Category: About Me


A word from grandpa

I felt the company of another’s gaze, so I turned to my left, and found the owner of the gaze.

‘Hello.’

Milky blue eyes peered down from beyond spectacles, and smiled in reply.

‘Hello.’

‘What are you doing?’

‘I’m looking at you.’

I chuckled. And as I reached for the cinnamon, I inquired of this man seated next to me with a fondness in my cadence, ‘Tell me, why are you looking at me?’

I anticipated the familiar flicker in his cheek, the herald of humour and wit, but when my glance rested back with his eyes, they were met with a settled sincerity.

‘Why? I’m looking at you because I don’t see you enough.’

A moment of profundity mingled with the buttering of toast and pouring of juice, as he spoke a hundred words through the warm expression on his wrinkled face.

‘I don’t see you enough either, Pa.’

And the current of the conversation wove on across the breakfast table.

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One of my dearest friends is an officer in the army. In what we think, the ways we think, the convictions and beliefs we hold, it wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say that we are diametric opposites. He once said to me, “Steph, we’re never going to get anywhere talking about religion. You’re as stubborn as I am!”

I remember grinning at him, sheepishly.

The funny thing is that it’s totally true, but also totally not.

1. There is a world of difference between a person who is stubborn, and a person who holds a conviction strongly.

I think one of the many blessings of university, is that the longer you spend time in an environment where your views are constantly rubbing up against the views of other people (who are often a heck of a lot smarter than you are), the less likely you are to be overconfident about what you think.

I think it is possible to listen to a person attentively in such a way that you genuinely seek to see the logic, or at least merit, of their opinions. Even if it is an opinion that you really disagree with to start out with. Especially when it is an opinion that you really disagree with.

I think there must be a way of listening in which, instead of calculating in your mind all the ways in which you could undermine their argument with interjections of your own, you listen. Not just attentive to the argument. But attentive to the person. Because until you understand the person, you won’t really understand the argument. Because you won’t understand the worldview that underlies the argument.

But I don’t think it’s accurate to say that if, after listening to the other person sincerely, you hold the same opinion you did to begin with that you are stubborn. It might just be that the other person has not presented you with evidence convincing enough, or an argument compelling enough, to sway you from your strongly held conviction. And that’s legitimate!

2. The pride residing at the root of stubbornness is a poison that we cannot root out by trying harder

Every day for a month last year I wrote “Phil 2:3” on my hand, to try to retrain my mind to resolve to “consider others better than myself.” It was an attempt to train my mind and my mouth.

I think it was a good thing to do.

But it didn’t go deep enough.

You see, I don’t just have a stubborn mind. I have a stubborn heart. Gosh, even when I’m thinking to myself in a conversation, “Consider this person better than you,” another part of me is thinking, “And aren’t you just GREAT for trying to think of them (a person who is clearly inferior to you) better than you?”

!!

You see, I am fundamentally incapable of considering other people better than myself; it’s going to take a lot more than looking at scrawls of ink on my hand throughout the day for me to consider others better than myself!

I need to go deeper. To trace back my words to the thoughts underlying them, and the ways of thinking underlying my thoughts, and to the genesis of these ways of thinking. And, maybe you’ll agree – the spring from which these ways of thinking, from which all of my life flows, is my heart.

3. It takes a heart transplant

I do not think that holding an opinion strongly is necessarily ‘stubborn’ in a negative, ignorant, unresponsive sense.

But I do have a stubborn heart.

When I jotted down this thought a few weeks back, I had just had a week of many refreshing conversations in which I had been reminded of my spiritual amnesia, of my inability to root out these stubborn and poisonous weeds in my heart.

When I say stubborn, I mean this: like a smoker, my heart returns time and time again to the same unsatisfying addictions; like a disobedient dog, I stray back into bad habits; like a distrustful two-year-old, I deliberately forge on towards decisions that I know will upset the ones who love me, and I can’t change it.

I genuinely can’t change it.

