Kryptonite

This will probably sound impertinent, but it’s a problem I’d genuinely appreciate help with.

I’ve discovered that one of my greatest weaknesses is a deep vulnerability to being criticised by old(er) white men. Like, in their 50s+

Now, it could simply be that the power imbalance is so extreme between them and I that there’s virtually no cure. (Maybe until I’m also old?) And it’s also true that they are often dismissive and smug. But I don’t usually have a problem with critical thought and debate in general – I’ve become inured to it firstly from years of high school debating, then being constantly edited in a Journalism diploma, then arguing my way through two humanities degrees. In many ways, critical engagement has been a key action in virtually everything I’ve done.

And yet… I’ve become aware of an almost irrational over-response to the criticisms of old(er) white men. The less they know me, the more it hurts. And I become almost unable to respond in a measured way, without hatred toward the person involved. I don’t think I always reacted this way: it’s grown over time, as wounds have accumulated really…

I’ve been pondering this problem for a little while, as it’s a bit of a hurdle to the things I’d like to do with my gifts. And I don’t like that. I also don’t want to develop bitterness toward people.

So I’ve realised, perhaps the best people to ask for help with this are those others who seem most sensitive to criticism, and in my experience, that has often been old(er) white men. Some of them have seemed so sensitive, they’ve even been offended at being described by age, ethnicity and sex.

So guys, how do you deal with it? How do you cope with being offended? And/or criticised? And what do you do to combat bitterness against those who criticise you? Do you have any advice for someone trying not to be overcome by rage?

If it helps, the main thing I’ve tried to do so far is pinpoint why exactly it hurts, and I think it’s because it touches against a deep need to be accepted. When I’m criticised or dismissed by gatekeepers, it feels like they’re saying “you’re not allowed in. You’re wrong. Get out. You’re stupid and unworthy.” And my main objection is “you don’t get to decide that!!!” But a lot of me feels like their words will come true – ie, I will be seen to be unworthy, stupid and wrong, so should be excluded. I think being unnecessarily proud of my intellect and having had deep and long-lasting experiences of rejection and exclusion are part of what make this so hurtful – it’s sticking fingers into an open wound. So that’s the why, I think.

As for the how…? How would you respond?

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All Christians are Morons*.

A mini-series on misconceptions of people of faith (but especially Christians), because the ABC shared an article about an Orthodox Jewish girl, a Vietnamese Australian Catholic and an Australian Muslim woman looking for love and the comments on it drove me insane.

Misconception One: All Christians are Morons.

This was certainly a dominant concern in the early 2000s onwards, as the rise of a flavour of atheism claiming all intellectual high ground for itself became popularised. As that popularity has continued among a fair few people, facebook conversations about religion are dominated by uneducated twits sharing their “hot take” that “sky fairies” are just a ridiculous psychological crutch.

Yep, thanks for sharing your great wisdom dude. Do you have a PhD in Philosophy then? Is that how you came to this deep conclusion?

Are you honestly sure that some of the greatest minds of the 20th century, who’ve advanced the causes of maths and science further than you could have imagined, and yet who believe in God, are total idiots?

I mean, thanks for your opinion and all. I guess, you’re right that I only have a post-graduate degree in theology rather than, what was it, one dog-eared copy of a Richard Dawkins book? I’m clearly the moron here.

One of the biggest problems these hot-takers don’t even realise they have is their embarrassing level of ignorance. One populist philosopher claimed that of course the monotheisms of the Middle East developed harsh gods, the people who invented them lived in a harsh terrain. A GEOGRAPHER can set you right on that one, let alone a theology or biblical studies grad. It’s called The Fertile Crescent for a reason! Not all of these ideas developed in literal deserts (which btw have plenty of ecosystem going on), and if you’ve ever drunk Shiraz, enjoyed a pomegranate or chowed down on Iranian dish, you would literally be eating your words.

I’ve had so many conversations with people who clearly don’t actually know the first things about my faith and yet completely dismiss the idea that being a person of faith could involve any intellectual rigour. Meanwhile, they don’t understand half the literature they’ve read because despite being familiar with the English canon, they haven’t read the key sourcebook for the English canon, ie, the Bible in English, so there are whole layers of meaning they’re blind to. Now, that’s mostly because I’m a humanities nerd, but this kind of ignorance pervades many spheres of life. Can you understand gothic architecture without any reference to the dominant conversations in the church at that time that led directly to a new architectural horizon? Can you understand the colonial mind without contemplating the (to me, erroneous) theological standpoint that led to the conviction that whites should occupy and “improve” the world? I’m not saying you have to believe and agree with the things I believe, but to dismiss all religion out of hand as the domain of idiots, and therefore not to consider it at all, impoverishes you intellectually far more than it impoverishes me.

Here’s the real secret: there are morons everywhere. I spent 7 years in higher education, and 6 years hanging out with university students, and I’ve worked various jobs in small and large businesses, and I can tell you, morons are everywhere. Some of them have PhDs. Some of them can’t even make a coffee correctly.

I’ve met some very intelligent people who don’t understand simple life tasks, and I’ve met some highly intelligent people who think all religious people are idiots and who have literally frozen when I’ve told them that I am, in fact, one of those idiots.

It doesn’t take believing in a noumenal realm to be a moron. And believing in a god doesn’t automatically make you one either. And if you want to see a real intellectual take down a pseudo intellectual, just look on youtube for debates between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox.

