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Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Confessions of Shadowing Mental Health Chaplains Part One

Three days in and I have finally found the time and energy to blog about placement. I did my usual underestimation of how difficult I would find it but it has truly been an amazing experience thus far.

Aside from the placement I am flat-sitting for some friends, so I'm learning the mechanics of living alone for the first time as well as a pretty tough day job! I don't do things by halves...

Surprisingly enough I've loved living on my own, cooking for myself and friends and getting my bearings when it comes to power showers and different oven temperatures! I feel in my element being the hostess but when it comes to practicalities such as getting a power shower to work of a morning, I get a bit panicky (!)

On my first day of placement we began with a midday prayer which the whole spiritual care department stop for every day. It was a lovely way to begin and set the tone of the immense amount of praying I've done in the last three days!

I then accompanied Verity, my supervisor to an acute slow rehabilitation unit where she delivered a talk to the staff on what the Spiritual Care department do within the Trust. Practically speaking, the driving around and orientating myself have been a really hard part of the week because as anyone who has been with me when I've had to use my sense of direction - it becomes clear that I have NO sense of direction!

So I got lost on the way to the Shrodells Unit situated at Watford General hospital. I arrived rather harassed at the unit and found it very eye-opening to see not only the conditions of the unit but also how ill the patients are.

The day ended in a lovely fashion, cooking for Kat, Lucy and Lizzie. A fantastic end to a difficult but rewarding day!

Friday, 23 July 2010

“What we are is God's gift to us. What we become is our gift to God.” Eleanor Powell

Since my first year at LST ended, I've been non-stop. Job interviews, away with the family, working full time and then some truly wonderful birthday celebrations before heading back to work! Now I am gearing up to begin my vacation placement with the Hertfordshire Partnership Mental Health Trust Spirituality Department. If that's not enough, for the first time in my live I will be living completely alone for a fortnight, flat sitting for Simon and Suzy. I'm excited to finally be able to act on some of the dreams and passions I've had over the past year and take another step towards what being a grown up as I live alone for a while. 


Joining the 'rat race', commuting up to London everyday and travelling around to different 'centres' in London for work has been a really interesting experience, throughout which the constant refrain in my head has been 'I'm enjoying this - and what's more I will be able to understand something of what the thousands of people who run the rat race every day go through so that I can pastor to them'. Through the most far away experiences from being a pastor, I am learning that God is training me for what he has planned. 


It's weird, because the terror that I so often have felt before big events; starting a new school year exams etc is notably absent. Throughout the interview process I was blessed with what I know to be a God-given calm. I am not a calm person. I panic. I flap and flail. This time, the terror - and I am not exaggerating when I call it terror - had dissipated and in it's place was a spattering excitement and a few butterflies swirling around in my tummy. For me, it truly marks one of the most significant changes that I have undergone this past year. I no longer live in terror. Of course I still get nervous and frightened, but the persistent fear clutching at my chest has gone, and I am more thankful than I can say. 


I was also reminded just how loved I am. My birthday was beautiful and I felt truly cherished by the ones I love - I even got a song written for me on a piece of tissue! Some of my presents moved me to tears with the thought put into them and perhaps the best part of my birthday was the refrain running through my thoughts as I fell asleep the first night of my twenties:


 "I love my life". 


I want to keep loving my life and worshipping the God who gave me that life. Using the life God has given me to reflect His glory on the earth. 

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Remembering

I don't know if you remember where you were five years ago today. The country had been gripped with excitement about Live8 and the Olympic Bid, when in a flash, all that was forgotten.
In our school, in our small corner of Essex, the excitement changed to terror in a flash.

Terrorist Bombs.

In London.

Fear and confusion were everywhere, no-one knew what was going on and we were scared. For me and my friends, it was compounded by the fact that we had not been gripped with excitement, we were struggling to deal with the fact that one of our friends' Dads' had been diagnosed with cancer. Grief, mingled with a sense that we were not grown up enough to handle the situation had dominated our week and now this.