Sure, I can change the behaviours: I can stop speaking badly of a person, I can try to think differently about them and rebuke myself every time I slip in the hope that, like Pavlov’s Dog, my behaviour will change. But changing behaviours doesn’t change a heart, and if the heart doesn’t change, then the root which bore the fruit of the behaviour will simply crop up in a different part of my life, in a different way.

4. Persistent grace

The reason these conversations were refreshing and not depressing?

I was reminded of the astounding work that God has done in me by regenerating my heart and giving me new cravings and affections to replace my old ones. I was reminded of the relentless pursuit of God in His endeavour to reclaim ALL of my heart for Himself. I was reminded of His faithfulness in saving me from myself, from my stubborn heart, and from the unkind masters I am prone to devoting myself to.

He hasn’t withheld any of His infinite resources in His redemption of this death-bound creature. It does not make sense to think that He would save me on a cosmic, eternal scale, only to leave me to change myself, alone.

No. His grace is persistent. He persists in wooing me to return to me from the rebellion of sin, and He persists in the gradual work of regenerating all the cravings and desires of my heart.

I am fundamentally incapable of changing my own heart. But He is not. He is the only one with hands that are strong enough, delicate enough, and loving enough to change my stubborn heart. But the incredible thing is that unlike my manufactured self-resolve, His purposes cannot be thwarted. He will overcome my stubborn heart.

Heck. Yes. !

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

Into the Arms of America

Reliving my 3 weeks with 3 lovely girls in December 2009 🙂 This is what I recorded...
so far…

we’ve been to a cuban cafe in soho (twice),
had a conversation about spirituality with a guy called from sydney in an aussie bar in nyc,
rode the private lift in tiffany’s on fifth avenue whilst we pretended that martha was getting engaged so to try on the rings,
got hit on by two seedy men at 6am at LGA,
subsequently met a nice british guy who ended up being on our flight to washington, mistook capitol hill for the white house (don’t even..),
had a long chat with the two cops on duty at the capitol,
saw jfk’s eternal flame at arlington after watching the changing of the guard,
senate, supreme court,
witnessed a “movement” outside the white house (i.e. obama’s convoy),
got interrogated at canadian customs,
chatted til 2am with two canadians in a french restaurant in montreal who worked for the government,
looked ridiculous traipsing through the cobbled streets in quebec with our bags semi-lost up the hill to where we stayed in the shadow of the frontenac,
being kindly informed by two seedy guys in an international beer pub that by taking off the labels of our beer bottles that we apparently were expressing our sexual frustration,
replying that that was in fact not the case,
served by a younger and hotter version of mr hennes,
classic disney slip over on the ice in the street,
introduced to tim hortons,
jazz club in montreal,
fell in love with the ‘i’m not cool but that’s ok’ song,
snow ball fight in montreal after getting lost in the underground,
promptly got over our romance with snow,
ate poutine and schwartz’s smoked meat,
had my first real coffee in an italian place with a flirty waiter,
martha got her hair stuck in a christmas tree,
dug samantha (cara’s car) out of the snow,
road tripped to ithaca,
played song charades on the public transport in boston,
cheesecake. oh my. cheesecake.,
harvard,
musuem of fine arts,
jfk library (aneurysm),
fenway park (with 3 other aussies.. ridiculous),
went to an awesome church where the band played kings of leon, a cute (very) cute keys player, and they supported three justice causes (sex slavery, clean water, a dominican pastor working to educate street kids) http://www.reunionboston.com/,
met windy’s twin. actually freaky.,
experienced a peanut butter and banana smoothie,
freedom trail,
had our palates revolutionised by mike’s pastries,
stumbled across an orchestra performing bach,
ran with lyn (nyc has crappy air, fyi) to get a spot to late nite with jimmy fallon,
hi-fived jimmy fallon,
saw next to normal, shrek, god of carnage, and in the heights on broadway,
martha won the lottery for in the heights, so we got to sit front row – had a chat with the conductor,
went on bus tours downtown, to brooklyn, uptown (with the crazy, offensive un-PC kazakhi tour guide),
got serenaded by street performers, one of whom thought martha would appreciate his nipples (secretly, she did),
learnt that starbucks’ ‘signature hot chocolate’ is rank, and comes with mounds of whipped cream unless you specify otherwise,
museum of natural history (amazing space exhibition with a 4.5 billion year old rock, and an incredible exhibition on evolution, dna etc),
fell in love with bagels,
wore complementary fairy wings at alice’s tea cup,
jess got serenaded at the stardust diner,
went to grand central,
‘i can’t feel it in my fingers, can’t feel it in my toes, the cold is all around me, and so the feeling goes..’,
the met (flip.),
the trendy burger place hidden in a hotel lobby recommended to us by pat,
walked along bleecker st and found joe’s,
the first real coffee in america,
jess and i walked 45 blocks up to buy boots,
had cheesecake at junior’s where the waiters were fascinated by our accents,
got into birdland where we heard the drummer who played by charlie parker 60 years ago on the night birdland opened (you know, as you do as an 84 year old),
ground zero exhibition (incredible),
ran for a subway, only to leave jess behind. drama ensued.,
the bodies exhibition (real human bodies. crazy. struck by human intricacy and our frailty, and how glad i am that there is hope beyond this existence.),
watched carolers sing ‘new york new york’,
played the sugar/salt game in the oldest pizza joint in nyc,
watched to knicks snatch a win over the clips at madison square garden,
went to the moma (FLIPPING HECK),
experienced ‘blizzard 2009’ and ate an entire ny pizza from fat sal’s whilst watching ladder 49,
heard tim keller at redeemer talk on how jesus is the intersection of heaven and earth, how heaven opens for the humble,
encouraged by the work one of their church plants in the bronx does for the homeless as they seek to tell the gospel and embody the gospel,
bought two pairs of jeans for $40 at macy’s,
sat under bob dylan’s acoustic and next to ringo’s kit at hard rock cafe,
lyn got stranded for 10 hrs on the tarmac, 7 hours in a line and 3 days thanks to the snow storm (i hate uncle snow!),
flew to denver, then to abq, my bag got sent to chicago, and have been hanging out with my aunt and uncle in santa fe.