And then stop watching it because it’s also not about that either. Have some intellectual humility. We are all miniscule blips in the history of the human race, bound by our own limited experience and physical form. Is it not possible that others have thought bigger and more profound thoughts than you? And that maybe you, like every single other human being, depends on external revelation for depth of knowledge? Ie, you wouldn’t know your own mother to any depth at all if she didn’t reveal something of her personality to you through speech and action. Stop approaching the universe, especially in facebook conversations, as though you are the intellectual gatekeeper of the all, separating the sheep from the goats so you can only let the best of the best into your personal inner circle of “intelligent people”. And maybe consider finding out the difference between a sheep and a goat (hint, it’s not to do with horns, length of coat, shape of hoof or colouring).

NB: I’m not saying all agnostics and/or atheists think of all people of faith as morons. But you’ve gotta admit, a lot do.

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Intrapsychic Loss

There are many skills from our childhoods we need to unlearn. Upbraiding a child for crying over a dropped ice cream is one of them.

There are many events which lead to grief. But we have a shared language for very few of them. We can speak of death, and this year, we’ve had to. We can speak of traumatic, sudden disaster. And this year, we’ve had to. But our language can fail us even in these circumstances, let alone the many thousands of other catalysts for grief we’ve all experienced this year.

As the year turns toward 2021, perhaps, like me, you are looking forward and hoping for better. But also considering how to cope with and recover from all that 2020 was. I believe an important part of that is the naming of things. I feel such a relief when I find the words to express what I’m feeling, for words are the primary way I communicate with the world outside my head. I cannot paint. Or dance. Or compose. I can only speak and write. So words are most precious to me as the means of contact and connection with the world.

A few years ago when I did an Introduction to Chaplaincy course, I read an excellent paper called The Nature of Loss from “All Our Losses, All Our Griefs – Resources for Pastoral Care” by Kenneth R. Mitchell and Hebert Anderson. In the paper, they outline six types of loss which catalyse grief, and in doing so, give us all many words to more deeply understand ourselves and others.

In brief, the six types are:

  1. Material Loss. Yes, this is the child with the ice cream to which they had immediately become attached because can you think of a more joyful thing as a child? To have that dashed immediately is a deep loss! But think of how often you’ve told yourself to get over any grief you feel after you mother’s precious vase broke or your much loved car has finally breathed its last. We are physical beings in a material world with material attachments. It’s not morally reprehensible if the loss of a material object causes us grief.

2. Relationship Loss. Moving. Divorce. Job change. Changing friendships. Who hasn’t experienced these? Of course, death is a clear example of relationship loss as well, and it’s useful to be able to express that even if we don’t regret the change (for example, maybe we were happy to move on to a new job), we have lost something. We may even be surprised to find ourselves grieving anything less than a death. But relationship loss is real, and often with us.

3. I’m gonna save this for later.

4. Functional Loss. Often associated with age, even though at any time we may begin to “lose” our hearing, sight, flexibility, memory, coordination. Many changes that we experience as loss.

5. Role Loss. Retirement is the classic example here. You’ve been a person-who-works and now you’re not. What will you do with your time? How will you define yourself to yourself now? Or maybe you’ve got a promotion at work, so you can no longer hang around with the girls at lunch break because you’ve got to be their boss now. Or you’re used to being in charge at work, and suddenly you’re a patient in a hospital bed. Yes, this is a hopefully temporary loss, but some of the frustration and hopelessness you may feel is grief.

6. Systemic Loss. This will be most familiar to those of us used to thinking in systems already. For example, when the parents take the child to uni for the first time. What’s that feeling in the car as they drive home? Sentimentality? Nostalgia? Or grief? The realisation that their little family system will never be the same. It has “lost” a person, and will need to adapt to being a family-with-at-least-one-child-who-doesn’t-live-at-home. Instead of being a mum-to-a-child-at-home the system has changed. You’re now mum-to-a-child-living-elsewhere.

Neither I nor the writers of the paper are trying to assert all these losses are of equal weight and different losses cause different weights of grief at different times. But sometimes, if I’m experiencing emotions I “can’t put a finger on”, I think of this list and can finally feel the release of naming.

But in 2020, it’s the loss I skipped that I think is most important. It’s called Intrapsychic Loss, and it’s something we’ve all felt, even if we couldn’t name it.

It’s the single person who’s always wanted to be married but isn’t but finds it difficult to talk about that particular sadness because it’s only in their head.

It’s the couple who had to cancel all their wedding plans because of COVID but because it was something that hadn’t happened yet, we can talk about “disappointment” but there’s a deeper sadness there for many.

It’s the teenager who’s been training for years to be an elite swimmer but performs badly at Nationals and doesn’t make the team. Their dream of being an Olympian? It’s over. But as it was a future thing – it’s all in their head.

THIS is what Intrapsychic Loss means! It’s a loss of what might’ve been. The loss of a possibility. The dying of a dream.

So many of us have had to cancel plans, quash hopes and give up on things this year because of COVID or because of normal life happening. We’ve found out we’re infertile. Or that the person we hoped to marry no longer wants to marry us. We’ve had to cancel that long looked forward to and treasured dream trip that we saved and planned for. We’ve suddenly and dramatically confronted that we might be more fragile than we thought of ourselves and we’re struggling to deal with that.

Some of that struggle is grief, which feels like a big word for a #fwp – in a year when bushfires and then a pandemic have raised so many “more legitimate” causes of grief. But grief it is, and trying to tell ourselves “don’t be upset, it was just an ice cream” won’t work.

In the same course we talked through a list called The Four Tasks of Mourning by J William Worden. The tasks we need to do to move through grief. To begin to live in the present again. The tasks are non-linear, there are no seven stages, and they double back on themselves. But they are each necessary for “moving on”.

