Monthly Archives: May 2017

After the Storm

“The storm is gone, but the “after the storm” is always there.” Deacon Julius Lee

 

When the storms of life have torn through life, leaving wounds to tend to and losses to grieve, the aftermath can feel like a daunting prospect. Sorting through the rubble we might feel as though we have a layer of skin missing, sensitive to the slightest touch, unable to work out what comes next.

It’s something that we can perhaps all identify with in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Manchester and London. We may or may not have been personally touched by the tragedy, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t affected by it.

And as I write this, I’m irresistibly reminded of another ‘day after’.

Holy Saturday; the worst has happened, we have to come to terms with it and God is silent.

As the victims and their families live through their Holy Saturday and as we sit sometimes helplessly and watch, I wonder what the comfort our community can offer is.

I think it’s found in the words of Shelly Rambo, who writes on trauma and the gospel:

“We receive, in the drama of hell, assurance that there is no place that God has not been.”

In the midst of what feels like hell; we are not alone because through Jesus’ experience the trauma is brought into the Godhead – it’s goodness and holiness is not changed by it – but it’s swept up into God’s divine love and power.

And in these days, when we’re looking around at the aftermath, Holy Saturday teaches us not to rush to the joy of the Sunday but to sit with God in the agony of the Saturday and find, to our surprise that He is present in it because Jesus has lived through the greatest darkness for our sake.

Our prayers and laments are for Manchester and London, as well as all the cities across the world living in the wake of terror as they navigate what it means for them to live after the storm.

Memory

Memory is a powerful thing. It can transport you back in an instant to the time when you were happiest and it can paralyse you with an all too familiar pain.

Our mental health is often inextricably linked with our memory. We can mourn the loss of memory in illnesses like Dementia and we can struggle with the re-living of memories in illnesses like Post Traumatic Stress.

Enjoying good memories can ground us and help to lighten the dark days.

The christian faith relies on memory; throughout scripture the Israelites are called upon to remember the way God saved them and carried them out of Egypt, our trust in God is based often on our memories of His character and work in the past.

When I look forward with fear, sometimes looking back and remembering how far He has carried me is a great comfort and encouragement.

Psalm 77 verses 11 and 12 speaks of this:

“I remember what the Lord did;
    I remember the miracles you did long ago.
 I think about all the things you did
    and consider your deeds.”

When God seems silent to our cries; we can call on our memory of a God whose spoken in our history.

When God seems to be absent, we can call on our memory of a God who is Immanuel – God with us and has promised to be with us through the Spirit forevermore.

The most powerful function of memory, is to be able to look back and see God at work in the times we felt He was most absent.

Frederick Buechener writes:

“It is through memory that we are able to reclaim much of our lives that we have long since written off by finding that in everything that has happened to us over the years God was offering us possibilities of new life and healing which, though we may have missed them at the time, we can still chose and be brought to life by and healed by all these years later.”

Look back and see how far grace has carried you.

Look forward and know that He’s brought you this far and will lead you home.

Volunteering for #MoreThanSurvival

It’s probably fair to describe me as one of those ‘busy people’. With my work, family, community and church commitments I have a full and fulfilling life. From personal experience though, I am aware that there is a balance to be found. If I am not careful, I don’t make enough time for myself, my stress levels creep up and my whole wellbeing suffers. I know how closely linked my mental and physical health are, so I try to proactively do things I know are ‘good for me’.

Volunteering and giving time to others is a proven way to look after your own mental health. I have discovered nine wonderful ways Girls’ Brigade helps me thrive.

Work with young people – quite frankly it’s energising, enlightening, and keeps me young(er). My group choose which badgework to do, which keeps it relevant for them and more interesting for me.

Open doors – there’s no other way of putting it, evidence of training and leadership responsibility looks great on a CV, job or Uni application. It has helped me, and I happily support others along their own journey. Having hopes and plans for the future gives me something positive to focus on, and a goal to work towards

Network with like-minded people – locally, regionally, nationally, internationally. Our shared purpose and the rise of social media has really enhanced this in recent years. I love the realisation that I’m part of a much bigger movement, it makes me accountable but also provides support

Discover new things – craft, games, places, words. Trying new experiences stops me getting stuck in a rut. Young people’s language changes every few months. And explaining at work the next day why I’ve got paint / clay / glitter in my hair is always interesting.

