the courtyard at the front of the church and as I did I saw one of our congregation. As I greeted her she told me that she had just sent me a text message asking me to contact her. Even before I had read the message I had been able to talk with her.

Just as I finished talking with that lady I noticed a couple nearby whom I am marrying in a couple of weeks. They were able to tell me a couple more details about the service.

I left them and headed towards our church car park. I had pulled my phone out of my pocket and noticed who had sent me the Facebook Message. As I turned a corner I almost literally bumped into that person. As we talked we realised that it would be good for him to talk with someone else. A minute later that person turned up and joined in the conversation!

I was beginning to wonder whether I should buy a lottery ticket (I didn’t). I also wondered whether I have got it wrong all these years and rather than me go to where people are I should just wait around the church and the car park and wait for them to come to me.

It was funny.

It got funnier as each person turned up on cue.

They were lighter moments in the day.

I am not claiming any supernatural intervention in what happened yesterday. I know that when I pray ‘coincidences’ happen (I might call them ‘answers’), but I hadn’t really been praying about any of those things so I can’t say that they were answers to prayer. I don’t often pray for car parking spaces (unless I am running late and it’s important that I am somewhere) but sometimes they turn up in front of me and I am grateful.And perhaps we need to be grateful and acknowledge those moments as blessings. When they happen, to whom are you grateful?

Life throws enough bleak and dark moments at us that we need lighter moments (in both sense of the word) to help us through.

We also need to recognise that God is as much with us in the dark as in the light (but it’s sometimes harder to see him in the dark) so remembering our lighter experiences helps to reassure us that he’s there.

Be blessed, be a blessing

numerically speaking

It feels like we are being inundated with bad news in the form of numbers at the moment. Tragic events are measured in the number of deaths and injured people. The aggression of a country or organisation or faction is measured by how many of their enemies they kill or maim. The culpability of countries and organisations and factions and people is quantified by how many innocent people have died at their hands.

Embed from Getty Images

Please don’t get me wrong. I am deeply moved and concerned by what I see and hear at the moment – aircraft shot out of the sky; rockets fired indiscriminately; artillery fire aimed at residential districts; summary executions of opponents; civil wars and rebellions; humans sold as slaves and treated like expendable commodities; Ebola outbreaks… and in all of them thousands of people have died and many more are under threat.

But the numbers of casualties that are assailing our senses and emotions do not tell us the whole story. The number of deaths tells us the scale of a tragedy, not the depth. The depth is measured in the faces of individuals who grieve and mourn the death of individuals. It is measured in the anguish and anger of those who are victims. The depth is immeasurably beyond words.

And the depth is the same no matter how many have died. Where there is conflict we are told how many have died on each ‘side’. But this is not a numbers game. This is not like the score in a sports match where the one who kills most people is the winner. Death is always a tragedy regardless of how many people it claims. When it strikes violently it always leaves behind pain, grief, anguish, loss and emptiness. And that hurts for every widow, widower, orphan and bereft person. The emotional trauma is always too deep to measure.

Contrary to popular parodies I believe that God is not remote and aloof from all of this. When his created ones are returned to him in pieces, or are vapourised, or have wounds that proved fatal, or fail to recover from contagious illness: he weeps. It breaks his heart. He shares and feels our pain. He experiences the loss.

Yes we can look at the cross on which Jesus was crucified and speak of the Father’s loss and the desolate accusation: “Why have you abandoned me?”

Yes we can look at the garden tomb and say that God knows bereavement.

But there’s more than that. He knows how we are feeling. Surely that means that he weeps with those who weep. He experiences the anguish of a mother who knows that her son is not coming home again; the desolation of a child who has suddenly become an orphan; the all-consuming crying that sobs when the tears are exhausted.

And he is simply and profoundly and silently with us. The Loving One does not seek to offer explanations or justify his existence in the face of suffering, inhumanity and death. He is simply and profoundly and silently with us – loving us, listening to us, rocking back and forth with us…

There are answers and explanations. But the time for them is not when emotions are raw and the pain is fresh. This is the time for presence.

And he calls us, human beings, to be there too.

Blessed are the peace makers – may there be lasting, just, honest God-peace.

Blessed are the protesters – may theirs be God’s voice to be heard and listened to.

Blessed are the comforters – may God’s presence be experienced through them.

Blessed are the pray-ers – may they articulate God’s heart.

Blessed are those who mourn – how will they be comforted?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

storming

Phone calls can be disconnected when the lines are cut
Phone calls can be disconnected when the lines are cut

I had a surprising phone call last week. It was from the hospital that has been helping me with my brain (and it needs a LOT of help). The battery pack that is supplying electricity to keep my migraines at bay is causing me some discomfort (I won’t go into details here in case you’re squeamish) and needs to be ‘re-sited’ (again, details omitted for the sake of the squeamish). The call was to say that they have a space for me to come in and have the operation.

The call was surprising for several reasons. First of all I was not expecting it. Secondly I was not expecting to be given relatively little notice in advance of going in (next Sunday afternoon!). Thirdly I was not expecting to be prepared to be in for up to 5 nights for what I was told is a minor procedure. Fourthly I was not expecting the Spanish Inquisition (cue Monty Python sketch)…

I think the thing that floored me most was how much potential disruption this causes when it happens at short notice. I was due to be preaching on the Sunday evening (I am very grateful to one of our members for standing in at short notice). I have several important meetings that week for which I will have to give my apologies. I have to prepare this week for the service on Remembrance Sunday, which throws out some of my planning for this week.

Don’t get me wrong, I am very grateful that it is going to happen, and to all those at the church who have accommodated this short notice call up. But it would have been a lot easier with more notice.

And there’s the thing. I think that we are not so much floored by unexpected things as those unexpected things that arrive with little notice. Today the country is recovering from ‘The Great Storm’ that swept across us. We have had a few days’ warning of it and any precautions that could be taken were taken, as well as planning for coping with the aftermath. The famous non-existent Hurricane* in 1987 that swept across the country without warning was of a similar magnitude but seems to have had a greater impact because we weren’t ready for it.

I hope I am neither naive or insensitive to people who experience tragedies, especially the unexpected kind. But I have found that sometimes we are like Jesus’ disciples in the boat on the lake that was being swamped by an unexpected squall. They were panicking while Jesus slept in the stern of the boat, apparently unconcerned. They had not realised who he really was (which is why they were astonished when he calmed the storm) and were overwhelmed by their circumstances.

For those who are followers of Jesus we are not immune from being overwhelmed by circumstances, especially if it seems that Jesus is asleep in the boat while we are being buffeted by the storm. But I have found that it helps me to get perspective if I pause and reflect on who he is. Have a read of one of the gospels if you have time. If not try John 1 or Colossians 1:15-23. When we recognise whose in the boat with us, even if he seems to be asleep, we may not be as panicked or freaked by the storms of life.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*Have a look at this Wikipedia entry if you don’t know about it: the BBC Weatherman Michael Fish famously said that there was no hurricane on the way…