we also ate a lot of food.

love to you all.

 

Helm’s Deep

The darkness in my heart is not a mere shadow. It is so strong and destructive that it killed a man.

But that man embodied a light that could never be overcome by even the deepest, toughest, most brutal and insidious darkness. He was stronger than it then, on that day when morning breached the hold of night and life breached the stronghold of death.

And He is stronger than that darkness still, even in this moment now. Whatever it is that has taken hold of your heart and seems to characterise your very self. I don’t care what it is. Pride, insecurity or niggling inadequacy, rash words, lust for approval, striving for affirmation of worth, depression or worthlessness, or whatever else. This isn’t about platitudes. It’s about freedom.

So come breach the walls in my heart. It’s Yours for the taking.

Praying like Hezekiah

I don’t remember what it feels like to be well. I don’t say that in a tone of self-pity at all –  it’s just really odd. There have only been about 4 or 5 times over the past 6 years that my body has remembered in a very physical sense that the way it is isn’t normal. My muscle memory has faded. That’s to say that my body’s got used to doing life like this. That it’s forgotten what it feel like to move without seizing up. That it’s forgotten what it feels like to be well.

The most recent time it remembered was last Tuesday.

I meet with about eight girls each Tuesday night at the house of an old friend. We drink tea, eat chocolate, laugh about life and talk about God as He’s revealed Himself through the Bible. We share our lives and we share what the God who made us is teaching us about Himself and ourselves. This week we were looking at a part of the Bible written by a guy called Isaiah (legit name, hey). At the uni Christian group I go to, we dug into this book, and it BLEW MY MIND. It truly is an unexplored mountain range in scripture, and having Rowan unpack the historical significance of the events helped me enormously in understanding what God reveals about Himself in this part of redemptive history. You can listen to the podcasts here.

ANYWAY. This week we were looking at Isaiah 37. At this point in the narrative, Sennacherib (Sen – ack- ar – rib), the King of Assyria (the merciless, expansionist superpower of the region) has just threatened God’s people, effectively saying that unless they align themselves with Assyria, they will be the target of the wrath of the Assyrian armies. The field commander who delivers this message mocks Hezekiah, the king of God’s people, for saying that ‘The Lord will deliver us’. “Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria?” (Is 36.18)

Those to whom this message had been delivered came to Hezekiah and recounted what had been said to them. And it’s Hezekiah’s response that astonishes me.