In at IT lesson, all work was abandoned as we all searched through internet news sites, desperate to get our hands on some information that could let us know if our loved ones were safe. Of course the phone lines were down so we were totally reliant on what the internet was telling us. Once we knew our own families were safe, we began to worry about the others we knew who could have been in danger. It was a horrendous day and I barely had space in my head to be thankful that everyone I knew was safe.

I think that week, in all of its terror, I learnt what it means to cry out to God in a new way. I was only fourteen and I had never prayed in that way before, I was truly crying out to God - lamenting. I wanted answers and comfort.

I was reaching beyond any kind of pretence I may have had around my faith or God. This was a gut wrenching cry of agony, and in its midst I knew God was there. I didn't understand, I was hurting, but God was Lord.

It was an important lesson for me. To call out to God in a new way, to cry out in pain - but not forget the sovreignty, the power and the love of God. I learnt to thank God when it feels like there is little to be thankful for.

Today I thank God, for the past five years, for their beauty and brokenness and the for the hope that arises from that.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Looking Back

When I walked through the doors of LST, late September, laden with bags and flanked by my Mum and Dad - I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Yes, I had dreamed and planned and fought to get to LST; it was what I had wanted for over five years. Becoming an LST student was, quite literally a dream come true.
Over the past nine months, I have come to realise that LST is somewhat unique. One of our lecturers described it quite early on as a kind of monastic community, and I'm inclined to agree with him. It is the most infuriating, wonderful, painful, exciting, difficult, insane and amazing place I have ever had the pleasure to be a part of.
The difficulties of my first few weeks have been well-documented, and I am amazed every time I look back to that first week, how far God has brought me, the work He has done in me and through me. In committee meetings over the past month we have been discussing freshers week and in particular, committee on the couch. Committee on the Couch for me, is one of the only clear memories I have of freshers week. It occurred to me, that when I return I will be one of those people that the Freshers will see first - I will be the one among friends, who knows her way around and feels relaxed because it's home. If I can be as nice to the freshers as everyone was to me - I know I'll have done my job well! 
As corny and cliched as it sounds, being at LST has changed me. The love of the people, who allow God to shine through them, the things I have learnt both inside and outside the lecture rooms, the times when I have had a revelation of who God is, and who I am as a creation of Him have turned my world upside down. It's been painful, but amazing. 
I hope I have retained some of the person I arrived as, but I know that I have changed immeasurably - I think it's called growing up...
I still have lots to learn; about God, the world we live in and myself. 
It excites me to see the people I am living and working with, be healed and transformed by the work of God in their lives. It excites me that I've got two whole years left. It excites me that I get to meet more amazing people and grow closer to those I know already. It excites me that God will do more in me and that he will continue to draw me closer. 
It is still strange to me, to be so excited by the future; undoubtedly wonderful but I still find it odd to be living in the present and having hope for the future. It is something I hope I will never take for granted. 
So for now, I'm going to return to the present, which happens to be a beautiful house in the heart of cornwall.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Rest

Okay, so I am not best known for my ability to rest. In fact, the opposite is probably true, I spend a considerable amount of time running around like a headless chicken! The 'headless chicken' look is something that I do quite well...for a while. 

I like being busy, I like working sixteen hours days, because, despite my persistent protestations; I am a workaholic. Yet recently I have been challenged, nagged, threatened, encouraged to rest more. Because despite my desire to keep busy all the time, I know that it isn't really good for me. I can work myself into the ground with ease, but rest? Resting for me feels like harder work than rest. 

It's been exam time at LST, everyone has been stressed and pushed up against and far beyond their limits. For third years, it's been the last push towards a degree they have been working towards for three years. For second years it's that mid-period lag, the time when you most want to give up because you're already exhausted and yet you know you still have a long way to go. For us first years, it's looking back at a whirlwind of a year, wondering how we did it and looking forward to a long summer to recover and return for the serious work!

When trying to argue with a friend that a Sabbath was not needed, my points were, quite frankly, feeble. I think I said something along the line of
"There was that one time when Jesus tried to rest and got followed" and 
"The slaves didn't rest in Egypt" - my responses were greeted with incredibly derisive replies. 
My excuse: "I'm tired!"