  1. Accept the reality of the loss. (This is why naming and words are so important. They enable you to name the reality, which will help to accept it).
  2. Experience the pain of grief. (This is why it can be so unhelpful to rush people through being upset. Or to suppress our own tears. We can’t skip this part and yet still expect to be able to “move on”.
  3. Adjust to the environment in which the loss has happened. (If it was a material loss, the vase is never coming back. If your workplace has irrevocably changed because a global pandemic swept through and now you mostly work from home in a tiny apartment that feels full of children… Well… It’s happened now. It won’t un-happen.)
  4. Emotionally relocate the lost thing and move on. (the way your workplace was in January? You miss it, you grieve it, you’ve lost it. But now it’s in the past. Your present is different. The trip you couldn’t take? The wedding you couldn’t have? They are sad things. But they’re also now in the past).

You can see why these tasks are non-linear. We bump into number 2 and number 4 again and again. And then maybe 1 and 3 and then back to 2. Especially for a major loss.

But these tasks are important, especially including being able to name the realities. Accept them. Say out loud, or write down, or express “I lost this……. And it makes me sad.”

Make a list. Find a close friend and tell them about it and why it’s sad. Choose someone who won’t tell you to get over it. If it was a communal loss, talk about it together and mark the moment. It’s ok if your Christmas party this year isn’t three hours of full on enforced joy! It’s ok if you need some time to do your grieving before you can feel content about your new circumstances. It’s ok if the thing that caused your grief is “positive” (like, people literally held a party for you) or a #fwp – because it’s meaningful to you. And often grief is mixed with happiness!

There are many things I have to grieve this year. I did not expect to not be an English teacher now. I did not expect to leave my church, my friends, my city “family” and move hundreds of kilometres away. I did not expect to be living with people again. I did not expect my sister’s marriage to be ripped apart. On the Intrapsychic list, I did not expect to be back in a place where my (IMHO) already fairly small pool of marriage candidates would be even smaller. I didn’t expect to lose the opportunity to preach in the places I love in the future, or to finish the year as a Receptionist with a Master’s degree in theology.

It’s been an upheaval. And while there are many good things about it (living with my sister and two nephews for eg!), there are many things to grieve. And holding both as true at the same time means spending some time on the grief as well as trying to feel the contentment. And in fact, time on the grief will help the contentment to come naturally.

So, there it is. Perhaps as you reflect on your year, thinking about the Intrapsychic Losses, naming them, and grieving them, might help you “move on” too.

Revelation 21:4 “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

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How to get rid of crankiness.

Well, posting weekly didn’t quite go the way I’d planned in November! Unsurprising really, as we had a baby (and by we I mean my sister who I live with), so the month got took over a bit! I also started a new job (just to compound things!) so it’s been busy. And busyness always makes me think about resting.

I have a troubled relationship with rest because I seem to require a lot but I find it easy to be highly self-critical about it. About needing it at all, about how much I need. I can sit and “do nothing” (which is basically part of what I need to decompress) and a stream of “why don’t you go and do your chores. You’ve got to do this and this and this. You’re resting too much. You’re lazy” pours through my head. It’s quite frustrating sometimes, because I neither rest properly nor do the chores.

However, I also know the consequences if I don’t rest.

One consequence is increased frequency and intensity of catastrophic thinking. A perfectly ordinary circumstance can happen, maybe one that’s a little difficult, and I immediately begin to worry that the rest of my life will be like this and that will be terrible!

Maybe I’ve needed to give some extra help to my sister, but because I haven’t rested enough recently, I’m already stressed and exhausted, and I find it easy to think “I just can’t do this!!” and want to run out of the room crying.

Or maybe I’ve been asked to do some extra tasks at work and similarly, immediately start thinking “I just can’t do this!!!” and imagine what incorporating these difficult new tasks into the rest of my life will require.

No one is saying it needs to be forever. It’s just one extra thing just for now. But if I haven’t rested well enough or frequently enough, I go straight from zero to 100 on the doom scale.

For some of us, and by which I mean, probably every human, a lack of rest makes it extremely easy to be cranky. Short fused. Yell at your kids etc. Not have the patience to be polite. Just running out of energy for the social grease that keeps the wheels of life turning happily and projects empathy and respect to the people we’re interacting with. It’s “taking your family for granted” territory. It is so hard to be patient, humble, kind, thoughtful and generous when you’ve not rested.

So, maybe your rest challenges are different to mine. It’s not so much a stream of self-criticism as finding any time at all to rest, or not knowing yourself well enough yet to know what really fills your cup.

But I do know that unless we sort those challenges out and figure out how to rest well in a way that works for us, we’ll just exhaust ourselves trying to still be patient and thoughtful and kind when we have no energy for it, or explode ourselves, probably all over the people we love.

I’m fortunate that my sister deeply understands my need to rest and is usually better at predicting when I’ll need it than I am myself. She knows me well. She knows when 5-7 hours with people will just completely wipe me out so she assumes I’ll need to rest and not necessarily be available to her for a little while. I am so thankful to live with someone who gets that and supports me in resting. And it’s true that once I’ve rested I am ready for the fray again, and able to be kind and creative in helping with the kids and general life duties.

But I also need to take responsibility for it myself. Make sure I get the rest I need when I can so that I can tell the self-critical voice “I will do that. But later. Right now I’m doing something very important. I’m resting.”

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All Saints Day

Three saints turned up at my house today.

They insisted they enjoy weeding (which seems very strange to me).

Saints must be some kind of miracle workers.


Another saint turned up later, just as we were finishing dinner.

He was accompanied by the sound of an engine and he wore purple ear mufflers.

He insisted he enjoys ride-on mowing. This time I believed him because I think I’d like it too, but it was still pretty strange for a man to drive several blocks on a mower just to mow our yard.

Saints must be amazing people.