Engage with the world – talking about issues like mental health, and raising awareness of and responding against injustice, gives me hope for the future. When I’m getting stuck in my own work-based bubble, it helps to have a reason to think about other people and situations.

Real-life matters – Girls’ Brigade equips and encourages me to talk to young women about sticky-issues such as identity, the environment, healthy relationships, healthy lifestyles, money, and much more. These conversations help me reflect on my own experience, it’s often the only time I do!

Faith-sharing – helping others explore their faith helps me explore mine. I’m sadly not someone who has a well-developed bible-reading habit, so finding ways to share with others gives me structure too

Unwind – Girls’ Brigade is a great excuse to decorate biscuits with far too much icing sugar, or run around doing a treasure hunt, or play a game involving lobbing socks across a hall… or spend an evening learning relaxation methods during times of exam and other stress. Because it’s a regular commitment I don’t let other things get in the way. This doesn’t look like ‘me time’, but it really is

Live life to the full –  it’s a cliché, but I have gained far more from volunteering than I have put in. Through my GB experience I know that God loves to see us succeed. He answers prayer. He provides my strong foundation. Whatever happens, I know that He is with me.

“Strength! Courage! Don’t be timid; don’t get discouraged. God, your God, is with you every step you take.” Joshua 1:9 (The Message)

People do many of these things every day, but for me this is part of my faith, my service and worship to God, it connects through to a deeper, more spiritual, purpose. I do these things intentionally, with love, and they have become a joyful part of who I am.

 

Claire Boxal is a leader in 1st Larkfield GB group in Kent and works in communications.

Girls Brigade England & Wales (www.girlsb.org.uk) provides sustainable local groups for 4-8s, 7-11s, 10-14s, 13-18s, 18-30s primarily, but not exclusively, for girls. GB provides local consultations for churches, adult leader equipping and ongoing support, fun programme materials and achievement awards that enable a Christian community to engage with young people in a wide variety of settings and in a fun, action-packed way.

Just Keep Swimming? #MoreThanSurvival

Just keep swimming. 

The famous words from Finding Nemo; an encouragement to keep on keeping on, to not give up.

And these words have merit, don’t they?

There are some days when we’re in “the lowest pit, the darkest ebb”, that we just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other to get us to tomorrow.

I don’t believe that’s it, though.

There is more to life than just treading water and trying to navigate darkness.

There is life to be lived in all its technicolour; in its agony and its comfort, its joy and its exhaustion.

For so long, I didn’t know that there was more to life than agony and exhaustion. I didn’t know there was more to life than survival – because even survival felt impossible.

And then somehow I found myself a community who loved me back to life.

My mental illness didn’t disappear, the scars didn’t fade, my heart didn’t heal in an instant – but I started to live.

I began to understand that it wasn’t about the absence of symptoms; but about the presence of God and His people.

He had of course been walking with me all along, but the more of Him I saw in the people around me, the more I found I recognised His face as the One who had been sustaining me all along.

“Are your wonders known in the place of darkness?” the Psalmist asked – and I found that the answer was yes.

Strangely, it’s in the so-called darkest Psalm that I have found the greatest comfort. Psalm 88 ends with the words “darkness is my closest friend” and yet its inclusion in our Bible tells me a great deal about the God we serve and a great deal about the people we are called to be.

The Psalm doesn’t try to deny pain or darkness or the existence of mental illness, but it brings our hidden hurts into the light and allows the light to touch them; through His mighty acts of grace and our small acts of kindness.

As Frederick Buechener writes:

“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us.”

The beauty of our faith is that God is with us in the pit and by the stream; the beauty of community is that we travel with others in their pits and by their streams.

To live a life that is more than surviving is to live with the knowledge of the beautiful and terrible and love anyway.

So reach out and hold on – it’s a riskier ride – but its better journey.

This article is also published over at Threads.

#MoreThan Survival #MHAW17

Sometimes, when it comes to mental illness, it’s just about getting through the day isn’t it?