Unsurprisingly, they weren't convinced by my argument!

The thing that really got me, apart from my incredibly strange theology, was when I was reminded that God wants the best for us. Resting enables us to be the best we can be. God wants His children to be the best they can be. 

So, I took 26 hours off. I didn't quite know what to do with myself, but I did it. Then I threw myself back into everything with even more work than I had put in before! 

Now, exams over, I write this in bed because I have a chest infection which has made me miserable. It has also made me rest - in every sense of the word. I have leant on God's almighty strength because I have had none of my own. 

I sometimes wonder why on earth I wait until I have nothing left to lean on God. 

Stubbornness? Pride? Perfectionism?

Whatever it is, I think that God commanding us (and He does - it's in the 10 Commandments and everything!) is a way to remind us that He is Holy and the Sabbath is to be His day. The day when everything else fades away. The Sabbath is also about our well being. It is a sign of the love God has for us. God doesn't want burnt out, wrung out and strung out followers. 

This is about us having the life God planned for us. It's not the legalistic 'Sabbath' that means you can't pick up a sock, it's about setting aside time for God, for honouring Him and the body and mind he gave us. 

So, when was the last time you had a Sabbath...? 

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Mud, Stars and Glimpses of Glory

I have quite a few revelatory experiences recently. It's been a strange time. Maniacally busy with work, committee, friends, home and family; I have found myself writing poems and songs to try and evacuate my mind.
The following was written in response to a song written by my friend Amy:

For those children who do not sleep for fear, 
For those girls, seeing pain beyond their years
For those men, polluting what they fear
For the lives, stolen at night.
Those who sit in wait for the morning light. 

There is a voice, whispered
A song, that lingers
Soaring through the stars
Crying for the light

For the boys, not knowing their Dad
For the child, with mouth open wide
For the scars that cannot fade
For the victims who cannot speak out
For the rage, that chills deep within

There is a voice, whispered
A song, that lingers
Soaring on eagle's wings
Longing for the light
----------------------------
The idea of light and glimpses of glory have been prevalent recently. Yesterday in chapel it dawned on me that humanity is a glimpse of glory. God's glory is found in each of us, and yet so often I think of the glory of God when looking at the majesty of the sea and the beauty of the night sky. During the chapel service I wrote the following;
The glory of God is in the fragility of humanity - how strange. The Father looks down on each of us and says,
'You. In you, is my glory'
'But I'm a sinner, broken, ugly, rejected.'
'I know', he replied
'Just look at my Son, scarred, rejected, alone, in agony - 
King of Glory. In My image he is made, you were created in the image of the same.
-----------------------------
I was thinking about the glory of God when I attended a meeting to arrange my vacation placement that evening. I'm pretty sure I saw the Glory of God in the two ladies I met, who worked in the chaplaincy service at Watford General Mental Health ward. There was something very beautiful about the work they were doing and the encouragement they gave me, in being able to be a little part of that work as part of my degree. They recommended a book called 'Mud and Stars' and there seemed to be a strange juxtaposition between the dirt, darkness and ugliness of mud and the beautiful shining light of stars. The ugliness of mental illness and the pain it causes, the beauty and creativity it can create.
This has been a bit of a mish-mash of writings and I'm going to leave you with another poem I jotted when in yesterday's chapel service after we had been talking about how we cannot see anything but a glimpse of God's glory because it is so beautiful, so wonderful and so terrifying that nothing can ever stay the same.

