Saturday, March 22, 2014

The prodigal daughter

So... I'm doing it.

I am flying my whole family to the other end of New Zealand to - hopefully - spend some time with my parents, my brothers and their children.

This may not sound like a huge deal, but I haven't seen my parents in 5yrs, or 3 of my brothers since the day I left home, 17yrs ago.

So we booked the flights and accomodation, and then I rang my mum to tell her we were coming.  She sounded surprised, but not horrified, which I took as a good sign.  I rang her again a few days later, and tried to get some idea of how much access we were likely to get to them all, and  was very pleasantly surprised to discover that she is keen to see us!

Now, before you get all excited and assume the welcome mat is out and all is forgiven... what that actually means (as far as I know so far) is that we aren't staying with them, we can't eat or drink with them - although Mum did say that they could cook for us, but just not eat with us - we can't go to church with them, and I'm not sure yet if any of my brothers will meet us.  BUT, and this is a very big but, we will be allowed inside my parents house.  I have not been inside my parents home since I left.  In fact, the last time I went to their home, with my brand-new fiancee to tell them we were getting married, my dad ordered us off the property.

I'm hoping... what am I hoping?  That depends on whether I'm feeling optimistic or pessimistic.

In my wildest dreams, I see my parents, brothers, sister-in-laws, nieces and nephews all gathered at my parents' house, welcoming us with hugs and then all going inside to talk and laugh and cry and cook and eat (seperately - I'm not completely irrational!) and play music together for hours.  Then  2 days later we come back to my parents house again, they welcome us in and my kids get to spend hours with their grandparents.  We get to go out with them, and see the sights of their home-town.  My parents come to the house we are renting and spend time with us there.  We go to at least one of my brother's homes and the kids play with their cousins... and none of this is awkward, nothing gets said about the things that divide us and will continue to divide us for the rest of our lives, it is all easy, loving and fun.

In my nightmares, we arrive at my parents' house, they let us in and make awkward conversation for half an hour, while my kids fight and break things, then my husband and my dad almost get into a fight about how stupid their rules are, and we leave.  None of my brothers want to see us.  Two days later we all try again, it goes a little better, the kids don't fight quite as much, we get to stay for an hour this time, and then we leave.  The next day we go out to a park together, my parents complain that I am wearing men's clothing (jeans) and couldn't I have made an effort, and maybe grown my hair longer, and worn a scarf?  I retaliate by asking how come cell phones and computers (two things that were so evil we weren't even allowed to touch them) are now absolutely fine and acceptable, and they hit back, asking if I don't care that my children are corrupted and probably bound for hell because I am bringing them up in 'the world'?  I yell at them, we leave, and I cry a lot.  We wonder why we wasted so much money on getting our hearts broken, when we could have gone to Fiji for a week instead.

The reality is probably going to be somewhere between the two... hopefully closer to the 'wildest dreams' scenario than the nightmare!  However well it goes, it will be hard, and stressful and heartbreaking.

Is the welcome mat out?  Well... I think I can see a corner of it.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Of beans and boys

It's autumn, and the days are getting cooler in the mornings.  The light is changing... it seems richer.  More concentrated, somehow.  The leaves seem to collect the light and glow as if lit from within.
The sky is clear and a deep blue, most days.  We have had a couple of frosts, which my courgette plants have not appreciated, but the tomatoes are still soaking up the sun, and I am anticipating cooking up several more pots of tomato goodness, to be used in the cold days to come.

We have some pumpkins nearly ready to harvest, and the apples are a week or so away from picking.  Our runner beans are having a last flourish, and I should have picked some today before they grow too big overnight, but I ran out of time.  Hopefully they'll make it into the fridge tomorrow, instead of having to go in the compost bin.

Despite the effects of the frost, the courgettes are still producing, and I made a big batch of chocolate chip courgette cookies with my 4yr old today - they are delicious!  Also, rather surprisingly, I think the sweetcorn will ripen before it gets too cold.  It took so long to grow, that we weren't expecting to harvest anything from it, other than mini-cobs.

I should plant leeks, and beetroot, and more carrots... but I probably won't.  Life is too busy at the moment, so I think we'll put a layer of compost over the beds that we aren't using, and plant them with mustard seeds - they grow thick and fast, stopping weeds from growing.

I'm enjoying the last of the warm weather, and the last of my time with my boy, before he goes off to school next year.  'Mummy, can we have special Jamie time now? he asks, several times each day.  Sometimes I say yes, and then we play with playdough, or build a train-track, or do jigsaw puzzles, or play with the toy cars and trucks he's lined up on the floor.  'Mummy, you have to choose which characters you're going to have!', he reprimands me when I start playing with the first vehicle to hand, without putting any thought into my decision.

I watch him - his big blue eyes so intent on what he's doing one minute, then crinkling up in a grin while he yells at the top of his lungs for no particular reason...  He is so precious to me - my last boy, wild, energetic, snuggly, determined and strong.  The other day we were chatting in the bathroom (as you do...) and he asked me 'Mummy, what would happen if I pushed this button?' pointing to a button on the toilet.  'I don't know, what do you think would happen?'  'Well...' he says, 'I think the toilet would keep filling up, higher and higher, and then fireworks would come out of the sky, and explode!'  I said 'You should try it, next time, and see if it happens!'
That's my boy - the world is so full of possibilities to him.  A magical place, where if you push the right button, fireworks could come out of the sky!  I love that about him.