Many of the Christians I’ve grown up with don’t know what All Saints Day is, so I wouldn’t be surprised if many non-Christians don’t know much about it either. However, as my Catholic friends could easily tell you, All Saints Day is for the commemoration and remembrance of the many Christians who’ve died and gone before us.

For me, this day helps me dwell on two particular Biblical images that are dear to my heart. One is the idea from Hebrews 12 that each individual Christian is not alone, but is surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who’ve followed faithfully through the storms of life. This cloud of sisters and brothers are urging us on in the faith. It’s a team effort.

Another precious image is found in Revelation 7 of an innumerable multitude of people gathered around God’s throne in heaven. One of the names for those people is “saints”.

It’s very easy for us to caricature what “saint” means because it’s almost an insult sometimes in our culture. We use it to describe people who seem to think they’re above normal people, they’re “saintly”. We sometimes use it positively to commend someone for their actions, “oh! You’re a saint!” But ultimately, being a saint has very little to do with being nice or snobbish!

A saint doesn’t have to have been hammered upside-down to a cross or boiled in oil to achieve that status. They don’t have to have preached to birds or founded a religious order. They don’t actually even have to have performed three miracles.

In the way the writers of the New Testament put it, everyone who follows Jesus is a saint. It just means “set apart”, “a Jesus follower”. For example, Ephesians 3:18, Philippians 4:21, 1 Corinthians 16:1, Revelation 17:6 and Hebrews 13:24 show that it’s a commonly used term for believers. Some of whom, sadly, would have faced martyrdom, but not all. Some of whom who would have led churches, but not all.

The main qualification for being a saint is following Jesus which means you’re in His family. This can still lead you down many strange, wonderful and fearful paths. But the most amazing thing about saints is that they’re all around you.

And they’re not saints because they are nice but they are nice because they are saints. They’re not saints because they’re so holy. They’re holy because they’re saints. They take care of the family of God and extend the hand of friendship to those around them because they have been welcomed into the kingdom of God and given a crown of righteousness.

Sometimes that crown looks like purple ear mufflers.

I am so thankful to be part of a great cloud. I’m so glad I don’t follow alone. And I’m especially thankful to have some precious saints around me who are good examples to follow. I want to call them saintly, but it’s not super power. They’re just following Jesus in the paths he’s leading them down. Maybe no one will paint a beautiful icon of them, but today, for me, saints wear floppy hats, are surrounded by piles of weeds they’ve pulled out, and drive Honda ride-on mowers.

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Blogtober/vember/cember

One of the parts of growing yourself up is finding out your flaws, weaknesses and foibles and working on them. I have a few things that I can’t tell if they’re personality, nurture, trauma or even a “real” problem… But one of them is an inability to write things down publicly.

This may seem odd coming from a person with a blog, but in a sense, one of the reasons my output on my blog is so infrequent is this inability to commit to the written word.

I think all the time about things I could write about on the blog, but I don’t end up actually writing them down. Some personality profiles explain that this is because Type 5s or INTPs grow bored quickly once they’ve figured something out and want to move on to other things. I know that’s part of it, but this is often balanced by a desire to share knowledge, to teach, to interest other people in the things interesting me.

I think part of it is a fear that written words are so much more substantial than the guff I fluff on with every day, all the time, and the responsibility and accountability of that is intimidating.

But whatever it is, I’m also constantly urged to write. Which is flattering, and exciting, but also very interesting to me. I certainly feel that I’ve always been better on my feet, talking. But writing is a way to get information further than just one temporal audience, so there is an attraction to it.

This happens though to touch against one of my other foibles which is a lack of confidence that I have something useful to say. Again, this may surprise you. I have a blog, I’ve given sermons, I seem a confident and competent person, surely I think I’m as qualified and deserving as any to share my thoughts in public.

But I don’t.

I won’t bore you with all the reasons for that – safe to say for at least two years now I’ve been trying to adopt the mantra “be as confident as a mediocre, middle-aged white man”. Not because all middle-aged white men are mediocre, but surely we can all admit there are plenty of them, and research on everything from how often men verbally dominate women in meetings and constantly interrupt them, to how much and how frequently men are paid more than women for the exact same job proves it. There are many mediocre men spilling ink and waffling on in front of congregations and audiences all over the world with the self-assurance of a King announcing a holiday to a happy populace. So, if they can do it, so can I.

Therefore, I’ve decided to publicly commit (oops!) to updating the blog at least once a week (it’ll be Thursdays or Fridays) until the end of the year and see how that goes.

Fortunately, if I’m reaaaalllllly stuck for content, I can post a picture of my cat to general acclaim.

Next week, some real thoughts. On… Something!

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Orange Move Three Month Update

Atypically for me, I’m making this blog post a little early. Essentially this is my three month post-move update, but really that should be on the 29th.

Anyways, as for all my posts, it’ll be tl:dr, so a very basic outline of the facts:

  • living with my sister, small nephew and soon-to-be-born other nephew
  • started a Teacher’s Aide course at TAFE and have placement at a lovely local Catholic school. I’ve also very graciously been given some hours of cover at the local Christian school
  • yes, I want to visit Sydney but in terms of “coming back”? All the reasons I came are still true. So, even though I miss Sydney (a LOT on some days – although really the people over the city), I’m looking at Orange as long term.

For those brave enough to continue, here we go!!!

Having your husband walk out on you is pretty damn tough. From shock, to grief, to embarrassment, to panic, to shame, to horror, to desperation, back to sadness… It’s a whirlwind.

If you have a small person (or more) at the time, it’s even more complicated in some ways because the small person doesn’t disappear. And is experiencing trauma of their own.

