Present Tense Testimony

I’ve been sharing my testimony since I was thirteen and I first stood in a church pulpit. On that blisteringly hot day in July 2003, I spoke about the God I serve and the calling I felt. Since then, I’ve been sharing my story in blog posts, seminars, sermons and talks. It’s something I feel relatively confident in doing, I am well rehearsed in what I feel comfortable sharing and making sure that I can point away from myself to the God of my story in the course of sharing.

But as I was reading Stephanie Tait’s “The View From Rock Bottom”, one phrase leapt from the page.

“present tense testimony”

More often than not, the testimonies we share are in the past tense. They speak of things overcome, of the miraculous and the way live has changed for the better.

I can speak of a significant recovery, that I live a life I love, that I have not harmed myself in over a decade.

But that would not tell the whole story.

My present tense testimony is more complicated, more unfinished and less tidy.

My present tense testimony demonstrates no less of the glory of God and His grace.

My present tense testimony is that I still struggle; that I live with mental illness but that through grace, community and rest I live a life I love.

Patrick Regan brilliantly describes it as “healing in the slow lane” in his book, Honesty Over Silence.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that we all bear our pain for the world to see every day, we don’t need to bear our open wounds – but we need to be honest that we are wounded.

It doesn’t look as shiny, but it is miraculous nonetheless, because there were days when I couldn’t lift my eyes to even consider a future and now I am living each day. Stumbling, yes; with help, most definitely – but more importantly with the knowledge of grace and God’s care in the day-to-day boring stuff.

It is, I think, the difference that the late Rachel Held Evans and my friend Tanya Marlow speak of so eloquently. Rachel wrote:

“But there is a difference between curing and healing, and I believe the church is called to the slow and difficult work of healing. We are called to enter into one another’s pain, anoint it as holy, and stick around no matter the outcome.”

This is what a present tense testimony offers; that even when the pains of life persist so do we and so, more beautifully, does God.

God’s work is both the lighting flash and the slow burning flame.

What glory in the mundane might our present tense testimonies reveal?

Advertisements

The Way of the Waves

There are things you begin to notice.

Your voice quietens, just a little.

Noise seems louder, scratching at your eardrums.

You’re more easily irritated, patience worn thin.

You are tired, the tiredness spreads through your body like slowly freezing water. It is cold, painful and slows your thoughts and movement.

The feelings are dully familiar, and yet they catch you by surprise because the reprieve has been so long, so welcome.

Thoughts and feelings you have written about many times in the past tense have crept back into your present and they are as fresh and frightening as they were the first time.

Depression is an unwelcome returning guest. And yet you welcome you must, for fighting delay and worsens the inevitable tide which may or may not knock you off your feet.

You know how it goes, it’s a tide you’ve chased many times before and yet it feels new.

The newness is the baby, your delight, who gives no heed to your falling mood or slowing movements. He still needs to be fed, entertained, cherished.


Being a Mum made me reach out sooner than I might have done in the past; because there is not just me and my husband to consider, but a tiny boy who depends on us for everything (whether or not he cares to agree with this.)

And so I fell into my community, I allowed them to care for my family. We accepted help from all sides and I tried to push away the guilt and shame.

I realised, this time, that pride had crept in over the months and years of relative wellness. I speak of struggle in the past tense, I am a “new me” now.

Somewhere along the way, I had forgotten that I still need the grace I encourage others to share.

That I experience more freedom is no small amount of work – but it is also the way of the waves – that they have been ridden and not overwhelmed me.

So I write because I believe in honesty, in fighting the stigma (even if today it exists only in my own mind) and in a God who does His most beautiful work in our weakness.

 

Motherhood: The Brutality and the Beauty

The pain.

The first look.

The exhaustion.

The first smile.

The relentlessness.

The revelation.

The brutality.

The beauty.

The mystery.

Ten months in, motherhood remains a mystery.

It’s a thousand mundane moments punctured with moments so full of wonder that they steal your breath away.

As much as I expected a lot of it; the tiredness, the love, the mum guilt. I could not have conceived of the way my emotions swing from exasperation to joy and back again within the space of five minutes; or how I can be desperate for space one minute to desperate for him to wake up so I get to give him a cuddle the next.

Rollercoaster doesn’t cut it.

But gratitude and grace do.

Gratitude for the baby I prayed for.

Grace for the difficult days when the baby screams and I don’t know why.

Gratitude for health, when I feared my son’s tiny lungs would forever struggle.

Grace for the long nights of teething, croup and colds.