This is Glory
If only a Glimpse
This is Glory
In the power of a King
And the suffering of a Servant
This is Glory
In the faith of sinners
In the cries of slaves
Who bow to you.
This is a glimpse
Of heavenly praise
Glory not self-seeking, but
Glory seen in love divine.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Locusts

A weird title for a blog you may think - and you would be right. In the reading I've been doing about mental health and theology, its an image that crops up again and again. In the book of Joel there are many references to locusts - there is a promise, that one day, God will repay the years the locusts have eaten. There have been a lot of disagreement between scholars about whether these were literal locusts who had eaten crops, or, in the way the verses are often used now - whether it is the promise that God will restore the years that have been eaten away by pain and suffering. The idea that, whether in this life or the new earth - what we go through will never be in vain. I have often found myself referring to those years when I was so ill as 'lost'. The weeks that passed me by when I was trapped inside my head, the darkness. I'm longing for the day when those lost days, weeks months and years are restored.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Sorry seems to be the hardest word?

Apparently. I think it is an overused word. When I was ill, I said sorry ALOT! I thought that my mere existence was a pain and so I apologised to doctors, friends, family - everyone, and then I apologised for apologising.
I catch myself doing it now. I have to think about whether I have anything to feel sorry about and stop myself apologising for everything and anything.
It is something that rears its' head when I am going to be ill, as my friend found out when I apparently apologised after every sentence. It is one of those signals that I have to notice and take note of. It's a new way of living life, somewhere between paranoia and ignorance. It's a learning curve. As are a lot of things, things I might have learnt earlier. Sometimes I feel cheated that I am having to learn these things now, rather than when I was younger - then I remember the incredible grace I have received in the fact that I am still here, writing, talking, laughing. I wrote a poem about the fact that I felt I was learning to breathe a while ago and now I feel like I have to learn to live. To learn things about myself and other people that I perhaps should have learnt when I was living in the underworld. To learn things about God now that I am seeking him in earnest and not just praying for a way out. They are important lessons and maybe they are mildly easier for me because I am no longer a child. I feel so very young sometimes, the life I have led seems a little immature. At other times I feel old, and tired, battered. I am slowly learning that this is ok. That I am ok. I do not have to apologise for being. I have been given a life and I intend to live it fully. Of course I muck up and sometimes need to apologise, but I am realising too, that messing up is not the end of the world. It is part of life. I am not, and never will be perfect - but that doesn't matter. What matters is that I keep my eyes fixed upon the cross, the symbol for all of mankind that we can draw near to God despite all we are and all we do. We are 'ok' because we have were made out of love. I seem to have gone off on a tangent, but that's ok - because we are all, with our pain and joy and struggle, our strength, weakness and sin - we are ok because we were invited 2000 years ago to draw near - and we are still being invited today....

Friday, 19 March 2010

Love

I've been thinking a lot about love lately. When I was younger, I always thought that love was that funny mushy/butterfly feeling you got when the boy you had a crush on brushed past you in the corridor. I knew I loved my Mum in a way that was different from that, in the way that I was (and am) devoted to her. I thought love was a feeling. Either the butterflies or the devotion.
As I've got older, I've come to realise that love is no small number of things. It's the hammering heart, the cuddle, the quiet consideration, random act of kindness, patience, endurance, trust, nearness. It is something that has been put in everyone's heart. We all want it, seek it, fight for it and wish for it. Sometimes it is elusive, other times it is snatched, it can be everlasting and...perfect?
Love brings security, identity, joy...salvation? You hear sometimes, people describing their partners as their 'saviours', the ones who have saved them from some pain or desperation.
If love, as the songs say, is a many splendoured thing that makes the world go round - how can it come from anywhere except the region of heaven and the Father enthroned there?
Father, Saviour, Lord, Yahweh, Love. If God is Love - it can be perfect and everlasting, it can bring security, peace and nearness. What we see of Love on earth is nothing - not compared to what God gives. As we open our arms to embrace the ones we love, we are a reflection of the arms opened wide begging 'Father Forgive'. As couples say their vows on their wedding day, they are echoing the promises of love from God. When our faces light up at the sight of old friends, we are showing the least tincture of the smile that lights the face of the Lord when we turn towards him and give him our praises. Thats the love I want to show to people...do me a favour...remind me of that next time I am moaning..?

Thursday, 18 March 2010

I've been incredibly lax with blogging this term - its' been a bit manic. We started the term with fun in the (snowy) sun, cancelled lectures and not a lot to do was a fun time to catch up with friends and just enjoy being back in the lovely land of LST.