I love the way he hides under the sheets on my bed, and yells 'Mummy, say 'Where's Jamie?' I am then expected to wander round the bedroom for 10 minutes or so, discussing aloud all the places where he might be, trying to find him but never succeeding, while he giggles under the covers.  The only problem is that I can never resist 'finding' him when I've had enough, and he has never yet been ready to be found.  'How do you always know where I am?' he asks me in puzzlement.  'How do you know it's me?'  And I always tell him, that it's because he is my treasure, and I know him by heart.  He loves that he's my treasure - he always has a happy little smile when I say it.

Monday, March 10, 2014

How a life can by changed by 13 words

Apparently, I am unable to write short blog posts.  Just thought I should get that out there, to start with!

I've been thinking, for the last few days, about the last of Diana's questions - how do we deal with the hard/weird bits in the bible? - and the truth is, I struggle with them.  I find the 'hard bits' in the bible difficult to deal with.  If submission comes up in conversation, my heart starts pounding, my hands get clammy and I am prone to start stating my views rather forcefully.

For the first 23 years of my life, I lived a life dominated by verses of the bible taken literally.  The one and only time women were permitted to speak in my church was to announce what hymn we would be singing.  My head was always covered by a scarf, unless I was at home, and I always wore a bow in my hair, as a token for the angels.  I only ever wore dresses or skirts, I didn't wear jewellery or make-up and my hair had only been trimmed once in my life (in a fit of mild rebellion, when I was 13, my aunty trimmed about an inch off the bottom of my hair).  I lived at home, under the covering of my father, where I would stay until I got married and moved to the covering of my husband.  I would always be under the covering of a man until I died, when I would be put safely under a covering of dirt.

When I eventually left (a story for another day!), I was 'withdrawn from', which means that since the day I left home, I haven't seen 3 of my brothers (my other 2 siblings I've seen twice each in 15yrs), I have not been allowed to attend a single family wedding or funeral, none of my immediate family came to my wedding, and I have 3 sister-in-laws and 7 nieces and nephews I have never seen.  I lost my job (I worked for people in the cult), my family, my home, my friends and my entire social circle, all because people decided that that's what Paul meant when he told Timothy that 'everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness'. (2 Timothy 2, v 19)  The wickedness that I was involved in was eating meals with people who didn't belong to the cult, cutting my hair, wearing jeans and watching tv!

My husband, who I met after leaving the cult, gets angry about how my family puts keeping their rules above their relationship with me and our children.  I understand how they can do that - I was brainwashed for a couple of decades myself, so I know how it works - but that doesn't stop it hurting.  A lot.

The hard bits that ruled my life for so long, are still a part of my life.  When I look at my wedding photos and think of my family who should have been in them, when I hear one of my children asking who 'that lady' is, when they're looking at a photo of my mother, when I wish I could talk to my sister like sisters do... so many things I have been robbed of, because of the way 13 words have been interpreted.

As much as I would like to be able to just let go of the bits in the Bible I don't like or understand, I can't, because they are still impacting my life on a daily basis.  I don't have issues with God about His views on women, or their place in the church or the world, but I have to admit to still having issues with Paul.  The way people have taken what he wrote has drastically changed the course of my life, and I can't just 'let go and let God', because how does that help when I'm grieving over my children not knowing my parents?

I'm not bitter, but I am hurt.  I will be hurt until the day I get to heaven, because there's no getting round this one.  Sure, the raw edges have healed, but it's like an amputation - just because the stump has healed, doesn't mean that the limbs have been restored.

This loss is such a huge part of my story, that I find it hard to see round.  I hear people say things like 'but that only happens when people take things out of context' and I wonder how that helps the people whose lives have been affected by things taken out of context?

The awful part of all of this is, that I know my family are Christians.  They can acknowledge that I am still a Christian, and all of us will be in heaven together.  We all believe that Jesus is the Son of God, who was born of a virgin, died on the cross for us and was resurrected after 3 days... and yet we can't eat a meal together.  I have told them that I am looking forward to heaven, when we can be together without the wall of the cult between us anymore, and when the years that the locusts have eaten will be restored.  That is my hope... that all, even our relationship, will be made new.

So yes, I struggle with the hard bits.  Because they seem so hard - sharp edged, unyielding and trying to poke holes in the relationship God and I have created despite them.  The thing is, that He reaches out to me past them - loving, compassionate and tender - and I have to just let it go.  I can't make them make sense, I can't argue them into submission, or make them say what I think they should say.  All I can do is try to understand them... and when I reach the end of that, God reminds me again, that He knows... and He loves me.  And I sigh, as I turn my tear-streaked face back towards Him, and let Him be my Comforter.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Big 'Why?'

Linking up with Diana again today, discussing why bad things happen to good people.