Gratitude for the life I live, the God I serve and the family and friends who provide company, support and sanity after sleepless nights.

Gratitude for all that has passed – the beauty and the brutality. Grace for all that is to come.

 

 

 

Speak of Suicide and Speak Hope #WSPD2019

“You aren’t going to do anything silly, are you?”

“Can you promise you won’t do anything stupid?”

A member of staff at my secondary school asked me these questions countless times during my sixth form years.

They weren’t talking about me bunking off lessons, getting into trouble or talking back; they were talking about suicide and self-harm.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for young people – it’s not silly or stupid – it’s despair.

And when those thoughts and feelings were branded stupid and silly – I heard that I myself was stupid and silly.

The language we use when we’re talking about suicide matters.

Phrases such as “committed suicide” hark back to when suicide was a criminal offence; whilst those like I was faced with fail to recognise the distress and torment that self-harm and suicidal thoughts wreak through someone’s mind and life.

It was over a decade ago, and I hope and pray that no-one struggling with thoughts of suicide and self-harm is met with such language, because the fight for life from those depths is hard enough as it is, without the stigma that can stalk it.

Every year, when the 10th September arrives I’m filled with a mixture of the heaviest grief and a flaming hope that thing can change.

Because my experiences with suicide when I was younger, even though I survived them, have marked my heart. And those marks on my heart fan the flame of hope – because I believe that light does win – that suicide is preventable.

I can speak of hope alongside speaking of suicide because I live with suicide as a part of my story and hope as my daily reality.

If there is someone in your life who is struggling, let your words spark hope rather than cause spirals of despair.

Think about the language you’re using, listen to their story before you rush in with answers and imagine with them what the future can look like and hold their hand as you point to it.

The people who made the most difference in my life during those darkest of times, were the ones who believed in a future for me that I could not conceive of. They were persistent in their belief that hope was real, that there was a life for me to live and yet they allowed me to voice the hardest of words.

It is no exaggeration to say that I would not be here without them and the hope they pointed to.

The hope they pointed to was not an abstract “things will get better”, but rooted the One who walked to His own death for our sakes.

That Jesus’ took on our despair and sin, died on the cross and walked out of the grave with His scars remaining, that’s the hope I looked to through my tears.

It’s the hope I live for today.

That we are saved by a Creator God who willingly gave Himself for us, to endure the worst of humanity so that we may experience the glorious closeness of Him.

That we can speak of hope, on a day which highlights despair, is the work of the One who marked the night’s sky with stars and the Saviour’s hands with scars.

 

 

 

Where is the Wonder?


“Wonder blasts the soul – that is, the spiritual – and the skeleton, the body – the material. Wonder interprets life through the eyes of eternity while enjoying the moment, but never lets the moment’s revision exhaust the eternal.” 
Ravi Zacharias

There is no doubt about it, going on holiday with a baby is less relaxing. It was enormous fun and refreshing in the way a change of scenery (and that fact that we outnumbered the baby 3:1)  but I probably came home tireder than when I went (due to sharing a room with said teething baby who appreciated sharing a room with us as much as we did!)

I kind of expected this, but what I didn’t expect was to come home energised by something else.

Wonder. 

It’s perhaps something we miss a lot in the everyday humdrum of life. Perhaps we don’t feel there is a lot of wonder to behold in our own lives; the grind of the 9-5, relentlessness of caring for a relative or struggling with chronic illness. I know it’s hard to find wonder after a day of changing nappies, comforting a teething baby and trying to slot work in and around somewhat unpredictable naps.

But whilst I might struggle to see wonder in the world, my son certainly doesn’t.

Each time he experiences something new, the expression on his face shows us his wonder at the world.

When he first saw the wide expanse of the sea, his mouth dropped open.

When he first felt sea water between his toes, his smile widened into a grin and his infectious laugh broke forth like the waves.

Every time he sees a window or mirror in which he can glimpse his own reflection, he is captivated by it.

And the excitement the discovery of his own shadow produced was quite something!

For him, wonder is to be found every day – but as grown-ups we’re lucky to find wonder every month!

And yet there is still so much wonder to be had in the every day, in the ordinary – because all the world and all the people in it are creations of the God of all wonders.

The gospels record people’s reactions of wonder at Jesus’ miracles; from him calming the storm to raising Jarius’ daughter from the dead, but it is not only miracles that are the wondrous work of God.

It’s easy to feel wonder when God does some out of the ordinary; more of a challenge to find wonder in the work of the Creator every day.

Wonder in the intricate workings of the human body which keeps our hearts beating, wonder in the family we have, wonder in the foods we can consume.

