Thursday, 19 November 2015

God's Arms

I was posed a question recently in conversation on how somebody can determine if someone is truly inspired by God and it isn't just an a desire of one's own heart. It's a difficult thing to quantify for a few reasons. The first being it isn't on a metaphysical level that easy to determine what you as an individual actually is. The emotive complexity of a human spirit and holy spirit in the unity of a born again soul means it isn't entirely clear where you as an individual ends and God begins. Indeed the way this complexity manifests itself is entirely psychological which brings a certain lack of credibility to the entire theology, but at the same time it makes it entirely wonderful in its simplicity. I sometimes wonder if God designed it that way to drive those that spend their time obsessing over the validity of those that claim to know Christ insane, simply to reinforce that isn't really our job.

Of course one can say that the nature of the desire can be a good indicator, but that isn't necessarily the case. A missions trip to a spiritually barren destination may sound divinely inspired, or it may be just a desire to enjoy a holiday at a tropical destination.

From what I can tell the only way to be sure of the nature of one's desires is in hindsight. When one's only explanation is that God’s hand must have been in it, and that it was incredible, and miraculous that these events took place that. It must be divine intervention. It is His providence that is the proof of His calling.

A lot of the time when discussing these complex events we say God’s hands are in it. While I understand it as metaphorical I do often think it's the wrong metaphor. By the nature of the Holy Spirit being within us as born again Christians WE - the church - are God’s hands. We have to grip onto His callings with our will. The real miracles come not from metaphorical hands, but from metaphorical arms. We may grip onto His will but He does the heavy lifting. And when He flexes those divine biceps it really is wonderful to see.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Relationships

We don't half get worked up about life and death as if we really understand the concepts. We run about like little children obsessed with keeping our frail little bodies going at whatever the cost. Desperately seeking medical science to extend the biological mechanisms of the cursed world we live in. Even the most devout followers of Christ pray repeatedly for healing miracles when our bodies start to fail, determined to cling on the flickering flame of our brief existence in this reality. After all our bodies are our only connection to the temporal aspect of God’s beautiful creation.

While I was in America my Pastor there was constantly preaching to us that we should look at the eternal, not at the temporal. He clearly practiced what he preached. The harsh fact is, no matter what we do our bodies will fail eventually, it is part of the truth of our existence. Furthermore, our relationships, all of them here on earth are finite. They will all end. Of course that is not to say that they are not worth pursuing, and that they are not wonderful in the time that they exist, but they are all temporary. There is only one eternal relationship that any human spirit can have, and that is with God. He showed me in the harshest way possible that my biggest fear, that is the end of my marriage was something that was inevitable, indeed the vows made in marriage are just that, until death.

God in His infinite grace has taken her to be with Him. If my concern is making sure that she is cared for He is doing a much better job than I ever could. If my concern is making sure that her concern for me is invalid then I realistically have to pursue my own happiness without her.

God has granted me the miracle of another wonderful woman in my life. Gill has many similar qualities that my Fran had, but is also very different. She is kind hearted and loving. She is gentle and humble. She is quiet yet confident. She is funny and talented. Her love of animals exemplifies the state of her heart. I have never been more comfortable to be around anyone in my life. In the short time that we have been courting I have described her as my gem, not just because they are her initials but because she reminds me so much of Proverbs 31. Proverbs 31, written as a Hebrew acrostic poem, describes the character of the most desirable wife as being more precious than rubies. The fellowship that we share has made the time we share together all the more precious and seem significantly longer than it actually is. It feels like we have been together for many years instead of a few short months. It is difficult to be apart, and always exciting and wonderful to be together. In all of this however I completely trust God in whatever happens. I know that whatever happens in my relationship with Gill I have an eternal relationship with God because of Christ’s victory over sin for us and therefore hope to live once again in the reflection of the Godhead in marriage.

I am so thankful for God’s blessings in my life.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

The man behind the preacher.

Church exploring is an interesting adventure. In all the churches I’ve ever been to however, there’s always been one individual there.

Have you seen him?

He’s in every single service. He’s almost all of the time happy and overjoyed and excited to be there. In fact he’s almost always making such a racket that you can’t hear anything else.

Every time there is a sermon on trying harder he is laughing with glee.
Every time there is a sermon about showing your fruit as a Christian he is grinning from ear to ear.
Every time there is a sermon about tithing or being selfish with money he’s opening his wallet with excitement and waving it about.
Every time there is a sermon about feeling instead of living in righteousness he is getting drunk on the fumes of a watered down gospel.
Every time there is a sermon about making daily devotionals and getting up at 4 o’clock in the morning to read your Bible he’s winding up his alarm clock with a loud click.
Every time there is a sermon where the Bible isn’t even opened he’s scribbling down notes with enthusiasm.
Every time there is a sermon where sin is put to the side he’s licking his lips with anticipation.

He is there for every sigh, every mumbled verse of worship, every dutiful shirt and tie, every sacrificial offering, every tear, every breath of despair, every defeated and downtrodden soul.

I want to be in a church where he is the one sighing. He is the one mumbling to himself. He is the one tutting. He is the one crying. He is the one living in despair. Unlike most of the services I go to where that appears to be the case for the majority of the congregation.

If you want to know the effectiveness of the edification of the church look at the man standing behind the preacher. He’ll show you what the church is really like.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Birthday

Today would have been Frances’ 33rd birthday. It’s a shame she can’t be here to enjoy it. Some of us here are celebrating your birthday in her stead. I for one treasure the memories of the many birthdays we had together as a married couple. The other day I found the box of all the greeting cards we sent to each other that she kept for us. I’ll add it to all shrine I have set up for her here in her memory. Unfortunately I cannot afford a golden calf so the Mr and Mrs Potato head will have to do.

