Courage

But courage, child: we are all between the paws of the true Aslan

C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

Aslan

Image by Snakeartworx

Advertisements

God of no gender

IMG_20170613_212814 (1)

You may find this post contains heresy and/or madness (depending on your perspective). Consider yourself warned…

So God created human beings in his own image.

    In the image of God he created them;

    male and female he created them.

Genesis 1: 27

I want to tell you about my psychosis.  Uniquely female, a psychosis triggered by pregnancy and childbirth.  It’s not unusual for people experiencing psychosis to have visions of the ends of the earth, and beliefs about their own messianic qualities.  Yet I know that my thought-processes during psychosis were wrapped around my growing struggle with the church and gender politics.  My beliefs were shaped by the visceral experience of giving birth and its powerful sense of womanhood.

What to the outsider looked like jumbled stream-of-consciousness had an intense sense of clarity for me.  Everything made sense.  I had it in my mind that as the end of the world drew near, God was seeking to bring the maleness and femaleness of himself back into unity in the world.  The beautiful (and of course to my loved ones terrifying) thing was that I would be the vessel, the girl-messiah who would bear the unbearable of losing my child and my husband.  I would be obedient even unto death.  I would submit, as the weekly-beaten doctrine of the past few years of church had instructed me.  And yet, in the submission there would be power.  Power to bring those in my life with terrible illnesses into their new bodies, into eternity, into the great Wedding Feast.  I even saw the feast, it was beautiful, and feminine, and filled with joyous reunions.  Everybody, everybody, everybody was there.  God, it was beautiful, I can’t really begin to express it. But it was not to be.

And yet… I probably shouldn’t get into a discourse here about what I perceive as the liminal space between psychosis and prophecy, madness and shamanism.  Maybe I will blog about it sometime in the future, but it feels too raw, too frightening in many ways.

What I can say is that after the long depression that followed my season of visions and dreams, I couldn’t stay in a church that sublimated women and did not allow them to preach, teach or be an Elder.  Nowadays I see all around me women becoming their True Selves through some truly unbelievable suffering.  I’m humbled to be the mother of two daughters who are unashamedly authentic, open and vulnerable.  May they celebrate their femininity, its strength and its power to bind up the brokenhearted.

The illustration at the top of this page was part of an art project in collaboration with Action on Postpartum Psychosis.  I love the Triumvirate somehow all wrapped up in the shape of a mother and baby.  I still believe the best is yet to come.

Be the kind of woman you want to be.  Regardless of doctrine.
 

Ma’people

Readers of the last few months may have gathered… I am a huge Nashville fan.  I am committed to not giving away any series 5 plot spoilers for my friends on this side of the pond, so let me just say that Rayna is one of my heroes (and I do know that she is a TV character – but she’s my hero anyway!)  I love the way that we have seen her grow as a mother as her girls have entered turbulent teenage years,  I love how passionate and open-hearted she is, and I love the way that we’ve seen her struggle to balance her career and her dreams with her life as a mentor, mother and lover.

 

There’s a scene in Nashville a few years back where Rayna has to play at a Country Club benefit.  I remember her raising her eyebrows and assuring her band leader, “These are not ma’people” (try and imagine a lovely Southern drawl)

But here’s the thing, Rayna grew up with those people.  Yet the comfortable world of the elite wasn’t for her.  She knew they weren’t her people.

Ever since we moved from a cosmopolitan, diverse Northern city to a sleepy market town in the South West, I’ve been searching for “ma’people”.  The direction life took us when Eldest was born meant that our local conservative, evangelical church began to feel less and less like home.  We had too many questions.  One of the reasons I left Facebook earlier this year was because I felt so aware that the views of many mainstream Christians just don’t reflect mine.  These are not ma’people.

When life throws a lot of crap your way, it’s interesting how it can help you find your people!  Over the last ten years or so, my friendships have deepened with other people who know what it is to feel broken.  My little WordPress community is full of amazing people who are learning to live with limits.  Next weekend I’ll be meeting up with the other mums from the ‘Head up, Heart strong’ film who have all battled postnatal illness. We will be sharing cocktails and stories of relapse.  These are just some of ma’people.

