Tag Archives: illness

94. Intelligence (Empathy, Lent 35)

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I’ve always been very bright. It has, at times, been a quality that has made me feel very visible, or even odd, and certainly frustrated. I struggled to understand why other people couldn’t grasp what I was saying, was horribly bored at school, and found myself trying to think of shorter words for things (especially with boyfriends, who did not seem to like my brains very much).

Although it is a wonderful thing to have, it also made me seem older than I was and people would assume I was emotionally mature as well as intellectually clever, when actually this was not the case. And just because I was clever didn’t mean I was practical. I could write a great essay on physics, but fail to get the back off a plug.* Perhaps the worst thing of all was that cleverness became the one thing I could rely on, my one gift, the source of any and all pride. So when after university I got terribly ill and succumbed to brain fog, barely able to put two words together, unable to read or decipher signs, I struggled with my identity. Who was this daft, slow, mixed up aphasic? Well, she was me too.

And when I began to recover my clarity for short periods, and then God presented me with the task of writing, what should I begin to lean on again but my intelligence? It was bound to happen, and having had to live without it for so long I wasn’t going to give it up very easily. And yet, that is exactly what God asked me to do. I had to give him my one specialty. He didn’t want, it seemed, for me to write plots with more smarts than Billy, or to dream of the Booker Prize. He wanted me to write from the heart. I remember a prayer time vividly, where I had to hand my brains over. I metaphorically watched them crack off from me, the way ice falls from a glacier, and saw them drift off on a flow of water.

And because I did that, because I gave them up and let them go like he’d asked me too, he returned them to me. But just as it is when we give him our hearts, and they return renewed, so my intelligence seemed changed. It had an entirely new focus and character. It was like my cleverness was not about me anymore. Not about making me look good, or feel superior, or special, nor any of the things it had, perhaps understandably, meant to me before. Now it was like my mind was living for God as well as my heart. I feel much happier, more integrated about this. When I use my intelligence now, it is to aid my readers understand my meaning. If I use a big word, it’s because (and only because) it is the right word to use.

I look compassionately on my school girl self, desperate for praise and trying to scramble to stay at the top of the heap in something (Lord knows it was never going to be P.E.) with her big brains that didn’t know what to do with her or where to take her. She was only doing what the world told her she should. And the me of now can have compassion on my current self as well, especially when I am misunderstood, or folk think I am being wordy or precious. It’s okay to use my God-given brain, and it’s especially okay to use that God-given, given-back-to-God, God-re-given brain, for the things he had planned all along.

* This endearing (to others) and infuriating (to me) trait continues. I just had to ask my (also very bright) husband to help me take a new camera case off its cardboard mount. Failure took me ten minutes, success for him, five seconds.

text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017 temporary photo copyright Oliver Postgate/BBC

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Some News, and a Spider in a Bucket.

Dear friends, my health is not good, my energy very limited. Blogging every day is too much for me, especially when I feel called to write so many books! So I am going to change the habit of a lifetime and be sensible. I shall still write here, but not so often, and with much more spontaneity than discipline.  There will still be some Veil of Tears or Landscape of Love pieces, but also other types of sharing. I hope you will find the variety refreshing and stick with me as I work on all the outpourings the Lord is so gracious as to give me.

My readers will be the first to hear about everything!

Blessings, Keren

Read on to encounter a spider in a bucket….

 

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In my back garden there is a spider in a bucket. She has been in there some weeks now, and she does not move, save for a few steps back and forth now and again to avoid rain, or to move round to a more sheltered side of her slippery home. I don’t know how she is staying stuck there living in the perpendicular, how she doesn’t fall down, or how she is still alive, since she does not appear to eat or drink.

She is staying still because she is wrapped tightly around a precious bundle. She holds under her thorax, a white parcel papoose, at least as big as her own body. It is an egg sac, where her young are swaddled, and are making ready to hatch and come forth into life, even as she, presumably, is waiting to die. I wonder if the young will eat her, as happens with some spidery beginnings. I could Google it, but I’d rather not know for sure. I wonder if she knows what will happen next. I wonder where her self-preservation went, and how a spider can lend itself so completely to the ways of its own nature that she doesn’t run from her responsibilities, but just sits.

And I wonder how like that spider I am, sitting here in bed, waiting for something, for anything good, to come forth from me. I am sat here with my belly full of wonder, of ideas and imaginings, of stories and theories and the love of God, and I ponder his word here and hold it all precious in my heart.

Will my words pour forth and turn on me and eat me up? Or will they thank me and run to spin their own webs, live their own lives, tell their own tales?

I do not know. But like my immobile arachnid friend, I will wait and see. Too tired now to run away, and in any case, how could I leave my bundle of beautiful word weavings unborn and never known? I must protect them, and they must be released. We sit and we wait.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

 

Veil of Tears 103: Incarcerated

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So he took Joseph and threw him into the prison where the king’s prisoners were held, and there he remained.” Genesis 39:20 NLT

Today is Nelson Mandela Day (18th July). Whenever I read about people like Joseph who were imprisoned on false charges or unfair accusations or lies, or even those who have committed small crimes but been given horrendous sentences, I think of those 27 years of imprisonment that Mr Mandela underwent. He must have, like Joseph, and like Jeremiah in his cistern, have wondered if he would die there, the hope of release must have seemed forlorn and unlikely.