I feel I have think of her now as my sister-in-Christ, because that is what she is now. Our vows of marriage were never broken, but have now come an end with their natural conclusion. I thank God again for the 13 years I was blessed to be married to her but now God has allowed me a new relationship. Our family, what there was of it, is gone, but now I have been given the opportunity to start a new family again. God is calling me to be a patriarch again, and I cannot ignore His calling.

It really comes down to a choice. Do I chose to live in despair, and bitterness and resentment or do I chose to live in love? A grown man really has no place living with parents. I have to be that sort of man again. That godly man that you constantly referred to as a ‘good man’. “This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” Genesis 2:24 (NLT)

I recall the conversation we had with Pastor Gustafson about the selfishness I considered I’d have in my own personal grief, and while in his empathy he was adamant that it wasn’t selfish my stance hasn’t changed. Not the least of which is because I know full well that I will see her again. At the most I’m likely to be apart from her for no more than 40 years, which in the scheme of things is a very short space of time. And while her body is gone, and our marriage is over the most important aspect of our relationship will remain, that of being my best friend. Now that I have a new best friend, I am certain that I will always have a place for her in my heart.

There are those that have claimed that I am acting in an adulterous way of which of course I’m not, or that I am denial, but it seems to me that they, while they may claim to believe in Jesus Christ as their saviour are themselves denying the reality of everlasting life through His salvation. In that reality there is no need to live in despair, or fear, or hopelessness. I really should have heeded the warning established in Paul’s second letter to Corinth. "Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness?" 2 Corinthians 6:14 (NLT)

I feel like I am Job establishing his life after going through terrible loss.“New honours are constantly bestowed on me, and my strength is continually renewed.” Job 29:20 (NLT)  I felt like I was like Jonah, being ordered to Nineveh, but I now I realise I was in Nineveh all along and now I’m back home.

Born again Christians have a very different perspective on death than the unsaved. There is no certainty in death without Christ as your saviour. The last day I left Paradise Valley Baptist Church my pastor there said to me, “Shalom” instead of “Goodbye”. He explained to me, that our Jewish cousins may use that word. It means a lot more than just “Hello” or “Goodbye”. It also means peace, harmony, completeness, prosperity, and welfare. He used that term, because even though He knew full well that there was a good possibility that we’d never see each other again in this life, we would definitely see each other in the Kingdom of Heaven. Having that certainty gives you real peace and joy that is beyond the understanding of the lost. It means that losing someone that is saved means you will only ever be temporarily apart. You’ll be reunited again. In my experience the sting of separation is significantly more short lived when you know it’s only ever temporary.  There is nothing quite like knowing His peace, and His security in His joy. Even in the worst of circumstances, knowing that He is there for you is always comforting.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Anger

I fail to understand why so many people are so angry at my wife's death. I'm not sure even capable of feeling anger since I've become born again. Paul tells us to rid ourselves of anger when he wrote to the early Colossi Christians. My point is it's not foreign theologically for born again believers to feel anger. I just don't. And I wonder why I don't. But then what is there to be angry about?

I see all these news reports of Christians being beheaded in the middle east and I think, why am I not angry? Because I look on the eternal perspective. These executions from a worldly perspective are horrific, loved ones lives are being prematurely ended at the hands of sinful false religion.

But from an eternal perspective it's the opposite. These martyrs that are persecuted for proclaiming Christ are attending a  graduation ceremony. They are ascending to heaven to be with the Father in eternal glory. From the eternal perspective our compassion should be just as much for the executioners as the families that they are destroying. Their souls will suffer the consequences of living a life with hatred for Christ. It is them we should concentrate our prayers on. They are the lost sheep that have been given false hope in their murderous sinful lives.

And it is no different for their atheists.

I remember being angry at Christianity. I remember believing that these crazy delusional idiots were really offensive in their stance on death. Believing that people don't die, that they aren't really gone when they really are. That their lives, their influence, their memories, their potential to love everything they are ends at the point when their heart stops. I remember the despair and helpless futility of death even at the age of 12. But in Christ the exact opposite is true. There is hope in death because Jesus Christ has overwhelmingly secured victory over it.

My wife attended her graduation ceremony in March.

I was there with all her siblings. I felt despair. I felt loss. I felt guilt.

But I certainly didn't feel anger.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Be Like Christ