I’m sure many of you can imagine or empathise your way at least partly into this situation, and some of you of course have experienced it. And I know some of you have been dealing with abuse on top of this.

It’s heartbreaking.

It’s made worse by having to communicate constantly with this other person because you share a child.

I can’t actually describe all of my emotions about this on a public blog post because I don’t want to cause any legal trouble.

But it’s tough.

So, yes, living alongside and in that is difficult. I’ve had a lot of (I believe, righteous and justified) anger, with no ability to speak with the person concerned. This can be compounded with each new message, new action, new lack of action that impacts my life (yes, there’s a strong selfish element to it of course), because I’m now helping to provide for and support his wife and sons. There have been some very difficult days. And a lot of praying. And a lot of running out of any energy to pray and therefore really needing and being encouraged by the prayers of others.

One particularly nourishing moment was my first time praying in person with some new-to-me people out here about how hard it is to be patient and not hurt when my nephew goes through a phases of telling me I’m not allowed to talk and to go away any time I enter a room where he is. I don’t know if that sounds like a small thing to you, and in many ways it is a small thing. I know it’s more to do with him and his emotions than me, I understand that cognitively. But it’s still hard having someone tell you “no! You aren’t allowed to say anything. Go away!” every time you see them! But I was able to share and cry a little and receive the blessing of prayer.

On that note: I miss you all so much.

I miss my friends a lot. Church family, friends who’ve been alongside me for so many years, newer colleagues, older ones.

We moved a lot when we were kids, I went to five schools, I hadn’t experienced friendships that went for longer than a few years, until Sydney. Some, to my amazement, were some highschool relationships that actually continued. But a group of very precious friends from my time at UTS have been the longest continuous friendships I’ve experienced. And we’ve done friendship at a distance before, and I know we’re not going to stop being friends just because I live here etc etc. But I miss them.

How wonderful it is to have people who know you and love you. Who are so easy to spend time with because there’s such deep affection and knowing there. It’s a blessing that stuns and surprises me every time I ponder it. I hope I don’t lose that wonder.

But here’s the crazy thing. One of those friends, a precious friend from first year of uni, LIVES IN ORANGE. With her hubby and kids. Isn’t that wild? The very thing I miss, I also have right here.

It’s so interesting to me that among these sad and difficult things, there are moments of goodness. In many ways, all of life is like that. And I’m trying to embrace the wisdom of Ecclesiastes and psychology in accepting the sad and the good and crying when it’s crying time and laughing when it’s laughing time.

Unsurprisingly, moving after such a long time and in fairly distressing circumstances has prompted plenty of existential angst as it is wont to do. And I think #covidlyf has done that for us all a bit anyway. In the usual throw-the-spaghetti-on-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks method of my subconscious, this has involved mini-crises about: my weight, my marriagability, my future, my economic status, my inability to sing well, my inability to write or say anything useful for anyone else. If I was Bridget Jones, and had Alsatians instead of a cat, I’d’ve spent (and would continue to spend) periods of days or weeks convinced I’ll die alone and then be consumed by them.

Like the other “dramas” I’ve mentioned so far, these all have to be experienced and weathered to a certain extent. Like, if I’m sad about having to make big life decisions with no partner, while I can cognitively recognise the upsides to this situation as well as understand that it doesn’t actually rate my value at all, it’s also something that, for a time, I’m sad about. And that’s reasonable. We’re often so uncomfortable or distressed by the distress of our loved ones we try to hurry them out of it. I know I do. I may not think that’s what I’m doing, I may think I’m trying to be reassuring. But often the impact is actually being dismissive by cognitively debating their emotional experience. It’s something I’m trying to keep in mind with my nephew, but also for myself. It’s ok to be sad sometimes. And I’m probably not gonna be sad about it forever, but if I push it off, like trying to stop a sneeze, it’s still going to come. So, I’ve cried. A lot. And the not-crying moments haven’t even always balanced them out so far in these first three months. But that’s ok too. “There’s a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven.”

In the sad moments I have to remind myself that I’ve made the right decision. I know this is where I need to be. And in my heart I’m trying to remember as well that because God is actually a loving Father, there very much is scope for things to get better. And that in the tough things, He’s still here, leading the way and holding my hand.

Oh, and of course, the most important thing (as far as he’s concerned) is that Alexei is very happy. He’s getting fat (again! Gaah! How does this happen?!) and LOVES having a back and front yard to walk around in. He requests daily walks now and would very much like to introduce himself, at speed and with mouth open, to most of the local wildlife. Unfortunately for him, I still insist on walks only on leash, so he hasn’t caused any environmental degradation yet. He enjoys the free cat TV from his many windows though, and when I’m not giving myself day-mares about his future death, or sometimes even while I’m doing that, he is still lavish with his cuddles and scratches and leapings, and seems quite happy where he is.

Maybe cats need a different version of Ecclesiastes. “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. A time to dream of chasing birdies and a time to be frustrated in your desire to chase birdies. A time to nap, and another time to nap. A time to sleep, and then a time also to stretch and then resettle to sleep again.”

It’s typical for my generation to talk about the pains and confusions and difficulties of “adulting”. And I am no expert. I also hate returning phone calls and understanding what insurances I need or don’t need and I don’t know how to “carve out a career”. But I also know that many more people of my age than would even realise themselves are more than ready to deal with the real challenges of adulting. And they are real challenges. The challenge to be faithful, loving, patient, kind, gentle, peaceful, self-controlled and to care for those around you. In #covid I haven’t been able to do much for the people not proximate to myself. But I wouldn’t want to stuff that up by not doing my best by those to whom I am morally and physically proximate. I’m not my brother’s keeper, nor am I my sister’s saviour. But I’m glad I can help her, and I’m gonna keep hoping for good things when I walk through the sad and worried and nostalgic and grieving moments.