For years, I have tried not to allow myself to catastrophise, after times when I was newly married, and brought myself to desolation by imagining how I would cope if my husband died.  I think because I had so recently lost everyone in my life (leaving a cult will do that to you), the thought of losing anyone else I loved was enough to bring me to panic.

Partly as a result of this, for our entire married life, every time my husband leaves the house for the day, I pray for protection over him.  Now that I have 4 children, I pray for them every morning as we drive to school.  I will not allow myself to imagine what life would be like without any of them, because I came to the conclusion years ago that if, God forbid, one of them were to die, I would want all of my time with them to have been spent enjoying them rather than dreading what was to come.
Which is all good... but let me tell you a story.

A few years ago, a Christian high school here in New Zealand took some of its students on a trip to an outdoor adventure site, and part of the trip involved walking through a canyon with a small river in it.  It happened to have been raining in the hills the night before, and despite all the safety procedures that were supposed to be in place, the company that was guiding them hadn't checked the weather warnings for the area, and as they walked through the canyon the river grew much higher, very very fast.  They found shelter in a cave and waited for a few hours, hoping the water would go down as fast as it had come up.  It didn't - it got even higher.  There was no way out of the canyon except through the river.  Eventually, the guide, the teacher who was with the group, and the students, all decided they'd have to take the risk and jump into the river, hoping to somehow make it out safely.  The guide went first, and she landed safely, the next few students made it out... but the teacher (who was a strong swimmer and had a student who couldn't swim tied to him) and 6 of the students drowned.

The school principle, and the dead students' parents were incredible.  I watched interview after interview with them on tv, and they made me proud to be a Christian.  They were honest about their grief and pain, but didn't dodge the hard questions.  The principle was voted New Zealander of the year that year, and rightly so.

But... all of those who died were Christians.  All of those teenagers came from Christian homes, and had parents who had prayed over them for their safety before they left.  The ones who survived said they had all prayed together before they jumped into the river.  I can't think of any way that drowning in a raging river is being kept safe!  Yes, they are now 'safe' in heaven, but that line of 'yes we prayed for healing and the person still died... but God has answered our prayer and healed them in heaven!' has always seemed like a cop-out to me.  When I pray for protection for my family, I am not meaning that anything that happens to them on earth is fine as long as God protects their eternity - I am asking for Him to protect them here on earth, today.  Anything else is word-play.

So... God didn't protect them.  He no doubt had very good reasons for not protecting them, and was working out His purposes in some way through their deaths, but the fact remains that their parents' prayers for their protection were not answered.  Despite praying for their children's protection, their parents, families and friends were left grieving and devastated.  And the question nags at me - why do I pray for my family's protection when God may chose not to answer it?  What is the point of praying this way?

The best answer I've got is that I can't not.  I ask God to protect the ones I love, because I trust Him, and because that is my part.  My part is to ask, His is to answer.  I have no control over the answer, but if I have at least asked, then I have done my part.

Why do bad things happen to good people?  In the words of The Eagles, "I can't tell you why...", but here's another story.

Yesterday was Sunday, and as is our custom (mostly!) we went to church.  That sounds simple, but with 4 children, it was anything but.  There were arguments over other things that people wanted to do that morning that would be much more fun, complaints about how other people were doing the fun things that we weren't, tv programs that couldn't be watched because we would be at church, dramas over lost shirts and hairbrushes, and then one got invited to go on a fun trip with a friend, and the other 3 who weren't invited wailed and cried about how mean we were and how we were ruining their social lives by taking them to church.  And by this point, we hadn't even made it into the car!  Someone sat where someone else wanted to, someone looked the wrong way at someone, the crackers we had brought for them to eat were the wrong flavour, and life was generally more unfair than could possibly be described.  We finally got to church, took the kids to their various children's programs (yay for a church with children's programs that I don't have to run!), and sat down for a rest.

We got to the part of the service where we have communion, and as we were singing the song following communion, I was hit by a revelation.  I had just had communion, which somehow joins me both to Christ, and to the rest of His body.  I knew that my family (still in the cult I left) would have had communion earlier that morning, and I thought about Diana and all of the rest of the people I am getting to know on the interwebs, who would be having communion while I was asleep.  I thought about my sister-in-law who died a month ago, and remembered the line in the Anglican liturgy that talks about the whole body of saints, those who have gone before, those who are here now, and those who are to come... and I realised that in some way, despite all our differences of denomination, location and even state of being, we are ALL ONE in Christ.  Taking communion is actually a point of connection with my family, who are believers but major on the minors, my friends, who are believers who happen to live on the other side of the world, and my sister-in-law who was a believer and is now 'in Christ'.

For some reason, I've never really seen it that way before - despite our worst denominational efforts, we are all part of one body, and the griefs, tragedies and heartache that we have to deal with cannot change that.

I don't really know how that ties in to why bad things happen to good people... except that it is all a mystery.  How this whole thing works, good or bad, is a mystery.  We truly are living in the shadowlands, and there is so much we never see or understand.  I cannot trust that God will always answer my prayers the way I want Him too, but I can always trust what I know and have seen of the character of God - He is kind, just, merciful and 'has compassion on us because He knows that we are dust.'