 

This week I took a new step to reach out and find ma’people.  I joined Team East Devon Swimmers for an evening swim in Sidmouth.  The water was 12 degrees C and the swimming was magical!  It was a special thing for me after a number of years living with mental illness to meet people based firstly on a shared interest, rather than on a shared experience of suffering.  I learned a new word – Thalassophile – meaning someone who loves the sea.  These too, are ma’people… and I can’t wait to get to know them better.

Here’s where we will be swimming.  Just beautiful.

Derailed

Dreams resurrected

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:18

Yesterday I signed a form to become an employee of the NHS for the first time in 19 years. At the age of 23, my dreams were in tatters as I quit my job as a Speech & Language Therapist.  My mental health had deteriorated so badly that I had been off sick for two months and I knew I couldn’t go back.  I had only lasted nine months after qualification. All that work for my degree, all the striving towards the four A grades at A-level to get into Newcastle University – it felt utterly wasted.

During my time off sick, I took a retreat to Parcevall Hall in the Yorkshire Dales.  It was early Spring and the gentleness of nature soothed my soul.  I vented to God – this didn’t make sense.  What on earth was I going to do with my future?  I have the carefully scripted pages of my retreat journal in front of me today. It’s a plain red exercise book with lined pages faded to yellow, but it is one of my most treasured possessions.  During the retreat I kept coming back to the book With Open Hands by Henri Nouwen.  I began to realise that letting go of my career was an important step.  It was going to require radical trust.  I believe God spoke during that retreat and here is what I heard:

Allow me to meet your needs

Love, security, value, purpose, worth, significance, dependence

Nothing else will satisfy your longings – allow me, precious one

Allow me, dear child

snowdrop

As I drove away from the interview yesterday having been offered my bank post as a Peer Trainer, it felt like my dream of working to support people in their recovery is slowly coming back to life.  Like a snowdrop emerging from its dormancy, heralding the hope of Spring.

I didn’t know at 23 that I would go on to struggle with my mental health for another twenty years (and will probably continue to struggle).  I didn’t know that my dream of motherhood would be tested to its absolute limits through the haze of psychosis and the dark, relentless agony of depression.  I still don’t understand this path, but I know there is the capacity for immense beauty in it.  My daughters are pure joy in human form!  My husband has been utterly faithful to his vow to love me “in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health”.

I feel like I am allowed to dream again.  I am still learning to be dependent on God, but I get this feeling that he is smiling too at the beauty of a snowdrop.

The Tao of Tangled

This is the story of how I died. But, don’t worry, this is actually a fun story and the truth is it isn’t even mine. This is the story of a girl named Rapunzel, and it starts with the sun. Now, once upon a time, a single drop of sunlight fell from the heavens. And from this small drop of sun grew a magic, golden flower. It had the ability to heal the sick and injured.

Disney’s retelling of the story of Rapunzel has always been very special to me.  Almost five years ago we took Eldest to see it in glorious 3D while Little One was in hospital.  I think the story of a tiny baby with magic golden hair which could heal and restore felt all the more poignant as we had come so close to losing our own baby girl.

I don’t believe in ‘magic flowers’ any more – the lines between truth and reality were somewhat blurred for me in those days as I struggled to manage my own relapse of postpartum psychosis – but I do still believe in happy endings.  Restoration, healing, love, families being put back together.

My heart soars every time I watch the scene where Eugene and Rapunzel sit in their little boat on the water and watch thousands of floating lanterns.  I still believe in a Father who doesn’t give up on us; who sends out thousands of lanterns every year in the hope of calling us back to Him.  I believe that dreams can come true and sometimes, Like Eugene, we need a new dream.

Blue skies

sumtwist14

Blue sky, you filtered into my soul

Sunshine, you warmed my skin

Nature’s light touch bringing the trees into bud

The freedom of woodland for my girls

Delight in their blue eyes

Water rushing, sticks clutching

Blankets and books in the dappled shade

Welcome, Spring

Easter

Roll away the stone from my heart

Let me meet you and clasp your hands in the garden

I won’t let go of hope

Your story follows deepest sorrow with unending joy

Let it be my story too

I believe it will be my story too

I’ve been part of two Easter services today.  Standing around the bonfire, I looked out to see the clouds split and the sea giltter in return, just for a moment.  This evening, a picture of a magnolia tree in flower reminded us that while life can feel cold and bleak summer will come.

My faith often feels like longing.  Today I will rest in knowing that there are many seasons of life, but summer will indeed come.

BudleighWarMemTwilght