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Welcome to stress

It may sound a little silly to you that I, or anyone, would find anything exciting about #lockdownlyf but, I’ve found something that I feel I can finally contribute to those around me at a time they’re willing to listen, so I’m excited! I have a specific skill, a niche experience that has wide application for a moment, and I’m glad to be able to share what I’ve learned about it! (If you don’t want background and just want tips, skip down to the numbered points. And at the bottom I’ve put some resources for you to call on if/when you need help.)

And no, I’m not just talking about being an introvert! Although hey, you know introverts have some useful skills for isolation life. But that’s another post for another day.

I’m talking about #cptsdlyf

So, I was diagnosed with depression a long time ago and I’ve been medicated for quite a while, but it took me a while to see a psychologist and partake of their particular expertise. Psychs are expensive and I could see a counsellor through a subsidised organisation a lot cheaper. And counsellors are magnificent and helped me a lot. But, what the psychologist was able to contribute was to delve a little further into medical research etc and explained that alongside my depression, I have Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Now, there’s controversy around the term, there often is in psychology when things are in the initial stages of being described. Some would like to use the term Developmental Trauma Disorder or simply Complex Trauma Disorder, and eventually there may be a more settled articulation of the name, but the symptoms, or description of the disorder is widely recognised in psychology. Many different things can cause it, and you can check out the Wikipedia article if you’d like more detailed info but the main thing you need to know now is in the name C-PTSD, complex post traumatic STRESS disorder.

That’s right, stress!! I’m an expert in stress! My body and brain have been deeply shaped by it and it’s taken years of work and expensive therapy to get to a point where I’m much better at recognising what’s going on and am more able to deal well with it. And you can’t deny we’re all feeling pretty STRESSED right now, so me and everyone else finally have something in common!

Because C-PTSD and PTSD life can sometimes be lonely. For a lot of C-PTSD havers there’s heavy denial (from other people) around the trauma they’ve experienced (it’s often connected to abuse, which is usually accompanied by a web of denial and lies), and for PTSD havers, the traumatic event has passed for everyone else but is alive and well for them (yes, Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump could spring to mind here and that makes sense. Vietnam vets were a generation who were scorned and derided for their experiences but also one of the first war generations to eventually find some help and advocacy regarding their mental health. It took too long… But that’s what it is…). But one thing that’s different at the moment is that very few people are left in denial that we’re all in a stressful situation at the moment. So, you’ve immediately got one weapon against your stress that a lot of C-PTSD and PTSD people don’t – everyone knows you’re stressed and why and that it’s legitimate.

But what are some things I’ve learned from stress life that I can encourage or enlighten you with?

1. You’re going to be exhausted and that’s perfectly normal.

When you’re stressed, your body and brain are using extra energy to cope/function/be normal and that’s quite tiring. Also, your brain might be looking for defence mechanisms, ways to escape the stress, and often, sleep feels like an answer to that. My body is excellent at “playing possum”. In panic attacks, I quickly black out, and in life in general, when my stress levels are high, my body wants to sleep. Aaaaaalllllll the time.

The memes going around about how we should all be using this time to write a novel and invent gravity can be inspirational but it’s very important to remember, you’re under stress! So also, be kind to yourself! And your body may demand more sleep than you’re used to. This isn’t necessarily a sign that you’re on the verge of a breakdown, but it does mean you’re stressed. But, feel free to talk to someone and check the resources I’ve put at the end of this post.

2. You’re going to have very weird dreams.

This is something I always forget isn’t normal for most people because extremely vivid and often disturbing dreams have been part of my life every night since I was very young. But I’ve been reminded a lot in the last couple of days that my normal is now becoming normal for everyone else.

Yeah! The dreams are weird hey!

PTSD is known for flashback moments, but also our brains doing a lot of processing of trauma when it can, which is often while we’re unconscious. Our brains often use dreams to try to work through the days events, or, as Dr Norman Swan put it on Coronacast, your brain is “taking out the garbage”.

And your brain has a lot of garbage atm! There’s a lot of STRESS it needs to work through. Personal, interpersonal, intrapsychic, relational, physical, social, systemic loss are part of our day-to-day at the moment. We have a lot of things to grieve and a lot of things to worry about. Your brain may choose to do this in odd to bizarre ways in your dreams. Sorry!

A vivid and disturbing dream can cast an emotional pall over the beginning of my day (and remember, for me, for most of my life, this is 70-90% of the times I sleep), and that can be a real downer. It can be hard to shake it off. So, maybe experiment with some ways to leave that dream world behind. For example, write it down. Shake your head over it. Thank your brain for trying to take out the garbage and then remind yourself today is not the dream. That may help for you. One tip I can give you for sure though, not many people are going to want to listen to you telling them about your weird dream-of-the-night every morning, so, good luck to the verbal processors. Maybe keep an audio journal so it feels like you’ve told someone? Parents, you may need to help your kids process theirs. Let them tell you about it, and then help them through the steps of “thanks brain for taking out the garbage. But now it’s today, so we’re going to do some fun things.”

There are lots of other tips out there for how to deal with the weird dreams, so feel free to research reputable sources.

3. Your capacity will be reduced.

Obviously connected to the first two, your body and brain are working over time, so you may not function at your usual capacity. You have a choice about how to deal with this:

– berate yourself for being a slacker

– be kind to yourself because this is an extraordinary time and you don’t need to function to any particular imaginary standard anyway.