While I have been pondering the realm of God, the nature of sin and trying to wrap my head around Calvisnism, which I don’t fully understand, I do understand what God’s personality is. Jesus Christ is the personification of God, that it is to say we can understand God’s character by the way in which Jesus acted in His time here on earth. As Born Again Christians we are called to follow that character. Through the influence of the Holy Spirit when we are born again we are motivated to being a likeness to that character. When I first understood this, I thought how ridiculous this notion was. How can I be like Jesus? I can’t turn water to wine. I can’t walk on water. I can’t control the weather. I can’t heal the sick. I can’t bring the dead back to life. I can’t atone for all of humanity's sin by being sacrificed on a cross. And while I’m not entirely against the idea that the Holy Spirit can give us some supernatural abilities at times it seemed entirely ridiculous that I should follow Him like that. But I was merely describing His actions. His greatest commandment is based on His character. Jesus told us that the greatest commandment was to show love. To Him, To God, To Ourselves, and in the same measure to each other. He was very clear when He said He came to serve, not to be served, we are to follow that character too. In following Him we are called to serve others, no matter what their views. In fact, He was also clear that the service of the most needy, in need of food, and clothing, and shelter, we are serving God directly. He also told us He came to the world, not to judge the world, but to save the world. We too, must inherently not judge, that is definitely not our job as believers. Jesus never condemned anyone for their sin. His great commission was to spread the good news of the gospel. He told people to sin no more and turn to Him. The methodology of that is entirely up for debate of course, but that is the message we need to spread. In fact, the only time Jesus ever condemns anyone, apart from a fig tree, is when the religious elite are acting exactly the opposite in the way He tells us to. When they live by the piousness of their own actions and the proclaim constant condemnation of Him and His disciples for not following the right religious rules. We should rebuke those that judge and condemn others for not following their own religious rules. If we are not spreading the Good News with love then we are entirely working against the message of the gospel. We should weep for the lack of faith in Him like He did. And the only time He ever got angry was when they turned their places of worship into market places. We should, in the same vein turn over tables and chase out the corruption of commercialised religiosity. Those multi millionaire profit making charlatans not only give Christianity a bad name, but they are a direct abuse of the ordination of church. And the fact that they use His name for their corruption will make no difference when they come to Him. He will say to get away from Him, because He never knew them.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Judgment

I realise how ecumenical I am with my approach to theology. I wonder what I really believe about repentance, and our own judgment. Jesus talks quite clearly in Matthew 7 about how we should "Judge not, that ye be not judged." It seems odd that He would be so liberal with judgement on the sermon on the mount when He later goes on to clarify that it is only by His righteousness that we can pass with perfection at the final judgement. Being judged by my own standards would be so easy. Of course Jesus is merely telling us to not be hypocritical. Self discernment is clearly more important than discernment of others. The problem is that we are all separated by this world by the very nature that we are here. Nobody is without the separation of sin, so is any discernment at all of anything outside of yourself hypocritical?

I still maintain that it is possible to determine the nature of someone's soul just by looking into their eyes. You can see past the thin facade of social interaction and see the battleground of the spiritual war going on inside them. You can see all the pain and the suffering they're all going through, desperately trying to feel needed, feel wanted, and not to be alone. Even in the people that are clothed most brightly in the righteousness of Christ it's still there. The demons may be subdued but you can still hear them whispering with their Psiren sweet voices of despair and emptiness. Willing us all to give up, to think you're not worth it, that it's all so entirely pointless. Don't speak up. Just be quiet. It doesn't matter really.

Repentance, whatever it's nature, be it reunification of our relationship with Christ, or merely a reminder of that relationship through a changed nature, it's still calling on God for that reinforcement. I despair most of all for the souls that simply don't know that the battle is going on. The souls that are so overwhelmed with those demons, and the deception is so strong that they aren't even aware of the war is going on. A soul that is so manipulated that it believes that the love shown by the Holy Spirit is in fact hatred. And while I also maintain that a soul's spiritual journey to being born again is far more complicated than simple evangelism I find it hard to understand why a believer wouldn't have a heart for the lost.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Alcohol

I spent most of last night at a bar in Scranton watching my future sister-in-law and the rest of the band she's in along with some other bands playing. I thought considering I knew full well I'd stand out like a sore thumb I thought I'd live up to the peculiar people title of 1 Peter 2:9 and go the full hog by wearing a shirt and tie, and carry my Bible around with me. I was also able to sample some of Scranton's finest filtered tap water while I was there.

Being in a bar brought back memories of going to pubs and nightclubs in my university days. They are dark, incredibly loud, uncomfortably hot, and full of intoxicated young adults. I remember my old friend Ali commenting about incredibly sinful these places are, while we were in a nightclub, and I wondered what on earth he meant, considering I didn't consider alcohol to be sinful back then. It was clear to me last night that it is. Not because of the corrupt behaviour that it creates but because it deceptively mimics the fellowship that we enjoy as born again believers. I speculated on the nature of the place as I sat watching these musicians dancing around with so much enthusiasm that I was concerned I was going to mistake them for Pentecostal worshipers.

One of the bands had merchandise that clearly had pornography with Satanic symbolism on it. It made me consider if these musicians were in fact in some sort of Satanists. But this wasn't the Church of Satan that I was enticed by in the past.

There was no drinking of blood. There was no casting spells. There were no black candles.

While there is clearly a glorification of satanic worship this wasn't that. These were merely devices to try to incite shock, and fortunately for me they didn’t.

This was more a Church of Alcohol.

And it is clear to me that they are entirely complicit in that. Intoxication meant being filled by spirits instead of the Holy Spirit. The effect is temporary and short lived. It's the exact opposite of the church I went to and joined today. Everything about it is designed to desensitise. Darkness, alcohol, loud music, a hot sticky atmosphere.

Anything possible to desperately take away from the reality of a world full of pain and suffering and separation.

While I contemplated this doctrine of darkness and how born again Christians are comforted by the Holy Spirit in a similar way I noticed one of the patrons was consuming an alcoholic beverage called "Free Will" and given my theological thought process I suddenly burst out laughing, which was luckily drowned out by the loud music. That was the only time anyone really took any notice of me.

The music itself was entertaining, and there is clearly a lot of musical talent in their performances. However I think if I'd have understood most of the lyrics I might not have found it quite as entertaining. Although I was entertained more than I should be by the performance of a song called "That's what Jesus said". In the brief conversations I had with the patrons outside they seemed agreeable, although it was awkward because I am so very different these days.