It's been a term of being ill a LOT (and lots of fervent praying for something at least resembling an immune system!). I ran for the position of Welfare Sec on the Student Committee which was, in itself a rather incredible achievement for me. It has been years since I last put myself forward for something that involved votes and suchlike. It felt very right, to be talking about something I am passionate about and being able to say out loud, 'I might be good at this'. I did not get the position - it went to Paul Wragg who I know will do an amazing job and is one of my LST big brothers :) I wasn't sad I didn't get it, I knew, from quite early on that it was running for the role that was important - not whether I got it.

So, when I got approached by the President - Laura, to be the secretary of the committee I was a tad hesitant. I had spent the last year doing admin, and it seemed not to be in line with what I felt I was called to. God had other plans. I did a pro and con list. I showed it to Luke, and he crossed most of my cons out! I had a lot of items on my pro list.

So I said yes. I began to get excited. I began to see that this was God using something I was good at, to aid his work. So I am officially, the Secretary on the London School of Theology Student Committee.

I also sang, as a performance, for the first time in five years. The LST Spring Ball was a somewhat strange experience for me. I sang my heart out. I wasn't as nervous as I thought I would be. I loved it.

These things seem to me, to be ways to grow and stretch me. Things I have been so very afraid of, because I have been so afraid of living. It's not easy. There are things I am still fighting for, fighting through. The dark clouds still loom, the rain still pours sometimes. Yet I, tentatively, am pushing the boundaries of my life.

I'm home again now.

That's it for now...it's been a crazy term. I'm looking forward to the next one :)

Sunday, 24 January 2010

The Beautiful Mind?

Is the name of a conference I am going to in March; I have often wondered whether the Mind is, in fact beautiful. Whether that is because my mind has so often launched attacks on itself, let me down and taken me to some dark and dangerous places.
I often find myself speaking of my mind as a separate entity - and that is because it has so often felt like it is not my own. I have felt as if someone or something lurks in my mind, waiting to strike whenever I let my guard down.
At the same time, it amazes me that despite the desperate times when my mind has turned against me, it also allows me to live, laugh, love, write and read. It can keep me connected to the world as much as it can carry me away into its' own recesses.
The conference is a to help me in my work with ThinkTwice. It is still so much still in the planning stages and yet the passion I have has not wavered. I was reminded again today that God promises to restore the years lost. In Joel it talks of restoring the years the locusts have eaten. I feel as though my teenage years were stolen from me, I was stripped to someone unrecognisable from the child I was, and the woman I am becoming.
I am, after drowning in life and retreating from it, finally dipping my toes in the water again. I am living again. And you know what? It feels really good.

Monday, 18 January 2010

When it is dark enough...you can see stars

It has been quite a while since I last blogged - in fact it was last year! I have been challenged again and again recently to actually DO something about the passion I have for mental health awareness and support. Part of me knows they are almost selfish reasons - I do not want what I have suffered to have been in vain. There has to be a reason I have gone through the last six years.
I also know I have been blessed with a compassionate heart. I want to help those people who are struggling - I want to come alongside them, cry with them, make them smile and make a difference - showing a little bit of God's love to them that might just bring them before the Lord for the first time. Some might term it a 'call', I term it as the thing that makes my heart hammer and want so much to make a difference.
Being at college, I have come to see that I am not alone in what I have struggled with, and I want to help other people know that they are not alone. No two experiences are ever the same, but there is much to be learnt from the joys and sorrows of others.
I have a work in progress when it comes to this idea. An organisation, group, whatever it may be called 'Think Twice' which aims to get alongside people, advocate for them, pray with them and for them and raise awareness that 'mental illness' can affect the 'normal' looking school girl as well as the muttering man so many people cross the street to avoid.
So, you know what? If you fancy getting involved - praying, doing, whatever you can or want to do...drop me a line at rachaelsonali@me.com I would really love to hear from you!
In the mean time...may God really bless you as you face whatever this new week may hold for you.