possibility

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Paint stained, memory stained, tear stained shirt is her heart inside out in the only room where she is right side in. Blank canvases hang limply on the wall waiting for her touch. “What do you see?” they ask. “What do you make of us?”

Tall windows testify to a world outside that is no more complete than the bleached fibres her fingers slowly make their way across. “What can I give to you?” she asks.

A shape, an image, a dream rasps softly against the surface. Possibility.

Her colours come out, the only ones she has. Tubes half empty, worn at the edges, shaped from years of use. And then the edges, the tools to mix and shape. Her tools. The ones that feel at home in her hands. She holds them like old friends and trusts them to work with her like so many times before. Her arms remember the movements even when storms of grief strip away her shoreline.

Colours dry for days, for weeks, no changes. She returns.

Paint stained, memory stained, tear stained shirt is her heart inside out in the only room where she is right side in. Colour carved canvases hang limply on the wall waiting for her touch. “What do you see?” they ask. “What do you make of us?”

Tall windows testify to a world outside that is no more complete than the stained fibres her fingers slowly make their way across. “What can I give to you?” she asks.

A shape, an image, a dream rasps softly against the surface. Possibility.

for the love, peel off the compassion gloves

A newborn baby struggling to live is placed on the naked breast of a parent. The warmth of their presence, the strength of their heartbeat, the rise and fall of regulated breath pass life to the vulnerable child. A concentrated mix of human contact and love give strength to survive. We know that children need skin to skin contact to live, to thrive, to grow.

Gracing our digital screens, these powerless infants stir in us a call to nurture, to give, as if somehow we will create a more peaceful and loving world if they make it through childhood. Relying on the strength of our immune system to keep us healthy, we sanitize our skin so they won’t be harmed by us and what we carry when we reach out our un-gloved hands, offering the comfort of our warmth. Perhaps when children are this small we might invite them to be even closer, to be neighbour, to be family. In them we see humanity, the image of God, our own lack of innocence. So, we protect them and chisel out laws that we hope will give them a fighting chance at a healthy and happy adulthood.

Our precautions turn out to not be enough. The vulnerable meet our eyes, with strength in their arms and lines of heartache etched across their faces. They no longer remind us of what is common to us all. For the love of people, we increase the list of human rights, and yet, it is with sterilized gloves we have offered compassion. The vulnerable receiving care from outstretched hands covered with personal protection against contamination.

Our programmes but not our friendship; Our money but not our neighbourhood; Our laws but not our daily kindness; Our pity but not our love.

“God loves me…” she slurred through wrinkled lips, her bloodshot eyes pleading for confirmation. “He loves you very much! But you’ve got to stop drinking so much because it’s not good for you,” Paddy gently assured her as he walked with her outside. She shuffled her petite, aging frame towards the steps. A worn ballet flat came off her foot as she murmured, trying to come to grips with love. In the same moment Paddy dropped to a knee, with one hand he picked up her shoe and with the other, her foot. Without pause, he slid her shoe back onto her foot, speaking gently but firmly about the value of her life. She continued down the stairs and into the street.

For the love, peel off the compassion gloves. As well as our programmes, money and laws, offer friendship. Offer neighbourhood. Offer kindness. For the love … offer love.

spotting talent

2015-08-01 11.19.48-1Lawrence’s strong back shimmers in the evening light as water sloshes over it. I take a step back to get my city shoes out of the way while Jane rubs her horse down, prepping him for the show the next day. After knowing Jane for 11 years I finally made it to the Glens of Antrim to visit her in her home, surrounded by some of her favourite things. How unlike the chaotic field of tents and rambunctious urban teenagers that were our common passion.

Blueberry pancakes set us up the next morning before I climb aboard the gigantic horse hotel on wheels, along with Lawrence and Jane’s team for the horse show – her dedicated mum and dad, and Nikki … who seemed to be as much of a younger sister in the family as the groom. Just east of Belfast Jane pulls us into a relatively empty field that is roped off into sections. Following orders, I place two lawn chairs in their usual spot, right in front of the vehicle for front row seats.

2015-08-01 09.12.39Now this is no Calgary Stampede right here – it is much more dignified than that. Helmets, riding jackets and jodhpurs replace stetsons, cotton plaid and denim. Women outnumber men. Draft, Hunter, Cob, Connemara and Riding Horses are groomed with precision according to their class. For Lawrence it was a lot of hair off the top, two wide lines drawn on his rump prepped with pigs oil, and sharks teeth to finish the look off. The black nail varnish on his hooves is already beginning to wear off from its unappreciated application the day before.

2015-08-01 13.32.46“That is a beautiful horse,” each of my hosts would say now and again as horses and riders circled in front of us.

It was that day I began to understand these shows were not about primping a horse and displaying it as if in some sort of beauty pageant. They are about owners “spotting talent” in a horse at a young age, training it, grooming it and giving it a future career with someone else. You have to pour heart and soul into an animal, knowing you will have to let it go. It takes cost and risk for very little return. After a bad fall (her father made sure to tell me that it was no fault of her own), Jane recovered from a broken back in her early 20s. This was only several years after wining Supreme Champion at the Dublin Horse Show in the RDS – the win of wins! Her first question was about when she could ride again.