Amidst the monitoring of moods, taking of medication and trying to strike that ever-so delicate balance between paranoia and self-care.

Is that a symptom? Am I relapsing? Am I just sad or it a sign of something more?

Is this it? Does my diagnosis mean that this is just my life from now on?

They’re thoughts I’ve had countless times over the past decade of living with mental illness.

And sometimes, it’s a little overwhelming, and in trying to avoid the lows, it can sometimes feel as if you have to give up on the dizzying heights, too.

At some point over the last couple of months, as I’ve emerged from a year which saw the darkness return with a vengeance I’ve realised that I don’t want to live my life looking over my shoulder to see if the darkness is following me.

There is more to life than a struggle for survival.

There is life to be lived – and I want to make sure I live it.

Ever since my teens, the words of John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and destroy. I have com that they may have life, and have it to the full” have given me comfort and hope. It’s Jesus’ promise to his flock – and it’s not a promise of an easy life (as much as we may wish it) but it’s the promise of a full life with the presence of the Good Shepherd.

The thief of mental illness may come to steal life and wreak havoc – but Jesus came that despite what we face – we can have a full life.

And as His bride, the Church has a part to play.

This week is mental health awareness week and at ThinkTwice we’re setting out five ways to see that life for those with mental illness is #MoreThanSurvival.

Firstly, #MoreThanSurvival means getting equipped. It means knowing what you’re dealing with the it comes to mental health whether that means attending a seminar on it at a summer festival, booking some training from people like us(!) or buying a few good books on the topic. Survival requires that we know what we’re trying to survive!

Secondly, it means getting sleep. It’s often the first sign that something might be awry with our mental health and we need to be encouraging people to take a sabbath and get regular rest and sleep.

Thirdly, it means getting food. Whether that be helping a friend with their food shop, trying to ensure you have a balanced diet or helping to make someone’s life with an eating disorder more bearable by asking them what would help.

Fourthly, it means getting social. Calling a friend, visiting your local Mind or having someone round to your house. We need each other!

Fifthly and finally, #MoreThanSurvival means getting hope. Hope from the one who gives and sustains life; through studying John 10 with your small group or downloading a talk or worship songs if you can’t get to church or going along with a friend so that they have a familiar  face. Life with Jesus is about more than surviving.

 

This article is also published over at Threads.

 

Introducing #MoreThanSurvival

It’s here! Mental Health Awareness Week is upon us and this year the national focus in “Surviving or Thriving?” and we’ve decided to take this theme a little further and think about how to move beyond survival and look to living life to the full in the way Jesus speaks about – regardless of whether you have a mental illness.

We really want to encourage you that you don’t have to put up with merely treading water, life doesn’t have to just be about getting through the day. Mental illness doesn’t need to be a death sentence – and so this week we’re going to be looking at ways we can embrace a full life.

This isn’t about a prosperity-gospel style “life with Jesus means no pain and all the gain” because when I look at the Bible I don’t see that. I only need to look at the Psalms to see exclamations of joy sitting beside cries of desolation because the promise of Jesus in John 10:10 is that whilst “the thief comes only to steal and destroy. I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” There’s a recognition in this verse that the darkness does come, but that it doesn’t have the last word and we believe that through God’s people we can bring life to the barren places – whether that be through the love of a community getting together to serve someone struggling or through friends cheering one another on, this week we’re asking you to get involved and show that there can be #MoreThanSurvival in mental illness.

If you want to get involved, use the hashtag on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to show us what you’re doing to demonstrate #MoreThanSurvival in your own life or in the life of someone you know.

Some ideas could be:

  • Sending flowers to a loved one in hospital because of mental illness to show them that you can and that there is still beauty in the world.
  • Having a whip round to pay for petrol or parking so that someone can be visited by friends or family when they either live far away or are in a hospital far from home.
  • Buy a iTunes gift card or a month of spotify so that if someone is housebound they can at least access some worship music.
  • Visit someone and play their favourite board game.
  • Making sure you get out of the house once a day.
  • Cooking your favourite meal for dinner.
  • FaceTiming a friend.

Happy Mental Health Awareness Week everyone and here’s to the promise that even in the hardest of times there is #MoreThanSurvival to life.