Two things occurred to me. The first being that I would like to be able to experience some involvement in the street pastor program, a program where groups of Christians go around helping intoxicated people get home after leaving bars by giving them water, helping them up if they're being sick in the street and giving them the gospel. The second is, would the church I'm now a member of be quite as inviting to someone if the roles were reversed and one of them, in that condition, tried to attend one of our performances in the same vein. I'm inclined to think we wouldn't, at least universally, despite the command for us to show love to everyone by Jesus Christ.

I wonder if I'm being judgmental. And if my thought processes are offensive. I don't think I am, I'm just explaining my understanding of the perception I have of the reality I see around me. I’m also aware of how I may well be rebuked for even attending such an event, due to the dangers of the enticement of sin and that I am somehow endorsing such activities. However I’m pretty aware of what enticements I seem to fall victim to, so there are some groups of sinners I really should keep away from, especially if they’re carrying alabaster boxes.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Green card

Today I was supposed to be returning to the United Kingdom. My 90 day ETSA would have been up and had I not left today I would be staying here as an illegal immigrant as opposed to a legal visitor. However last week I was able to finalise the paperwork with my lawyer and we applied for a green card for me as a widower, a work permit, and advanced parole - so I can come and go as I please. It also means that I realistically have to stay until I get the advanced parole because otherwise I can’t get back in. The work permit and advanced parole should take about 60 to 90 days to come through, while the green card itself takes about 6 months. It was a lot of stress getting together all the requirements, which included photographs, sworn affidavits from friends and family saying they knew we were married when she passed, my eulogy for Fran, plus I went through a medical that required me to have multiple vaccinations, bloodwork, and a chest x-ray. I also had to pay for administration fees and lawyer fees which amounted to just over $3000 (about £2000).

I thank God that it all went through smoothly and quickly. I was nervous about it anxious as to how I would do it, and how much it would cost. God provided for me, and I am now able to stay here legally while the application is pending. I will almost certainly have an interview in the next few months to progress to a green card, but in the mean time I can stay where I’m at. Once I have a work permit I can apply for a social security number, and then apply for a driving license. I’m pretty sure I’ll have to take a driving test. I hope I’ll remember to stay on the correct side of the road while under examination. I am praying for a job. I am praying for a way to fund being able to feed myself and a way that I can get to and from church and maintain fellowship with the member there in the mean time. I am praying to God about whether or not I am doing the right thing here. I don’t understand why He wants me here, but I’m still pretty sure He does. I know my heart is for here. I realise the irony of foolishly wasting all my savings on what are effectively immigration taxes so I can get to live in a country that prides itself on being independent from tyrannical unrepresented taxation. I know God will provide again.

I had a very rough week last week. I spent most of last week after the papers were filed trying to come to terms with the doubt of the reality of my application, losing faith, backsliding and falling into sin during bouts of emotional instability. Then on Friday, while doing preparation for the Bible Study “Essential virtues” by Jim Berg, I became so overwhelmed by repentance and conviction that it became hard to see the words of the book through the tears. Chapter 6 talks specifically about how a wife goes through the dilemma of dying from cancer, so I knew exactly what it was talking about, it felt like it was written directly to me. I realised that the separation of sin is so abhorrent because it is to God exactly the same as the separation I now face with my wife.

After that followed nearly 5 days of constant fellowship during my waking hours. I’ve made good friends with my wife’s cousin and sister-in-Christ Heather, her husband and brother-in-Christ Matt, their daughter Kayla, and their dog Penny. I have spent almost all that time with them and with my brother-in-Christ and mentor Tyrone who lives near them and attends my church.  When not spending time with them I was in constant fellowship with Paradise Valley Baptist Church and I even made a visit to the non-denominational Life Church nearby. I’ve had fellowship at a baseball game, a church yard sale, a few picnics, I even ended up watching Pride and Prejudice in their trailer late on one of the nights. I finally began to feel useful again in some way when I was able to use the van that God has provided me to drive them around.

I find myself in a position that I never really expected to be in. All my life plans haven’t really changed since I was about 13 years old. I knew my goals, they were all pretty straight forward, and for the most part I achieved them. But now I’m in a position of trying to rebuild my life from the ashes of what they once where. I am constantly seeing myself in the internet meme of a dog sitting in front of a computer with it’s paws on the keyboard proclaiming, “I have no idea what I’m doing”. I remember the words of my pastor when he told me that he could sympathise, but not empathise. Even with all the advice that people have given me, they really can’t empathise with what I’m going through, in fact I only really know of one or two people that can come close, and their circumstances are very different. I really don’t have a clue what my life has for me now. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know God has a plan, and I can’t wait to see how it plays out.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Time

A year ago today I wrote these words on Facebook:

“Sitting in Stafford A&E with my wife waiting for her to get a blood transfusion. Even through the fear and worry we can see God's hand in this as it was only by an administrative accident that she was able to get an appointment this morning. She was told previously that she would have to wait 4 weeks for a routine appointment. I pray that God gives the doctors wisdom and guides them in her healthcare, but most of all I trust in His will whatever happens.”