I often choose the first or others choose it for me because they can’t see the trauma I’ve experienced and that I’m living with every day. Unfortunately, mental illness is invisible. But like I said above, you guys have a gift. EVERYONE recognises the difficulty at the moment. So, embrace that. Blame the situation BECAUSE IT’S REAL. You may not be functioning as you usually do or at someone else’s concept of your capacity and that’s ok. You’re stressed, it’s normal. Be kind to yourself.

4. You may make some bad choices, or want to.

So, many of us C-PTSD/PTSD havers make some “bad” choices to deal with our pain. Drugs, alcohol, excessive sex, porn addiction, “comfort” food. Our bodies and brains are often flailing to find an escape, any escape, that will lower the extremity of what we’re feeling and experiencing.

My main weakness on this front is comfort food. And it’s something I need to tackle with psychological help because it is a HUGE and complex issue to work through.

But at the moment? I just want all the chocolate and all the cake and all the fried chicken and maybe you do too. It’s unfortunate because we know that’s not necessarily great for our bodies, but it’s understandable because your body and brain want soothing because they’re dealing with STRESS. So again, what I’d recommend first is be kind to yourself. Understand why you may be seeking even more comfort than usual from your chosen source. And if you’re really wanting to resist seeking comfort there, recognise that a vacuum needs to be filled. So, make a list of other things you enjoy and can do at this time, ways to de-stress and relax and feel soothed and do them all!

Also, you may just want to remove all alcohol or chocolate from your house. It’s up to you.

5. Find the silver linings and find help.

Self-care has become more known about and recognised as a concept which is wonderful because it’s essential. If you want to keep caring well for yourself and the people around you, you need to be able to function well. AND, you deserve to be good to yourself. This is a concept my self-hatred finds hardest to recognise and believe, but I have value as a person just for who I am. I’m precious, and I’m worth taking care of. My fellow Christians would want to fling a few Bible verses at me at this point, and they’re right, I am fearfully and wonderfully made by a loving Creator who knows every hair on my head. But the gremlin inside me who tells me every day that I’m a piece of s*%t doesn’t believe in those Bible verses. So, I have to spend a reasonable amount of energy every day on this fight, alongside dealing with everything else.

I hope for your sakes that your gremlin doesn’t exist or is much quieter, but even if you don’t have that particular battle on your hands, all of the STRESS means you still need to be taking care of yourself. This requires some mental work, some physical work and some relational work. And more and more of it is becoming “common sense” which is wonderful. So, for eg:

– find healthy ways to process stress mentally, for eg, meditation, counselling, prayer.

– do some exercise, go outdoors when you can for the exercise. Combine the mediation and exercise by doing yoga! Iyengar yoga has changed my body and my life over the last few years and continues to be an incredible support. There’s a lot of research going into the benefits of yoga on trauma, google trauma sensitive yoga if you’d like to learn more.

– spend time talking to people you love or just hanging out on zoom while you read a book.

Our lists may look different but the principle is the same. Take care of yourself, you’re worth it.

There’s so much more I could say about this. I’ve been accumulating experience and lessons (I refuse to say “learnings”!!!!!!!!) about this for years, and I’d love to share it but also, this blog post is too long already. So, read up a bit about stress, and it’s extremes in traumatic stress, and figure out some ways you can take care of yourself and those you love.

Some resources that might help are:

Mental Health First Aid Guidelines here.

Black Dog Institute here.

Helplines like:

Lifeline – 13 11 14

Kids Helpline – 1800 55 1800

Mensline – 1300 78 99 78

Suicide Callback Service – 1300 659 467

Your local health care areas also have access to translation services.

Your GP. You’ll need to speak to your GP to create a mental health care plan if you’d like Telehealth services with a psychologist and GPs are trained in helping triage mental health issues generally.

Be kind to yourself and others. Stress can be a huge burden but it’s not one you have to carry alone.

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Being annoying in the time of cholera*

One of my many annoying characteristics is that I interrupt a lot. It’s probably why some people have wondered if I have a personality disorder, and why others have simply wondered if I understand basic manners. It’s a no to the first and a yes to the second, but I forget sometimes, for lots of reasons, that interrupting isn’t always the best choice.

Another of my annoying characteristics is giving unsolicited advice. It makes me a good teacher, because it comes from a place of wanting to share information to help people. I have very few other ways of usefully helping people, so I default to that. I can understand that it’s very annoying, even patronising sometimes, and like the interrupting, it’s not malicious, but it can make me hard to be around.

You, of course, have many annoying characteristics as well. I could keep listing mine, the above is not an exhaustive list, and we could probably make a long list of yours. Comedians have even noted that long-married couples can get to a point of familiar contempt that even the way their partner breathes can be annoying.

But what does this have to do with this time of global pandemic, a time of crucial economic, social and medical decisions? A time of great personal and social challenge?

Well that’s exactly it actually. A time of great personal challenge.

Everyone is stressed, and that already limits our capacity for empathy and patience. Soon and already many of you will be locked in your homes with your nearest and dearest, wondering why they have to breathe so very loudly.

For some, this may lead to dire outcomes. They are shut in with their abusers who may find any chance to damage them further… I can only hope and pray that help and alternatives will still be found in these times.

For the rest of us though, it’s not necessarily a time of emotional or physical danger, but certainly a time of many opportunities to hurt each other with an impatient word, or judgemental thoughts. And those things still matter. Especially of note is that they accumulate. Even for a person who doesn’t consciously “keep score”, we notice if and when blow after blow lands.

I know I’m very annoying, so I need people to be patient with me. But I also know everyone else is really annoying so I need to be patient with them!

So is that where we leave it? Another plea to be patient and kind? Such pleas are important, but can also be a bit useless. If I’m stressed and isolated and tired, if I’m at the limit of my emotional resources, how can I be patient with everyone else?