Even after a lot of work to get a horse to a show, there is no guarantee for a win. I can’t say that I’m too much of a fan of the subjective nature of judging at this event … both during the competition and after. Horse and rider are all under scrutiny from a hundred pairs of eyes.

2015-08-01 13.36.54-1By the time Jane’s event was over, the field was full of people, horses, pet dogs and gigantic vehicles. The dark clouds gave up their rain as we climbed into the shelter of our vehicle and reversed out to head home. My own brief attempt at cowgirl-turned-proper-horse-rider-with-the-english-saddle was a bit of a bust that afternoon and reminder that there is a long way to go before I could live the particular fantasy where I am the heroine in a Louis L’Amour book. But this is where Jane thrives and dreams.

As we walked under canopies of lush, green forest surrounding Glenarm Castle the following morning, we shared mutual inspiration for the starting of great things that grow from existing talents that we gave time to develop alongside our professional and spiritual lives. It just so happens that we are both in a place where these realities have collided with enough ferocity that the sparks have jumped, igniting opportunity. In our respective areas we are “spotting talent” – taking raw material and beginning to forge something new from inherent possibility.

you think your pastor is bad, you should see mine

Someone would have to be slightly out of their mind to ever want to lead a church. Within a few years of living in Ireland I began to see how people changed in their attitude and behaviour towards a friend as soon as they took on a role that might have leadership connotations. Suddenly that person became suspicious. How would they have ever made it into that role or accepted it unless they were hungry for power? They must think themselves better than they actually are. Then there is the whole issue with authority in general. Who actually has the right to tell me what to do? There is an assumption that they are in leadership to control and abuse for their own selfish purposes. In reality, what is actually going on in us is more likely to be jealousy, insecurity or pride. We might just be projecting our own weaknesses onto them.

I want control of this situation. I would have made a much better leader. If people would just listen to me and do things the way I think they should we wouldn’t have any of the issues these leaders are causing.

And yet, if offered leadership most of us would turn it down because we really don’t want to be the person that so many people throw rotten eggs at. We should know, we’ve thrown them ourselves for years.

As people who put our faith in Jesus (a.k.a. Christians) we are called to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. In other words – we have a lot of thoughts that are just untrue and unhelpful about God, ourselves and others. Paul tells us: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8) What does this mean when thinking about leadership?

Sometimes our original assumptions are true about leaders. They might be power hungry. It is quite possible that they are just wanting control. When we assume a leader wants these things without any proof, then we are in the wrong. I have found that most church leaders start with the best of intentions. They have a clear nudge from God and enough conviction that makes them risk the gauntlet and train for a position that will get them nowhere if they quit that “profession”. My brother recently told me that he doesn’t think that pastor’s kids will ever be able to have a pastor. I think he is right. We know that they are human and we often see more of the inner struggles and challenges than others might have a chance to see. By the way, I was a strong-willed child so didn’t make life easy either! So, with the personal insight of living in a pastor’s home and participating in churches for most of my life, let me present a few things that can often distract and play on the weaknesses of church leadership.

Over spiritualising differences of opinion – I don’t agree with you so one of us must not be walking close enough with God or really get his truth. Since I know I am on track, it must be you. Therefore, God is unhappy with you … and your leadership … and your family … and everything you touch. Actually, who do you think you are that you are leading God’s people? Continue reading

presence

Humanity comes alive under the connecting influence of presence each day. When mechanized productivity takes a supporting role to sitting shoulder to shoulder with others in mutual sharing of space without pretense, secure social structures plant themselves in communities that become strong enough to support generations to come. Safety – it is a pillar that carries the weight of stone tables offering feasts of resilience for anyone whose bones show through their skin from exertion without nourishment.

Strength is found here.

It is found in the honest acceptance of existence as it is, not as it should be, could be or will be. It is found in the silent expressions of love baked into the homemade gifts with handmade flaws. It is under the furrowed brows and in the watery windows that painfully expose questions devoid of answers. It is in the space between that charges the air with particles of unspoken uncertainty until flooded with the sameness of the two, who sit side by side.

Presence is found here.

It nourishes the seeds released from the pine cone when the fire came. Survivors and thrivers burst through the ground and stretch arms to the sky following the dawn as it welcomes the rising light of the day. Be upstanding, humanity, for the strong arms of endless summer warmth when Presence will starve darkness and fires that suck life away.

freedom stories – Kieran

kieranIn my opinion, one must experience enslavement or imprisonment to understand the real meaning of freedom or being “set free”.

My imprisonment was living with a horrendous gambling addiction. The addiction or compulsion to gamble started at around 8 years of age and it came to dominate my life when awake and when asleep through dreams. I managed to pass through life (or so I thought) looking as though there was nothing wrong with me. However, those people who became close to me or my immediate family saw the other side of me, and it wasn’t pretty.

