Church makes me feel lonely

I don’t know what it is and I’m not sure I’ve always felt it… But church often makes me feel lonely.

On expressing this rather clumsily to someone one morning, he asked if I meant that our church wasn’t friendly enough.  But I don’t think so… It almost seems to be the opposite.  Or something.

Its got to be true that for those who don’t go home to a bustling family dinner, Sunday can be a killer.  I’ve definitely sometimes associated this Sunday-loneliness with that.  But I’m aware that at times, its not something that would be cured with an invite to join others’ bustle.

I wonder if it would be cured had I my own bustling brood to provide for.  I’d definitely have less time to think about it, that’s for sure.

But I don’t know.

Church for me often stirs up longing that I can’t quite put my finger on, can’t quite find a name for.  A longing for moreMore what?

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Self-concious.

See, now I know someone out there might read this.

I have a post waiting that I wrote a few weeks ago, but then Jaybercrow got all stirred up and blogging has kicked off again.  Which means blog reading has kicked off again.  Which means someone out there might read that post.  And, worse, comment on it.  Or worse still, NOT comment and silently judge.

 

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One year on…

A year ago today, I packed all my belongings into a van and drove them (with a good friend, the best) back to the country where, 2 years previous, I had done the reverse.

 

Today is raw… a wee bit sore, a wee bit anxious, a wee bit torn.

 

As I write, the Autumn sun is streaming in the window onto my brick fireplace and, despite this morning’s earlier grey rain, the sky is now a beautiful blue with just the odd puff of a cloud skiffing past in the brisk wind.

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This house is a blessing, a little place I can curl up in and call my own.  The job I struggle with “pays the rent” and I am glad.  Apart from the employment and getting up at stupid o’clock to do it, I don’t think I’d rather be anywhere else.  And yet…

 

Life in France was amazing.  It drove me mad sometimes, sad sometimes but… It was happy and fun and exciting and joyful and despairing and confusing and tiring and wonderful and beautiful and up and down and round and round and round.  Rinse, repeat.

 

It was that : Life… in France.

 

So I suppose that’s why there will always be a ‘before France’ and an ‘after France’ kinda me.  And so I suppose that’s why there will always be mixed feelings about it.  I definitely left a big part of my heart there (although I’m working on moving some of that to Norn Iron – he’s gonna love it!) and I feel like there are some defining moments being lived in and around the whole experience… But I’m not there yet.  I don’t have this all defined and neatly tidied up yet.  And contrary to what the state of my lovely little rental house back in NI might indicate, I’m not very good at the untidy part.  

 

I realised this when I signed up for an art workshop a few months ago and I found myself welling up in frustration as I looked at the scribbles of blue, green and purple I was trying to coax into a seascape.  I thought I was good at this!  I thought I had it down! This wasn’t how I wanted it to be! It was messy and I wanted it to be tidy.  It was formless and I wanted it to be formed.  And I wanted it to be beautiful.  But it wasn’t there yet.  

 

And then eventually… it was.

 

A year on from my departure from France, I expected form but what I’ve got is scribbles.

 

And so I sit, holding the ache gently – I’m making space for it today.  Which is good… and right.

 

I contemplate the fading Autumn sun on my fireplace and comfort myself that scribbles are just a small part of a much bigger process.  They are good… and right.

 

I listen to the clock ticking.

 

And I write.

 

 

 

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Prayer

I have a friend who is “heavily pregnant”;  like, just-a-few-weeks-to-go-and-difficulty-bending-over pregnant.  If I were her, I’d be a moany git.

But you see, the last time this friend was pregnant, she didn’t make it this far – nowhere near this far.  So now that she is this far and on the verge of a waddle, there’s little chance you’ll hear her complain.  She knows what its all for.  Every cm that belly grows, every elbow in the rib, every hiccup that baby makes, she knows all about it and wouldn’t have it otherwise.  Because all these are signs of life and the life to come.

Just because she exercises restraint in voicing her discomfort, her body does not.  She knows and hears very well the ‘complaint’ of the extra weight her body bears because that’s how this new birth thing works.  Just because there are no words, does not mean there are no groanings.

Just because my body has not yet known this mystery, nor your’s perhaps able to, does not mean we do not know those pangs.