I am encouraged by my own words in the light of my lack of faith today. I have become preoccupied with self doubt and uncertainty. I ask myself if the metaphorical shipwreck I am in is because I am acting like Jonah as opposed to like Paul. Jonah ran into all sorts of trouble because he was going against where God was calling him. Paul on the other hand ran into all sorts of trouble because he was doing the exact opposite, and going exactly where God was calling him. I ask myself where am I actually being called now that I am finally going through the process of immigration here. And while my theology precludes such notions I ask myself, "Am I being punished for doing something wrong?" I find myself asking where am I actually being called to be, and I can't work out of I'm running away from my homeland, or if I'd be running away from my new home if I returned there. I ask myself where I want to be and my only real desire is to go home to the person that was my wife. I find it so incredibly unfair that the desire to be with her while she was still alive was completely in line God's will and His righteousness, but now with the exact same desire to be with her, suddenly I find that in exercising the only power I have, the act of expediting my journey to be with her, is sinful and selfish and cowardly. From my own experience I find myself disheartened by the reassurances that it gets better over time just simply aren't true. The reality is that it gets worse. During the previous periods of time when we were apart the pain and anguish of being separated increased over time it didn't diminish. There was a period of time where I could regard images of her with a deep melancholy but happiness to see her. Now I can't even bear looking at images of her at all being overwhelmed with the prospect of having to live the rest of my life without her, and wishing for that length of time to be short as possible.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Doubt

My moments of doubt are usually pretty straightforward. It’s basis is on an evaluation of my sanity.

Am I crazy?
Am I praying to nothing?
Is prayer just an attentional bias?
Are miracles merely coincidences?
Is the joint reinforcement of a living divinity merely a collective delusion?
Is the efficacy of prayer merely the emotive sociological response from those that hear and react to them?
If God says no to prayers, then how is that efficacy any different than random chance?
Is the joy and fulfillment and purpose in a born again believer’s life merely the result of delusional people living delusional lives?


Did God take her?
Will I ever see her again?
Or is it just the end of a biological process in a futile empty universe?

I asked her these questions this evening, while standing up staring into the blackness of the night. 

Contemplating my existence and my future. I realised that my thoughts on self worth were becoming irrational again, which means this grief was turning into something else. But that’s good because I know I can do something about it.

She responded to me.

I wondered if this was an echo of her living in my memory or if this was indeed divinely inspired but I heard her voice again.

“What would you have me do, dear?”

I realised that she was always my voice reason.

“I want you to be happy.”

“But how can I possibly be happy without you?”

“Live for God. It’s what I did. You know how much us living for God did to make us both happy. That’s your goal.”

“But what if it isn't real?”

“Does it matter? You know what made you happy.”

I ask myself, does it matter?

Yes it does.

So what does my gut say? Is this all a dead reality based on random chance, or is this a lovingly created universe with us as the central players?

My instinct tells me that it is a created universe.  The complexities and probabilities of this being all random chance is just too much to believe. That I am not delusional, that I will see her again.

But, I recall just a few years ago my instinct was in line with an atheist world view. 

Although that old me was a very different person. I was blind to so much. I was oppressed by the indoctrination of atheism. I was obsessed with terribly irrelevant things that never gave me fulfillment, and while I was awestruck by nature, it never really had the beauty it does to me today. It was dirty, it was disordered, it was a mess. The perception I had in reality was one of a finite dead universe, which clearly isn't the case now.

The changes that have happened to me are something that have happened beyond my conscious understanding. I haven’t willed them at all. These things have happened despite what I may or may not have tried to achieve, but the perceptions that other people have about me, that “I’m a good man” are actually the conclusion of those changes.

So I ask myself again, am I crazy?

No, I don’t think so.

And I should follow my wife’s advice, so I will.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Conflict

Trying to make rational and logical decisions of emotional and interpersonal matters is often significantly more difficult that it initially appears. Emotions cloud your rational judgement.  Furthermore I realise that emotions affect your perception of reality. I've noticed I’m entirely at the mercy of my emotions, and seem completely unable to control them which isn't necessarily a bad thing if it's the feeling of the unconditional agape love that God has for me, but is entirely devastating in grief. I sometimes consider that my behaviour is the way it is because I'm still waiting for my wife to come home to me. But my theological understanding is that it's more the case that she is waiting for me to come home to her and our Father in Heaven. Not that I really understand the details of what that really means, and even though I know my marriage is over I'm more enticed by the prospect of seeing her again than anything that this world could ever give me. But at the same time Fran wanted desperately to be happy. She told me that she wanted me to remarry. However even the prospect of re-marrying seems to be so adulterous at the moment that it could easily compromise my moralistic integrity. Indeed I have been advised by a number of people that it would be not just unwise, but immoral to rush into remarrying without a significant period of time to grieve properly. Which is direct conflict with the incredible urge to be in a marriage again. I am frequently preoccupied with these two opposing dilemmas. It is overwhelmingly more difficult than the extended period of time where I searched desperately for a wife, because I now have 13 years of experience on just how great that relationship can be.

I am reminded of the dilemma that was faced by Zachary Quinto’s ‘Spock’ character in the 2009 remake of the Science Fiction movie ‘Star Trek’. In the course of the story, and you must appreciate that I’m giving a big spoiler here, Spock watches in horror as he is helpless to do anything about the destruction of his home world and his entire people, the Vulcans. While the Vulcan people are renowned for their ability to completely control their emotions through mental discipline and I must admit at one time was an enticing prospect given the fact that I appeared to be entirely incapable of that, Spock was unable to do so. Continuing with the story the protagonist is put in position to reveal that Spock is emotionally compromised and unfit to command the Starship Enterprise. He realises after an outburst that he cannot continue to be in a position of authority and relinquishes his command.

I too have lost my world.

I too am emotionally compromised and unfit to command my life.

So who do I relinquish my command to?

“A man's heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps.” - Proverbs 16:9 (KJV)

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Four simple words

Four simple words from my pastor broke me this morning.

"You're a good man."

It pains me that much because Fran used those exact words so many times in the last few years of marriage and I can't believe how much I miss that constant reassurance.