He tears his clothes, and goes to the temple of the Lord.

One of the girls commented on the apparent absurdity of this; how could the King run away like this, when his people were afraid and needed strong leadership? The conclusions we came to were these:

That desperate circumstances reveal the true disposition of your heart. And that seeking God in prayer is far from a passive option of last-resort. It is the most proactive course of action a leader can take.

The Lord tells Hezekiah through Isaiah that he is not to be afraid of ‘those words with which the underlings of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me’. (At this juncture, I persisted in sabotaging helpful discussion by bringing up how much the field commander reminded me of Sauron’s mouth in Lord of the Rings, who tries to intimidate and throw Aragon’s army into fear and disarray.) But Sennacherib sends another intimidating message to Hezekiah, alikening their fate to that of nations that had been brutally torn to pieces by the Assyrian war machine, unless they allied themselves with Assyria.

Again, Hezekiah’s response is actually beautiful. When he reads the letter from Sennacherib, he makes a beeline for the temple, where he spreads out the letter before the Lord. This is what he prays:

‘O Lord Almighty, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You made heaven and earth. Give ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God.

It is true, O Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste all these peoples and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. Now, O Lord, our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O Lord, are God.’

Hezekiah starts by reorienting his perspective of who God is; He is thoroughly God-centric. He acknowledges how REAL and scary the threat is, but He doesn’t prescribe to God any solutions.He just lifts the situation to God and asks for help, for deliverance. His cry to God is filled with confidence because he has a right vision of who God is.

But then, read how God RESPONDS! It is actually insane.

BECAUSE you have prayed to me concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria, THIS IS THE WORD THE LORD HAS SPOKEN AGAINST HIM (37.21-22)

There is direct causality here. Because Hezekiah spread this situation out before God, He responded by pledging to decimate Sennacherib. And then an angel of the Lord kills 185 000 Assyrian men who were camped out and ready to destroy God’s people.

Prayer is effective. Because instead of charging on with our own plans, resources, and capacities, it turns to a God who is infinitely more able. Imagine if Hezekiah had just concocted his own scheme to engage the Assyrians. God may well have given them strength to fight, and they may have won a battle that they were severely outnumbered to win – but instead, all they do is SLEEP and God fights for them, meaning that there is no way of construing this to attribute the victory to the might of anyone but God Himself.

There was a quiet pause after we read this part of the passage.

“185 000. Hectic.”

“Mmm.”

“Are you guys OK with that?”

“With what?”

“With God killing 185 000 men in a night.”

This launched a discussion that meandered into whether it would be different if they had fought, man on man, and that number had died. Whether it made a difference that the Assyrians were probably bloodthirsty brutes. Whether it made it OK that it was either the Assyrians or the people of God. Whether God could have changed the heart of Sennacherib to rescue them instead. And on and on we went. I interjected with another unhelpful analogy from Lord of the Rings: when the Dead Men of Dunharrow sweep through thousands of orcs and bring death with their passage. Ultimately, though, we decided that although it didn’t set well with us, that it was clear that if we were sitting in a city, terrified of the brute strengths of an army of hundreds of thousands of Assyrians about to crush us and tear us apart, that we would be celebrating that God had rescued us, not getting into philosophical labyrinths about the morality of war.

What does this have to do with ANYTHING, let alone my illness?

We spent a time praying after we’d discussed this passage. And during it I felt the presence of God in a way that I very rarely feel. My dear friend Anthea, who has been chronically ill with mysterious crippling headaches for about 4 years now, prayed words that lifted our hearts to a right vision of who God is – that He is the God who spoke and universes came into being. This is the God to whom we spread out our lives. And this reminded me that when I have a right vision of who God is, when I recognise that He is the one who is capable to change even the most impossible circumstances, and that in light of that, prayer is actually a proactive course of action, not a passive one – well, I ought to spread out my circumstances before Him in weakness. Not pretending that the situation isn’t hard, that I don’t hate being sick – but not prescribing to Him how He should answer my prayers. Being open to His purposes. Like in Gethsemane, I lift my situation to Him and honestly express my preferences, but surrender my will to His purposes, in confidence that they are good. Like the believers’ prayer in Acts 4, I acknowledge that God is powerful beyond what I can understand, and that He has decided beforehand what should happen.