Others of us are imprisoned in different ways of course, in abusive relationships, tough marriages or in bodies that make us feel less than human. Many of my friends with severe M.E. are living in a world of one room, weak as they are, unable to feed or wash themselves, let alone get outside. I see my wheelchair as an enabling thing, but then, I am not confined to it all day like so many people, who perhaps feel imprisoned.

Still others of course, feel imprisoned by debt, by circumstances, by their pasts, or even by guilt and regret. There are so many things that can make us feel that desire for liberation from the chains that hold us back. And many of my fellow Christians will proclaim that by Jesus’ blood we are free, we are saved from all these bondages. And that is undoubtedly true in a whole heap of ways. But knowing that is not always tantamount to securing the tangible reality of it. And some of us are kept in our small or difficult circumstances, indeed in our real prisons or penitentiaries, for a very long time, long after we have come to faith. This is not because the power of God is not working in our lives, but because it is working unseen. Invisible miracles happen in prisons of various kinds every minute of every day.

Rays of sunshine can penetrate the heart wherever we are. Hope can live in the most arid and desperate conditions, and faith can flourish in small and impoverished circumstances. There is fruit still there to be borne. How many times do we hear of prisoners finding Jesus whilst behind bars? And how can we deny that miracles happened in that small cell on Robyn Island, where a peaceful, gentle and wise humility was created from a passionate rebel heart? If we give our yes to love, to God, then powerful transformations can occur in these cells of isolation. The desert fathers and mothers understood this well, self-imposing constrictions, as monks and nuns continue to do today.

Indeed, as citizens of heaven we might well say that our very bodies and our present circumstances are our cells, fidelity to which, as Abba Moses counselled, was the way to spiritual knowledge. “Go, sit in your cell,” he would say, “And your cell will teach you everything.”

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

Veil of Tears 91: Misdiagnosed

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You, however, smear me with lies; you are worthless physicians, all of you!” Job 13:4 NIV

Over my 20 years of chronic illness I have known a great many “worthless physicians” I can tell you.   I’ve been ignored, disbelieved or told to go away. I’ve been told “I think it’s M.E. but I don’t believe in it” and after a dreadfully difficult journey to London, a neurologist at a top hospital said, “I don’t know what they sent you to me for. I can refer you to a psychiatrist if you like.” Even the most sympathetic doctors that I have seen have been able to do nothing more than shrug their shoulders. “Well I don’t have a magic wand,” one GP told me over and over again every time I went to him to ask for help. After my worst relapse so far, when I was in terrible pain and every movement was desperately hard and exhausting, a doctor, clearly exasperated and to my shock, not believing me, told me and my worried parents, “Well if you need a wheelchair, you should look in the Yellow Pages.”

And everyone who has this illness, or yet to be properly classified/researched/so-called “invisible” illnesses and diseases which don’t conveniently present with easily analysed bloodwork or purple spots, has numerous similar stories. It is exasperating, heart-breaking, soul-destroying. Because we go to the doctor when we don’t feel well, and we expect some help. That’s not so strange, is it?

Likewise, Job was visited by his supposedly wise, spiritually mature friends, and all they did was give him the religious equivalent of my doctors. “You must have done something terrible, best repent,” is their general message. And I’m sorry to say, this is the same message that passes as spiritual wisdom in many churches today. Seen it, been told it, been prayed for about it. “Hidden sin” it’s sometimes called, and the hurtful assumption behind it is that you’ve brought the illness upon yourself by doing something sinful. That, in other words, it is, on some conveniently inscrutable level, your own fault.

Do we not think that the sick and disabled are suffering enough without being told to repent on their dungheaps by people who are clearly (because fit and healthy) so much better, cleaner, more right with God? This is holier than thou taken to painful extremes. And the main reason it happens is pure ignorance. The church generally shies away from a theology of suffering, especially the Protestant church. We do not teach on sickness, disability, illness, healing or suffering anywhere near enough in my view. Nor do we understand the value of perseverance and faithfulness in prayer.

Consequently, people latch on to some very odd ideas and are buying into the belief that because God is good and wants us all well (I agree) then he must want us well now whilst we are being prayed for, and so if nothing happens, it cannot be God’s fault or will, it cannot be the person praying’s fault, it must be yours. On top of your physical or mental or emotional suffering (usually illness and disability contain all three of course, since we are holistic beings) we have lots of lovely guilt piled on top too.

But there are some good doctors, some godly doctors, some wise preachers and healers, who know that things can take time, that patience, compassion, listening, forbearance, endurance, persevering prayer and empathy are tools of the kingdom. I had one GP be unfailingly kind, though he admitted he did not know how to help me. That honesty and belief was very precious, and my current GP is also sympathetic, though apart from blood tests every few years, till more research is done, there is not really any help available. But as Job discovered, it is loving encounter which is more healing than theology and half-baked theories.