People try to draw strength from many resources in many ways, some useful, some the profiteering BS of charlatans. But I have learned two sources of strength through knowing God. They’ve helped me deal with many difficult situations already and I know they will continue to help.

When Jesus knew He was about to die and then return to the Father, He promised He wouldn’t be leaving His followers alone. He promised a Counsellor, the Spirit of God, who would live in our hearts, and intercede for our groaning spirits. The Counsellor brings God’s word to life in our hearts, minds and lives, transforming us to be more like Jesus. The times I am patient, or kind, gentle, slow to anger, self-controlled, or wise, I am empowered to do so by the power of the Holy Spirit. I don’t need to rely solely on my own efforts (good! Cos I have about as much energy as a sausage sometimes!) nor on the strength of wishful thinking or crystals or being white and wealthy in an exploited world or any other power. I can rely on the power of God the Counsellor.

The other blessing necessary to me when trying to be patient and kind is forgiveness. Because I fail. I’m not always patient and kind. I screw it up. I resist what the Spirit is trying to do, I let my tired, selfish monkey brain take over and am only constrained by social habit from flinging poo. So, I also need forgiveness.

I need to be reminded that God forgives me. That because Jesus has dealt with the consequences of my failures and errors, God can sincerely and fully forgive me in a way that doesn’t just mean “I’m ignoring this for now but I’ll bring it up again letter in an argument where I’m listing your faults.” He truly and fully forgives. It’s a relief.

It also gives me the perfect reason to forgive others, or at the very least be patient with them. Unlike my relationship with God, the consequences of what I do and what I’ve had done to me aren’t always all dealt with, but I have been forgiven much, so it’s an abundance I can share from.

When I feel my shoulders tensing up because yet another friend has said something completely insane and unhelpful about the pandemic and how to fight it, I try to remind myself to be let the Spirit help me be patient and kind. The Holy Spirit is the breath of God, so I’m not surprised that so many forms of ancient wisdom engage with the wisdom of taking a deep breath. I take a deep breath, a deep drink of the breath of God given to us, and try to let that fill me and change me before I let it out.

And when I screw that up, I ask God for forgiveness. And ask Him for the courage to ask for forgiveness for the person or people I’ve hurt as well. I don’t always get that right either, so the cycle continues.

But what a cycle it is. A cycle of breathing in love and breathing out forgiveness. A cycle of breathing in strength and breathing out kindness and patience. A breath that can’t infect anyone.

*I’ll resume part three of the current series soon.

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Historical abuse

This blog is the second in a three-part series about responding to revelations of abuse in the church. Please see the first post first. This is an invitation to move on from shock to a heartbroken, truth-filled and more useful response.

Another reason some of us aren’t shocked or surprised at every fresh revelation of abuse in the church, or supported by the church, or perpetrated by church leaders, is an awareness of the history of abuse and the church, in our families as well as in our institutions.

Both sides of my family are still church goers, and of course, once you go back a couple of generations, back to Christendom, almost all of our families were. And yet, my family, and my friends families, and many others, have stories like this in them:

– Oh yes, great-grandfather. He kept great-grandma pregnant for 20 years. She lost 12 babies. Grandma said it was because he hated her.

– He used to hit them, whenever he was angry. But no one thought anything of it then.

– She always used to lock her in a cupboard during the holidays because she was “such a bother”. She always looked forward to going back to school.

– Oh, everyone knew not to leave that Elder alone with the children, even though he’d always insist on taking them off for a ramble at church picnics. But he was still an Elder when my mum was a child, years later.

– The pastor knew he was beating them, so he used to preach extra sermons about submission. When she finally left, the church wouldn’t grant a divorce and she was shunned. Eventually she moved towns.

There are those of us who live right now in families where cycles of abuse go back through generations of church goers. In church communities where by commission or omission that abuse was encouraged, or abuse even perpetrated by church leaders.

And so, when a revelation comes that a minister has been abusive, or that a church has turned a blind eye to abuse in its midst, we are not surprised, because it is the story we already live.

We’re also not surprised because we know the history of the church outside our personal family stories. For example, even though many of us have listened to Christian leaders decrying feminism (for eg), most of us are glad that women now have the ability to own property, vote and have jobs, as all of these things make it more difficult for people to trap them in abusive relationships because they have no financial independence. This sadly still happens, but at least it’s been made more difficult than when women were property. There were Christians among the Suffragettes but many Christian leaders who at the time (as well as now) say that God objects to women voting, and also fought tooth and nail against divorce rights for women leaving abusive marriages as well. Christians have often stood against every step that has brought men and women toward equity and equality in our society. Why would we think that has changed?

Those of us who are unsurprised also know the history of the way the church has treated its followers as well. From the more recent revelations of Royal Commissions in Australia (you’ve seen the statistics right? Again, do you think this only happens in other people’s churches?!), to historical abuses like using the threat of hell to gain money for indulgences. Apparently a lot of you think the church has changed, or maybe that your church has, but do you honestly think you’re immune from these possibilities? I heard just recently of a (“good bible based”) church that encouraged its members to go into debt to support a new church building. Giving an implication that only the truly sincere will take this risk for Jesus? The church has burned witches, led inquisitions, acquired land by force, and benefitted from the worst parts of colonialism. And yet many of you seem to think that story miraculously stopped at some point, apparently quite recently?

The track record of the church on abuse is terrible. And combined with the realities mentioned in my first post, it leaves me surprised that anyone can honestly be surprised any more when yet another leader is rightly convicted of sexual abuse, or when I hear that another church has responded poorly to a spousal abuse, or that another has covered up the crimes of a leader and moved them on. History tells me this is expected.

And so does a lot of the theology I hear, but that’s for part three.

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