For 31 years I knew full well I wasn't a good man, and being clothed now in Christ's righteousness I see my value entirely on how other people react to me. I get on with practically everyone I meet, and pretty much everyone reacts positively. But then why wouldn't they? I think to myself, 'what's not to smile about?' when I get to play the 'eye contact smiling awkwardness' game with complete strangers.

It's a lot of fun, but it seriously evaluates me in how I am inside.

And I am free with Christ with me.

Free from the evaluation that I'm not a good man.

Yet I'm still confused by it, I'm still in shock at how much I've changed. I'm still in shock of how much I trust God in everything. I don't feel like I'm ultra religious. But then I'm not. I just have faith.

I know I've let God change me so much, and fill me with so much love, but I still don't get how.

His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

He is always there, He always answers prayer, and I realise I need Him more and more every day.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Breath

Yesterday I had the privilege and honour of being able to pray with a recently widowed wife at her husband's funeral. I don't think I've ever prayed like that with someone I've never met before. It really is a milestone in my spiritual growth, and I can't believe how easy and natural it was for me. I've always felt intimidated and daunted by the prospect. It was with bitter sweet joy I realised how much my wife would have been so incredibly proud of me for being able to and being motivated to do that as we shared mutual condolences with each other.

Today I had to attend a medical exam as part of my application for a visa here in the US. I was so nervous about it. I prayed and pleaded so desperately with God for His blessing in this matter. My cries of anguish on the way there were heard, and replaced with tears of joy on the way back. He provides so abundantly. It literally could not have gone any better. All my prayers were answered in full, with an outpouring of blessing on me. As I was in absolute awe and bewilderment at the outstanding beauty of the mountains I saw before me through those tears I could not help but thank Him for His gift of life. For every breath we take is a gift. Every morning we wake up it is by His will. I thanked Him I get to wake up every morning, that I get to go to church, that I get to pray to Him, that I get to praise His name, that I get to live in this beautiful glorious creation of His. That I get to have such amazing relationships, that I get to trust Him, and I get to live in His love. We don't get this forever. None of us do. We should be grateful for every single breath we take, because each one could be our last. I thought how fitting that really was given the way my wife passed away, hooked up to a ventilator fighting for breath. The number of times we breathe is limited. Every single one of them can be a blessing if we choose to see it that way.

I thank God for every single one of them.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Grief Haiku

You lie there sleeping
No more pain and suffering
Rest my sweet dear rest
You suffer no more
I can see you in Heaven
There Eternally
The days are darker
Now that you have gone away
I miss you so much
I will never fear
That I will see you again
Jesus will be there
He is with me now
The Holy Spirit lives on
I still hear your voice
Your smile will be there
Bringing joy to all who see
Images of you
So rest now my dear
Your time has come to an end
But my life goes on

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Dreams

Last night I dreamt that the people that I loved were slowly dying around me and I was powerless to do anything about it. My wife was of course one of those loved ones sitting next to me. It's clearly based in reality since I went through those exact events two months ago. However in the dream everyone that was dying was significantly more aware of their impending end and I was able to have conversations of dread and regret with them as they became progressively more ill.

While I contemplated the dream I had I realised that the bearing on reality is just as prominent now. The fact is that everybody I know and love is dying around me, albeit significantly more slowly than my wife was. But it isn't their physical death I really concern myself about, it’s their spiritual death. A lot of the time it is easy to fall prey to the notion that a born again believer is powerless to direct the lost to Christ. Paralyzed with fear and self doubt leading to anger and disbelief in evangelism in general, or the belief that evangelism is somehow an artificial performance or unnatural for the majority of born again believers; the devil attacks directly on the hearts of the disciples of Christ as they go through a world of dying people. It’s a depressing world to live in, if you really believe you are powerless to help change their journey from the road headed to the invisible lake of fire to the road headed towards Jesus.

And the fact is, if I go on my will alone I am powerless to change their path.

My arguments are short lived and weak. My strength is limited. My understanding is pitiful. My will is nothing compared to the power of the devil. He grips so many hearts, turns them away from Christ and towards fickle empty pursuits that are short lived and often demand more and more depravity to feel as good as they did last time.

One of the things I miss the most about marriage is the reassurance I had. My wife constantly told me that I was a good man, that I was undervalued in my profession, that I was a safe competent driver, in fact she only felt safe with me driving, and that I was not just the wretched sinner I know I am. But of course I know that was somewhat of a facade brought about by the love inside marriage.

But it isn't my strength I should ever be relying on. It is the strength through Christ Jesus that a born again believer uses to evangelise, not their own. The reality is that nothing is impossible with God. And while I cannot take credit for bringing anyone to Christ directly, and therefore have no crownie points to boast, I do know that a lot of my writing is sowing seeds in the hearts of the lost to direct them to those with more experience in direct evangelism, as Pastors have told me that as much directly.

So do I live in a world of despair or do I live in the world where Christ has conquered death for us?

Do I choose to follow fear or love?

Given these worlds are matters of perspective it really is a choice in the way we would see the world. And the attraction of seeing the world through the gospel of God’s grace is far greater than the doubt and fear that the devil whispers in my ear.