Looking back on my life I feel the primary damage caused by my devotion and enslavement was the time which I gave to it. It was all consuming. I put year after year into pursuing the unattainable. As a man once said to me at a gamblers anonymous meeting and I quote… “If this room which we are sitting in was so full of money that you couldn’t breath, it still wouldn’t be enough”.

Another fall out from this sick way of living is the damage caused to those people who love the addict. To this day and probably for the remainder of my life I will have flashbacks to that hurt and to the trail of devastation which I left. These memories are part of me but I know and believe there is no condemnation.

I hit so called “rock bottom” many times, and many times I thought that I would never gamble again but always returned to the prison, picked up my chains and put them firmly back on.

In spite of numerous best efforts of gamblers anonymous members and meetings, private counselling, time in rehabilitation centres, hypnosis, acupuncture and other forms of treatment I kept my chains firmly in place.

In fact I thought my prison became escape proof and in truth I didn’t want to think of it as a prison because at times I got so much comfort in that state.

However things were to change and in a big way. I was at another one of those low points when I was walking past a south city Dublin church and felt a desire to go in and seek God. I believed in God, a creator of all, the I AM, the Giver of Life. At that time, although I believed and was a Christian, I lived off His grace and took His love for granted. Following this visit to the church, to seek His counsel, a chain of events took place and I experienced a freedom like I have never experienced before. I put my trust and faith in Him more than ever and through him He set me free from my prison.

That happened over a year ago and now I try to serve Him not out of fear but out of love. I have learned that today’s surrender is tomorrow’s freedom. I am set free and give praise to Him for being there for me. I am also very aware that my flesh is very weak and always will be and therefore I must be strong in the Lord and His mighty power.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” NIV Ephesians 6 v12

Kieran

freedom stories – Linda

525846_10152121124230324_1578127370_nFreedom. What does it mean to me to be free? Freedom from pain I suppose. When I say freedom from pain, I mean that it is ok to live again. And to know that it’s ok to live again is exciting! I am a woman coming from huge pain and suffering. I never thought I would be free of that pain. I can take that pain today and I’ve learned how to deal with that in a different way. This is my journey to where I am today of trusting God, how he gave me the freedom to live and this excitement.

Hopeless. A lot of darkness. This is what life was like when I was in pain. Every day I wanted to die. Every single day. I had suicidal thoughts and wondered if it was ever going to end. I couldn’t breathe properly. I didn’t sleep well. I worried every day. I was in fear all the time – that it was going to happen again, that I would lose another son. Another fear was: Am I ever going to live again? How long am I going to carry this awful pain? And part of me was not wanting it to end. I should never be coming out of that pain! Pain hit me because he (my son) was gone and nothing was going to bring him back. Because it was my child I didn’t feel like I deserved to come out of that. It wouldn’t be right to smile again. It wouldn’t be right to be free of that again. I thought I was going to have to carry this for the rest of my life. Every morning I woke up I asked God, “why am I alive again today?” Why do I have to go through this awful pain and loss and darkness and fear? I did this without hating God, because I loved him. I was in that grief for 7 years. There was joy in that time because of what God was doing. I saw that and that is what kept me alive but I still was very much in a very deep, deep sadness.

I suppose I can’t tell you how freedom came. It was a journey that came itself over time. If you asked me four years ago if I would I see myself sitting here today telling you I feel free, I would have said “no.” I never thought I would ever be free of that harrowing pain – that loss of a child. That loss of someone you love so dearly and carried in your belly. And to lose him, I didn’t think I should ever feel free from that again. I would have felt that I wasn’t a mother. I didn’t want anyone to see me smiling because if they saw me they might think that I was all right (but I wasn’t all right). But today I smile and I’m all right because there is so much hope in me. That is what freedom has given me: hope. That it is ok to let go of that pain. And I’m not a bad mother if I do. I used to think I was if I did.

I don’t want to say my freedom is joyful because it’s not. Could I say peaceful? Could I say hopeful? There is joy in my heart because I’m hopeful but not full of joy to be rid of my pain. The joy is that I never thought I could belly laugh again. I never thought I could want to maybe meet someone again. Back then I didn’t think I would live to these years. I thought that pain was going to kill me anyway. I do have a life and God does have a plan and I embrace that now. It feels good. It feels good!

I sit here today clear minded. Not sedated or anything. I can’t believe that! That is a miracle in itself. There is freedom in seeing the peace in my children. There is freedom in watching their careers take shape. They weren’t supposed to be alive with what they went through after Edward’s death and yet they are free men themselves today.

And it is only that God was in that darkness with me, minding me, guiding me, protecting me, spoiling me, lifting me. He was giving me more of him than what other people got of him. In that pain he was giving me more and more and more. I wasn’t going to make it without that “more.” I needed that encounter with God and I had it. His presence overwhelmed me. I knew he had Edward. I know he showed my son grace and mercy. And the hope that kept me moving onto the freedom I have today is that I will see him again. I will know his smile again and that gives me joy.

That gives me joy.

Linda McCabe