That thing you hope for – the job, the relationship, the home – but which seems so far away; that unnameable ache you feel for the elusive “more”; that swelling, prodding, hiccup which sometimes seems to walk a tightrope between joy and despair… don’t wish it away.  It is a prayer. Hold it gently, but firmly, because it is a sign of life and the life to come.

 All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy. Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

Romans 8:22-28 (The Message)

 

 

 

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Survival tips for dealing with a “Returning Medium-Term Missionary” (RMTM) who might seem a bit weird.

1. Your well-intentioned questions are appreciated, but may not always have an answer.  Not having an answer, not least an answer that fits into a five-minute conversation is unsettling and what with points 1 and 2 in yesterday’s post about the RMTM, who knows what sort of reaction you’ll get!  Patience is a virtue… for all of us.

2. Unusual life circumstances and experiences may seem exciting in relation to what you see as ‘humdrum’ home life, but on the other side of things your home and routine could be a balm of healing during an unsettled, uncertain time for an RMTM.  Don’t feel like you need to offer intense catch-up chats about the “excitements of the mission field” in order to show you care – share your life and the stories will come out in time.  Its possible that for both parties a take-away in front of the telly and the immense pile of ironing might be better than a sit-down meal with linen napkins.

3. Be ready to share your stories too.  If ‘normalcy’ really exists, then it exists in what each of us live day to day – the RMTM’s reality is not the only one to have continued in their absence.  It’ll do all parties good to remember that as they seek to embrace this new reality of ‘normal’ life.

Colossians 3:12-14

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

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5 of the reasons a “Returning Medium-Term Missionary” might seem a bit weird.

1. “Home” is no longer a clear-cut concept.  Asking ‘how does it feel to be home?’ is likely to be met with a blank look and, at best, a muttered half-truth or at worst, sobs.

2. Feelings change in direct relation to the ticking of a clock, so any question which relates to said feelings (how does it feel to be back? do you feel the cold? do you fancy a cup of tea?) probably means the answer has already changed 4 or 5 times before your voice even has a chance to inflect the question mark.

3. A big part of the brain still operates in a foreign language or some mixed-up version thereof, franglais par exemple.  Therefore common words and phrases like ‘toothbrush’ and ‘go for a walk’ are blanked out and one speaks in structures of sentences bizarre.

4. A big part of the body still carries the habits of the etiquette of the other culture.  When we need to walk past each other in the street, you will politely move over to your left as I politely move over to my right only to discover you’re still in MY way.  At which point, it becomes a game of chicken.  May the best foreigner win.

5. Everything is relative.  Every situation is open to comparison – it wasn’t like this where I was, when I was here before it was like that, I never used to see this, I always used to do that…  The possibilities for difference and discovery and naming of difference are endless as well as the ways in which those differences are important or not.  “Left-hand side of the road, Left-hand side of the road, LEFT-HAND side of the road…”

Tomorrow… a few survival tips (for all involved!) on dealing with a ‘Returning Medium-Term Missionary’ who might seem a bit weird.

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When someone else writes what you wanted to but didn’t know how.

The little boat
had seen many days at sea.
There was still colour in her paint but her clip had slowed visibly.
The freshness, the eagerness, the vitality had waned.
These days it felt difficult to be a boat –
not natural but laborious.
Things that previously brought joy & life
seemed to painfully elude her.

She needs this harbour time.
Time to dock.
Time to bob in one place & see the same quiet things for a while.
Time to be attended to & not to attend.
A time of harbour rest, of safeness & sameness,
of warming sun, of staring at gulls,
of smelling salty air,
of taking in the gentle clanging & bobbing of other boats,
the occasional sound of a motor, the lines clinking against the masts.

The harbour is where I want to sit.
It’s where I need to sit after an especially busy, intense season.
My soul yearns for a harbour experience of calming sights, smells & sounds.
All my senses need to feel her healing balm.
And all of me needs to know that:
Stillness is progress,
Quiet is impetus,
Solitude is movement.
Soul care is breakthrough.

One day soon I will look past the harbour onto the horizon.
First I will just notice it.
As time passes, I will appreciate anew its grandeur, its vision, its call.
And eventually I will yearn again to travel there on open seas.
For now, Harbour Time is where I renew those soulful yearnings.

“Others went out on the sea in ships…
They saw the works of the Lord,
his wonderful deeds in the deep…
and he guided them to their desired haven.”

Psalm 107:23, 24, 30

 

Thanks, ‘A life of interest’

 

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