So I will continue to write, and continue to pray that God would use me for His will.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Grief

Grief in many ways is similar to depression in my experience. The sense of overwhelming despair is just as prevalent. The unwelcome sensations that appear to be beyond your psychological control are in that sense exactly the same. However both of these emotional states come with their own voice. In my recollection of depression the voice itself often made irrational, illogical and destructive statements about my self worth. The ability to combat that in a conscious way, through rational logic was able to give me some relief from it, although it obviously was not by any means a cure. Grief on the other hand has it's bearing in reality. It's voice cannot be dismissed through logic in the same way. The loss, the despair and the compelling futile desire to be able to interact with that person again are completely rational and logical. There is no argument against this voice, in fact I can only be in agreement with it. I can only rationalise that I am indeed supposed to feel this way. However with the compulsion and guilt and regret from past failures comes irrational fantasies of living in the past, and improving on those interactions that took place, of course these have no bearing in reality since you cannot alter the past. So in that sense rational logic can combat that too. But it is only in my theological understanding of what remains of the born again believer that I can find comfort. The guaranteed promise of being reunited with the saved soul through Jesus Christ is extremely comforting because it means that past failures are potentially correctable, although from my understanding they will become irrelevant when we are reunited. Jesus Christ will wipe away every tear from those that trust and believe in Him. I have no idea how anyone with a similar theological understanding could cope with the loss of a loved one that does not know Christ because that reassurance is not there. I would imagine it would lead to guilt for not being able to convince them to come to accept Christ too, even if that is realistically an oversimplification of a souls spiritual journey. I expect one day I will find out, because, even though I know I will improve my ability to show people the door that Christ knocks on as I grow spiritually they still have to make that decision to open it.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Love

In Greek there are 4 different words used to describe love. Storge, Philia, Eros, and Agape. Storge is the type of love that parent's have for their children. Philia, is brotherly love that we would have for each other as equals. Eros is generally the love that a married couple have for each other. Agape is the unconditional love that God has for us. While the Bible advocates that God has Agape love for us, I don't think that in my personal experience that I am capable, even in my born again state to be able to reciprocate in that kind of love. I can't possibly feel the unconditional love that God has for us, for anyone or anything. I can't possibly forgive on the same level as God has for us.

So what love do I feel?

Well I have great difficulty in Storge love. I see everybody as equals, and everyone as equals. I haven't had the experience of being a parent, so I haven't really experienced that kind of protective love that a parent has. So that leaves me with Philia and Eros.

I think in most human (and animal) relationships I experience Philia love. Which is an issue especially if I try to communicate with a child or a pet in the same way I would an adult. In a church or family setting Philia love is what I feel, but that is different from my relationship with God.

While I have heard preaching that advocates that we should aim to feel Agape love towards God, I've already dismissed that as something that I am incapable of. So my aim really is to experience Eros love with God. Yes, it's not quite the same as the Eros love one feels within marriage, it is after all not sexual in any way, but then marriage isn't just about sex. The intimacy of knowing God is like a marriage in that sense though. We, as the church, are the bride of Christ. My aim in my spiritual growth is nothing short of understanding and knowing God intimately, like in a marriage. Of understanding His thinking, and His will. Of understanding His morality, and His strength and His peace.

We can get to know this foremost in His word. The Bible is a love letter to us, and we should treat it as such. It should be treated respectfully, and lovingly, and sought after and read again and again, and treasured like one would treat a love letter from someone intimately close to you.

In my experience of marriage, it was physically painful to be separated for any period of time. It hurt emotionally. Sin is separation from God. To live in sin is painful for the same reason. It is bad for me, and anyone that lives in it. That in itself should be reason to turn to Christ and ask for repentance, and to change your direction towards Him. It isn't for His sake, it's for yours.

And it is in Christ only that I can experience Eros love now.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Thank you

Thank you for holding my hand as hers grew cold.
Thank you for holding my heart when it should have been breaking.
Thank you for holding my soul when it wanted to go with her.
Thank you for giving me the words when I had none.
Thank you for giving me strength when I am weak.
Thank you for giving me hope when all around me is despair.
Thank you for giving me peace when the world around me is falling apart.
Thank you for giving me purpose when I am lost in the wilderness.
Thank you for your love in a world of hate.
Thank you most of all for your sacrifice that sets me to be free.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Life

Life has become so terribly terribly pointless. I realised today that it doesn't matter where I go I will never feel at home again. I will always feel like I am in the way wherever I am and will never fit in. There is only one place I ever felt completely comfortable and that was with Fran. It didn't matter where she was, in our house in Stafford, in a car driving to church or in a hospital bed in Philadelphia, that was where home was.

Now I am alone I feel homeless. Yes, there are houses I can live in, there are churches I can be members of, but there is no home to return to.

That void left from being a husband cannot be filled in with being a brother, or an uncle, or a committee member, or an analyst. While these roles all have their own demand of me they all seem so superficial and limited compared to husbandry.

Of course being a follower of Christ should give my life meaning, but my greatest ministry through serving my wife isn’t there anymore. I should find comfort in my faith but I see no direction, and the obvious answers of bible schools would mean I would have to be able to get over the feeling that they are all man made institutions, which I don’t think I am likely to get over.

What gets to me is the abundance of abusive relationships, and adultery, and divorce, and fornication and that all those things were so foreign to us that we didn't even understand them. Yet it was our marriage that was cruelly ripped apart by this disease. It seems so unjust and so unfair, and it takes every ounce of faith I have to be able to say that it is all just part of God’s will, and you know, He has His reasons.

And I’m sure that He does, I just don’t understand them.

As Horatio Spafford puts it, it is well with my soul. I know one day I will join her. It’s my life that isn’t well. And I while I don’t exactly welcome death, I do have an overwhelming desire to join her today.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Where is Fran now?

Where is Fran now?