Too often I limit God’s capacity to bring a breakhthrough in my physical condition. Those friends who have known me for a while will know that I just can’t get past this barrier in my mind. The barrier is that whilst I know that God is able to heal, I find it hard to get from that KNOWLEDGE to BELIEF that He is able to heal, that He wants to heal, that He will heal, that it is in His will to heal. The train of thought deviates to places where I consider that the good He has promised He is always working for, is my being refined into the image of Jesus – and, well, to be honest, nothing else in my life has shaped my character as much as this. But then the other part of me wonders if this means that I am ignoring a root of unbelief in my heart, a lack of faith.

And here’s where I come to.

I want to live a life that abides in deep faith, in heavy dependence, in His faithfulness. In quietness and trust, I want to spread out my illness before Him, daily, and knock on the door until my knuckles bleed. I want to wait on the Lord in a way that brings my heart to a place of utter abandonment and unreserved faith. I don’t want to not pray for healing because it’s safer that way; because that way I won’t feel let down, rejected, or deficient or undeserving of His healing if He doesn’t answer my prayer in the way I want. No.

I want to spread out my situation before Him. Not proscribing how He should deal with it. But praying big prayers and pleading with Him for deliverance.

As I drove home that night, I felt a twinge in my muscle memory of what it was to move normally. And I felt, physically, that the way I was was not normal. And realising that I couldn’t manufacture it for myself, I asked Him for the faith to pray Hezekiah prayers of deep-seated faith.

Ornaments

Some ornaments to me are:

I love the senses! How amazing are they! I love T2 tea, flat whites, Caramel Crowns, boutique beers, hazelnut gelato, banana smoothies, crepes, meringues, frozen grapes and yoghurt. Heck, ANYTHING pastry. I’m looking forward to the day if it ever comes that I get to be a grandma who bakes desserts every night and doesn’t give a damn about eating inordinate quantities of butter and sugar. Haha. I don’t even know if I’ll ever be a grandma, but that would seriously rock.

Storms, cloud-streaked skies, people’s eyes, the vastness of the starry canvas at 3am, landscapes in the wilderness. The melody of voices in conversation, the dialogue of music. The physicality of my self, movement and the human touch. I love hockey and knitting and hiking and kayaking and painting and swimming and Feldenkrais.

I want to leverage my life for something that counts. I think the best way for me to do that is to lean into God’s express purpose to restore the world to shalom; the rhythm of His peace, His order. To reconcile all things to Himself. And the way I’m drawn to do that is through the fight for justice in the world. I believe that God has spoken in His word that He desires justice and mercy more than He desires a religious life. I also tend to babble inarticulately.

I am restless, and always want to travel. I like sitting on trains; partly for the rhythm, partly for the people-watching.

I like to laugh. A lot.

And I’d really like to meet you, whoever you are, through the craziness that is the internet, and hear your story. But, enough for now. I hope you enjoy these pages of self-indulgent creation and catharsis.

Grace and peace!

Hi. My name is Steph. With a ‘ph’, not an ‘ff’. One of my oldest friends still spells it with an ‘ff’, so it’s a bit of a sore spot for me. Maybe he and I really shouldn’t be friends anymore…

(What a stupid introduction.)

It’s weird, because introductions always stump me. We always go for our name, and what we do. But really, are they the things that define who we are? To be honest, I don’t really give a damn about my name, let alone it’s spelling. So, whilst I would be bemused if everyone started mishearing my name and calling me ‘Daphne’ (as happens when I answer the phone at work sometimes), I wouldn’t feel like a violence had been done to my sense of self. Similarly, really? What we do? Does the fact that I am in my 4th year of a combined law degree at a particular university communicate something profound about what kind of person I am? Gosh, I hope not. Am I really just constituted by a name and an occupation?