A Carmelite Priory I occasionally stay at when well enough has a special Day of Celebration sharing in the Gifts of People with Disabilities today, with creative workshops, sensory prayer and Mass. And in August they will also have a Pilgrimage of the Sick with the Society of Our Lady of Lourdes. That seems like a pretty healthy (pun intended) balance of things. We celebrate the things that suffering brings whilst at the same time acknowledging that prayer for healing is a good thing. It is not that we do not expect answers, or indeed miracles, but that we live out a theology (an orthopraxy if you like) of trust and acceptance. Those of us who await healing (whether in this life or the next) are limbic people, and we have a lot to give and a lot to share and say, if anyone finds themselves able to listen.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay, candles at Lourdes

24: Jammed

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“During the last watch of the night the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. He jammed the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.” Exodus 14:24-25 NIV

The Egyptian charioteers were expert drivers. They had the best chariots and horses that money could buy (and slaves could build or train) and they were used to being the victors. They had had the upper hand over the Israelites for so long, it must have been one heck of a shock to find themselves on the receiving end of God’s wrath.

When we are used to being the best at something, it can be a literal as well as metaphorical jolt to suddenly find our wheels jammed or clogged (one translation has “twisted”). At such times we need to be clear about where our reliance is founded. I remember feeling like this during my first attempt at university, where I first got ill in 1990. I suddenly felt as though someone had jammed the brakes on, like my brain was clogged with cotton wool, like exhaustion was waiting for me round every bend, and the wheels of life, well, they just weren’t turning.

And the glandular fever I was later diagnosed with (which precipitated my M.E.) was not the only jolt. Used to being the clever clogs, I found there were people far brighter than I was, and that most of the people there were not there to learn, or to save the whales, or for any reason akin to my own motives, but to get the right degree to earn them the most money, to drink themselves stupid and to generally be hooray henriettas. I was bewildered and disappointed. Had I been well, I might have rallied and found some like-minded folks. Ill as I was, I didn’t stand a chance of coping, and six weeks after starting what I thought would be a new dream, I was back home with my parents feeling dreadful, and staring failure full in the face. I felt like the wheels on my chariot weren’t only jammed, but had fallen off.

A juddering halt like this in life is heart-breaking and soul-destroying. But it is also an opportunity, especially to re-evaluate. Sometimes our wheels need some repair and recalibration. Wheels on cars have to be rebalanced every so often, and ours in life are the same. My priorities in life had to change, because I’ve never been well since, but I did manage to go to a much more open-minded university and begin a completely different degree a year later. And who knows who I might have become if I’d just gone sailing on into the fray? Would I be a writer or an artist now? Would I know the Lord the way I do? I doubt it. One thing I do know is that ifs and buts, maybes and what ifs do us no good, and can keep us just as stalled as broken hopes.

Retreat is sometimes our best plan. It certainly would have been the most sensible option for the Egyptians. When what normally carries us forward is spinning in the mud getting us nowhere, it could well be time to get ourselves off the battlefield for a while, and take the chariot in for a service. Finding a new balance, and a more reliable set of wheels.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Morguefile.com

9: Disbelieved

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But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.” Luke 24:11 NIV

Two thousand years on and women are still used to being classed as lesser witnesses. For much of history we have been branded hysterical, untrustworthy and illogical. There is something deeply painful about not being believed. Imagine how these female disciples must have felt, shamed and pained as the men dismissed them and their amazing story!  I know something of this kind of pain particularly within my chronic illness, and have had cruel and disdainful treatment from medics, health professionals and even friends.

I see the same attitude time and time again around those with so-called “invisible” illnesses that are hard to quantify or diagnose, and with those with mental illnesses or depression.   One of the kindest and best things you can ever do for someone suffering with such a problem is to believe them. Believe them when they say they can’t do something, or that it is difficult, or that they are in pain, even when it seems hard for you in a healthy mind and body to credit.

When our experience is very different from the one being related, we can be very quick to dismiss the witnesses. And if we are prejudiced and already disinclined to believe the person because of their gender, their race, their religion, if they are in some way, not like us, or not quite the ticket, our belief is likely to be still weaker.

Only Peter of the twelve, went to check out the women’s story. Don’t you think he was glad he did?  Since then, many people have dismissed the gospel message as nonsense, but God is fond of using things that seem on the surface to not make sense, things that seem upside down or back to front to teach us. He delights in turning things on their head and using the small and weak to topple the rich and the powerful. He would rather have his earthly ministry funded by a collective of women than top businessmen, and rather have fishermen and tax collectors as his pupils, than the elite of the Temple schools. He would rather announce his resurrection to a group who were unlikely to be heard, than to government officials. After rising victorious from defeating hell and death, he would rather have a barbeque on the beach with his friends than stand in the arena preaching about his triumph.

Listen. Consider. Believe.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Morguefile.com