I ask this question to myself and to other people and a lot of people would give me a different answer. An atheist would tell me that Fran only exists in our memories now. That what we understood to be her personality, and her consciousness was merely a collection of neurons in her brain that stopped firing electrical impulses once they experienced necrosis due to lack of oxygen. A catholic might tell me that her soul is in purgatory and some penance or something might need to be paid, probably not with paypal, so that she can earn her way into heaven. Someone told me that heaven gained another angel, although from my understanding angels are entirely different creatures from us, even if they look similar, or perhaps if I listen to Hollywood, giant animated cgi rock formations.

The universal solace that seems to be given is that Fran is no longer in pain and suffering anymore. It’s interesting that it didn't really seem to be an issue before she was diagnosed with leukaemia, and that it was all in her head, and she should probably just lose some weight. Of course the suffering right at the end was terrible, but she was definitely no stranger to it for almost all of our marriage.

I will not miss the years of listening to my wife crying in pain all night and not being able to do anything about it.

My experience of grief seems to be different from the rest of her family. But then we are grieving different things. Her parents knew her for her entire life. All the hopes and dreams they had for their oldest child have been unfairly cut short. Her siblings knew her for their entire lives. The big sister they grew up with is no longer there to look after them. I on the other hand have only known her for half of her life. Although, in those years of marriage we became one flesh. All decisions, all ideas, our entire lives were lived together. The reason that so many messages of condolence are focused on me, and they have been overwhelming, is because I am effectively half a man. My other half is gone.

The reality of grief over the first few days was overwhelming. Any picture, any object, any thought about her brought me to tears almost immediately. The term ‘trigger’ is used in mental illness, as in objects or events that cause uncontrollable breaks or flashbacks to traumatic events. I was in the unenviable position of being surrounded by triggers, in terms of objects, and thoughts.

As time has progressed however acceptance of the situation has set in. Her image and her belongings now trigger a melancholy bittersweet memory. My heart sinks, but I can smile back at her image. She is still in my constant thoughts, even on occasion I have to remind myself that she’s gone. I often think that I need to share things with her. Fran would love this. Then I have to correct myself, and say Fran would have loved this.The automatic connection that has grown over the years now leads to nowhere.

My thoughts are now becoming preoccupied with what I’m supposed to do with my life. I’ve had two jobs in the last few years of my marriage. My day job, earning a wage, and my second job, supporting Fran in her medical needs and supporting all her ministries within the church. Eventually as her health became progressively worse supporting her became my full time job. Now I have no job. I am at more lost than I’ve ever been. The freedom that comes from being a widower is an unwelcome one.

My heart tells me that I want to continue being an uncle, a brother, and a son to the family that I’ve been living with as Fran fought her final months with leukaemia, but the difficulty in that is the same as it was before. I need a job, I need a visa, I need a car of my own, and eventually a house. I am praying for guidance in what God would have me do.I’ve learnt through experience it’s always easiest to do what God wills.  It all seemed so clear just a few weeks ago, but now that I’m without a wife it all seems so uncertain. I rationalise that the easiest thing to do would be to return to our home in England, back to the church, back to a job that I’ve sat in for years. But I’m not sure that this the right thing to do. And the guidance I’ve felt with the convictions of the Holy Spirit have always been a matter of doing what is right, not necessarily what seems feasible or possible, but of course, anything possible with God.

Today me, my sister-in-law Ashley, and my father-in-law went to the funeral home to make arrangements with them and sign a contract to have Fran’s body transported and cremated. As Fran requested we are using the Bolock Funeral home. She decided the name was fitting. We have decided against an actual cremation service due to the expense although we have asked to be informed when the cremation takes place so we can witness the smoke ascending into the heavens, and while she may not be a sweet smelling sacrifice to the Lord, she did surrender her life to Him when she trusted Christ as her saviour.

Emotionally I feel so compelled to rush into a new relationship, but I know rationally how unwise that is, not only because of the notion of a rebound relationship, and that any relationship would mean that anyone else would constantly struggle to live up to her, which would be entirely unfair and unrealistic. I also realise that all the available bachelorettes that I may consider, while not intending to offend any of  them, all seem to be available because they’re all horribly broken from failed or abusive relationships. But of course I’m horribly broken now too.

I also concern myself, now that I am a single man again how I will be perceived. I am no longer in a stable happy marriage, entrusted to be alone with, on occasion, other married women. I could easily be perceived as some sort of predator, as I think I was perceived before I was married, although that was realistically for good reason. I know I’m a very different man than I was 13 years ago, so these concerns about perceptions of me are probably unfounded. Still it will be some time before I’m ready to take off my wedding ring. It gives me some measure of protection from those sorts of perceptions, at least in my mind.

So, back to my original question. Where is Fran now?

I don’t think the Fran I knew and loved exists anymore. The woman I married in the end was a combination of human spirit, holy spirit and the flesh. The flesh is gone, so all that remains is the purest human spirit in heaven with Jesus Christ. Which isn't the personality I knew, her pain, her suffering, her sin was as much part of who I knew as the Holy Spirit that compelled her to serve God in the way that she did. And when I meet her again, I won’t be the sinful creature I am today for the same reason. She will just be my sister in Christ, even if it won’t really be what I perceive to be me, and her what I perceive to be her. For that matter I can’t possibly understand heaven, because eternity means that time doesn't have the same meaning it does here, the limitations of the body, and of the 4 dimensional space time do not apply there. I imagined that she might be up there looking down on us, like a viewer watches TV, and yelling at it, telling me to stop being so miserable in my grief. But I don’t think it’s like that. Being one with God means having access to omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. So time has no meaning for her now, nor does space, nor does the unknown, because she knows everything that there is to know, and exists everywhere there is to exist. Not that I could ever begin to understand such concepts, but I look forward to the day that I can join her, and our child. In the mean time I must continue to live my life.