No. Of course not. I know I’m taking things to the extreme, I know that knowing a person’s occupation is a helpful handle through which to navigate a new relationship, and I certainly know that it would be socially alienating to say the least if I were to go about introducing myself as, “Hi, I’m mildly scatterbrained, self-preoccupied and I laugh too much, great to meet you too, FRIEND!”

(Just quietly, how great would that be to do that for a day?)

But identity is elusive, isn’t it? I mean, identity itself isn’t (surely?) but our perception of it is. Our perception of our self fluctuates according to the activities we fill our time with, the relationships we fill our hearts with, the ideas we fill our minds with. According to that measure, a person can have thousands of identities in a lifetime. So volatile! So temperamental!

About five, maybe six, years ago I was confronted with the rude shock that for 15 years I had primarily based who I was in what I could do. Abilities have a valuable currency in society. So in that sense it was understandable for me to define my self according to something that the people around me responded to; they affirmed my worth, and I enjoyed that!

The rudeness of the shock was in the way this realisation occurred. My body short-circuited. I wouldn’t say I got ill, because that has connotations of a disease or a virus or something foreign intruding into the immune system. Whilst for a time the diagnosis was Parkinsons, it turned out after a year of tests, scans, drugs and misdiagnoses, that it is a form of conversion disorder known as a psychogenic disorder. Essentially that means that something triggered the brain to rewire its pathways, resulting in a condition known as dystonia. This is a very long-winded way of saying that I am no longer as ‘able’ as I once was. Which meant that the thing I had been defining my identity was shaken a bit. A lot.

People define themselves according to all sorts of things. With very, very few exceptions, all of these things are impermanent. Perishable. I would say unreliable, but maybe that’s too much of a value judgment. All I mean to say is that they are not certain. Which I suppose is OK if you don’t mind having your sense of identity shaken every time it fades or breaks; some people genuinely like the thrill of the jolting and dislocation. I can kind of relate to that. But pain’s only bearable, it’s only a thrill, if it’s for a purpose.

In any case, the conclusion I arrived at after a season of introspection was that the only sure place I could anchor my identity was in the only thing that will never perish, spoil or let me down. The person of Jesus Christ.

Sincerely. Please, hear me out.

I believe that defining myself by Him frees me to be more myself than I could ever be outside of Him.

He is, quite simply, the most beautiful person I have ever known. For a long time He dwelt on the peripheries of my mind and awareness. But when I encountered Him, firstly in the records preserved in the New Testament scriptures, I was stunned by how little this Jesus resembled the Jesus that had dwelt on the fringes of my life. He was so much more rough around the edges, but so jarringly uncompromising. So much more intriguing. So much more compelling. The Jesus I encountered was so refreshing, in the icy cold breeze sense of the word; just like jumping into a sub-freezing lake, the words He spoke enlivened the senses and quickened the heart.

I believe that He is the centre of all things. And that in Him, all things find their equilibrium. I believe, intellectually and experientially, that He is the means by which God the Father has and will restore all things that have been fractured to the rhythm of God’s peace in which they were made to dwell. And that that shalom is a place of joy. Not of ‘happiness’, because that is emotion and that fluctuates. Joy. Rock solid, unmovable joy. It is the deepest sense of delight that cannot always be articulated or expressed. It exists because this joy springs from something that you can never be robbed of. Whilst life can fall in around your head, and your heart can be broken and aching, this joy remains because I am not anchored in any of those things that fall apart.

Reconciliation brings colour and movement and sensation to a life once lived in black and white. Because when the deepest awareness of my self is that I am a child on whom the God of all things have lavished extravagant love, the striving stops. The fear stops. Spiritual amnesia obstructs that ‘awareness’ sometimes, of course. But my cyclonic mind comes back to this:

Jesus Christ died on a Roman cross. Jesus Christ was resurrected from death.

Those two convictions mean that not only am I reconciled to the relationship I was made for; I will be raised physically, and imperishable. That is the hope secured by Jesus Christ. And it is scandalous. Insane. True.

And it changes everything.