And even in the darkest of times, I’m reminded again that wonder can be found when we look to Jesus. Jesus who left the wonder of heaven for our sakes.

As C.S Lewis writes in the first installment of the Chronicles of Narnia:

“Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great front feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself. “My son, my son,” said Aslan. “I know. Grief is great. Only you and I in this land know that yet. Let us be good to one another.”

When we don’t feel able to look at the world with childlike wonder – we can look to the one of all wonder and hope and rest assured that wonder can be found in Him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Need to Talk About Race – Book Review

If I was pushed to describe this book in two words it would be uncomfortable and hopeful and the challenge of the book can be summed up by the words of Augustine which are quoted:

“Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are anger and courage. Anger that things are the way they are, and courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”

I felt uncomfortable as I read, mainly because my own conscience was pricked. I have been guilty of believing that as a mixed race woman, I wasn’t complicit in racism, but what Ben does so beautifully in this book is confront false beliefs whilst pointing to the way forward full of hope. The way forward is based not on tokenism or shows of diversity; but the kind of radical inclusion that Jesus demonstrated throughout his ministry.

This has to begin with a recognition of how the church has been complicit not only in historic racism, but in perpetuating oppression; through whitewashing of biblical characters (spoiler – Jesus was middle eastern and therefore not white!) and conforming christianity to white culture, rather than allowing it to be a diverse, inclusive movement.

He also highlights and explains the difficulties many black christians face within white majority or white led churches:

“The paradox for some black people is this: loving Jesus and understanding his amazing grace is one thing; loving the church, with its complicated racial history can be problematic.”

How can church be a safe place when it’s been so complicit in causing pain?

The best parts of “We Need to Talk About Race” are those which present how we can best serve those in minority communities – from ensuring that our leadership reflects our desire for inclusiveness (rather than having a token minority to salve our consciences), to not expecting people to leave their own cultures at the door and conform to how ‘we’ do church.

As the church, we must challenge racism in our pews and communities, because if we remain silent, we are perpetuating injustice that has been present for hundreds of years.

We have a lot of work to do, and Ben’s book is a brilliant starting point and manifesto should be on your summer reading list.

We Need To Talk About Race is published on the 18th July.

 

 

The Man I Pray You’ll Be – Reflections on Martin Saunders’ “The Man You’re Made to Be”

I’m trying to imagine the world that my son will be living in by the time he’s old enough to read a book like “The Man You’re Made to Be”. It’s probably very different to the one he’s been born in. I hope that Brexit is no longer in the news in 2024! 

I often wonder who my little boy will grow up to be; I can already see that he is funny and cheeky and often hungry, but I hope many things for him, many of which are reflected in Martin’s brilliant book. 

I hope that he grows to put his hope and trust in the Lord; that he will put God first even when times are difficult. I pray that he knows he is loved; by God, by his Dad and I, by our wider family and friends. 

When I was pregnant, the thing I prayed for the most is that he will be kind. We are so often told that we can and should be anything, and I don’t mind what career path (or paths) he chooses, but I pray that he will be known for his kindness. The Bible talks many times about God’s hesed, His loving kindness and I pray that as he grows to know God, he grows in kindness. 

I hope that by the time he’s grown, there will be no stigma around mental illness (and that I will then have found a new job to do if that is the case!) I hope that he knows there is nothing shameful about expressions of emotion; of tears and frustration and shouts of joy, but that these emotions can be expressed healthily or unhealthily – with any luck we’ll model some of the healthy expressions, but I know that if he looks to Jesus he will find a clear picture of how we can cope with our feelings. As Martin writes:

“In a culture of bottled up male emotions, Jesus is a breath of fresh air: a blue print for a healthier kind of masculinity.”

I hope that my little boy will know how incredible our bodies are and that will inform how he treats his own body and how he treats everyone else. That he will use what power he has to encourage and build people up, rather than tear them down. 

I would love him to know the joy of books and reading, his Dad would probably like him to love cycling (I’m ambivalent about that one!) 

I hope that he has friends who bring out the best of one another; that they will go on adventures together, have fun and be able to rely upon one another in harder times. 

And I’d like to echo the final words of Martin’s:

“I pray that you will be able to draw your identity as a man not from past experiences, genetics or decisions you’ve made, but from the unswerving know­ ledge that you were handmade by a God who says to you, day after day, and minute after minute of your life: I love you man.”

Martin Saunders is the Deputy CEO of Youthscape and you can buy his book from the Youthscape store exclusively for one week before general publication!