how’re you doin’?

(in a non-Joey from Friends way!!)

How have you been coping with the lockdown? Some people who prefer their own company may have been flourishing while others who are energised by the company of others may be in despair. ‘Huggers’ may be reduced to hugging pillows and cushions soon. Children may well be climbing the walls (or their parents will) as their normal activities are curtailed, although they may be delighted at being told to go and play computer games when their frazzled parents have had enough.

I have not found it too difficult (yet). I can manage to do some of my job from home (online or on the phone) and I am comfortable enough with technology that I can keep in touch with the wider family by video. Meetings have either been cancelled or turned into virtual meetings – and we have to learn new meeting skills for those occasions.

That’s one of the positives I think we may be able to draw from this – at the end I suspect that a far higher proportion of the population will be more tech savvy than when it started.

Another seems to be a rediscovering of the importance of local community. A WhatsApp group has been created for our road and a neighbouring road and alongside being introduced to people we have either ignored or nodded towards in the past we are interacting and supporting one another. Sally, my wife, has even initiated an Easter Egg hunt (pictures and creations in windows and around the street) for when children take their exercise with the family, and we’re hoping that a delivery of chocolate eggs will arrive in time so we can reward participants.

In addition to keeping in touch with all of the ministers and churches I serve and seeking to advice and support them as they face new challenges I have started a series of silly magical videos with my magic accomplice – Stew the Rabbit. They have a short encouraging message at the end and you can see them at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCydPS_gPVXqtwZEO2CfO9yw if you are interested. I have also done a virtual magic show for a group that is keeping its members in touch with one another. Both have challenged my video recording and creation skills. It’s been fun.

So I go back to my initial question. How are you coping? I wonder if you can turn that level of ‘cope’ into prayer? If it’s ‘not very well’ – ask God to help you to manage those emotions and to bring you someone who can encourage you. If it’s ‘okay’ – ask God to help you to flourish and to grow beyond ‘okay’. If it’s ‘thriving’ then ask God to help you to see others who are in need and find ways of encouraging and supporting them. You may not be a praying person. That’s okay. God’s not selfish – he loves to hear everyone’s prayers and responds to them. You may not really be sure if there is a God. That’s okay too. God knows you exist and will respond to the level of faith that you have.

In the Bible Jesus spoke about having faith the size of a mustard seed (very small) and that amount of faith being able to do amazing things. But how do you quantify mustard seed sized faith? I reckon it’s having just enough faith to pray.

May you know God’s blessing and love during these unusual days. And if you do pray, my prayer to go with yours is that you will be able to see God’s answer or even that you may be the answer to someone else’s prayers.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

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.