Monday, 23 April 2012

The Whole Hague is Limping

I didn't take the weekend off the challenge friends - I've just been too busy (or lazy) to update you ... so here is Friday, Saturday and Sunday's experiences all roled in to one post - now there's efficiency.

Friday 20th April: This morning, a dear friend of mine Skyped me because she needed prayer. I shan't go into too great detail, for fear the squeamish among you would not appreciate that and also because she might not want her boobie news broadcast on the worldwide web. In short however, she was having problems breastfeeding her baby. I cannot even imagine. Well, I prayed for her and then we both got on with our days.

Work was fairly usual. I still couldn't see Marilyn on the playground at school, and remain in the dark as to the progress of her recently-operated-on leg. I prayed for one of the children that I take care of, who told me she was sick, but I have a feeling this was some sort of prank to guilt me into giving her chocolate, which I had previously refused.

Forgetting my Skype prayer and this prayer for child 3 (for confidentiality purposes - ooo how exciting), as I cycled home I was determined that I must find someone to pray for. As I was cycling through the Buitenhof (the area outside the Prime Minister's Office) I saw an oncoming couple, wonky on one side. The man was limping. Quicker than a stealthy predator surfacing after a 40 day fast, I hopped off my moving bike. "Ik zie dat je heb pijn in jou been?" (I can see you have pain in your leg?). [Dutch followers, sorry if my grammar offends you, but you got to do what you got to do!]

"Ja, ik heb" said the man, rather confused.
"Kan ik voor jou bidden? Ik ben een Christian." (Can I pray for you then?)
I can't recall what his answer exactly was, but with a sort of polite and pitiful smile, him and his wife informed me that prayer wouldn't help (what do they know!). I decided not to push the matter, because my stomach was rumbling. I wished them a fine evening and recieved a slightly perturbed pat of gratitude before I was back on my bike and pedalling into the distance thinking, "Well God, I did offer."

The offer alone however did not satisfy my craving for God to break into someone's life today. Next thing, I was in the Albert Heijn supermarket aisle, spending far too much time deliberating on which type on honey I should purchase when I noticed another limper out of the corner of my eye! Engaged as I was with the honey, he slipped (or rather hobbled) away unaccosted by me; but I felt an urge to go after him. I excitedly buzzed on over to his station- a bulging trolley - where his wife arrived simultaneously. So this is a slightly awkward scenario, the Friday evening Albert Heijn chaos, but what the heck. Same old drill. "Heb je pijn in jou been?" This time I was told that the leg would get better by itself. I was a bit more determined this time, and asked if he didn't want it to go away now? Either he didn't, or I had just freaked the poor guy out. But I got an appreciative smile from this pair, before another (this time more endearing) pat sent me on my way.

Perhaps I was a tiny bit discouraged. God I had really wanted to see someone healed today. I'm sure you do do it! Well, when I was out later that night at the cheesiest venue of my entire partying career, I received a text form the friend, whose breast I had prayed for earlier on Skype. Thanks for prayer, she was feeding again. Praise God! (I have a handful of stories pertaining to prayer and the commencement/cessation of bodily fluids).

Saturday 21st April: Having just discoverd that yet another pair of jeans had ripped in the good old-favourite crotch region (am I putting on weight, or is this due to five years wear and tear and biking? I prefer the latter explanation), I couldn't possibly avoid a jean-shopping trip to the city centre. Now, I confess, that when it comes to shopping, I am like a high-powered business woman on speed; in my very special zone until I find exactly what I want - normal cravings for food, water and other such vital substances, put on hold. But as I was decidedly marching through the bustling streets, I remembered that I must not make today all about me. Whatever my current status (be that chillaxing or stressfully going in search of the perfect pair of jeans), I am an ambassador for God's Kingdom and I need to be available for him today. Someone within this tin of sardines is in need of a touch of his love. And then I see him - another limper. Without hesistating to wonder why the whole Hague is limping (was there a marathon recently?) I go through the routine, "Heb je pijn in jou been?" (No need for translation this time my anglophones, you know the score...) He however did need translation, because this dude was a fellow English man. So I asked again, "Have you got a pain in your leg?"

He told me that he had and so I asked him if he'd like me to pray for him. He seemed dead chuffed and we pushed our way through V&D's crowds to get to a more quiet spot just outside. In the meantime I asked his name and discovered a bit about John and how long he'd been in The Hague for. He had such a remarkable story. The reason for his limp, was not a marathon, but varrucaes all over his feet and another problem from an injury 12 years ago. John lived on the streets and had not been able to get treatment. So I prayed for him, and expectantly asked if the pain had been diminished. "No" was his reply. I encouraged him, that I'm definitely sure that God does and can heal and I don't completely know why it doesn't happen when I expect it to and often does when I least expect it to (maybe it has to do with complete dependency on him). I say that we should pray again later, but first offer to take John for some lunch, which is like Christmas come early for him. On the way, we chat some more and I find out that of all the places in the UK, he comes from my home town - LEICESTER (in moments of elation, I refer to it as LESTA-da-BESTA). This explains why I found his accent so comforting. We chat some more, and I pray again, but still to no physical avail. Although, I am certain of one thing, God has used me to show John how much he cares and John is grinning all over, telling me what a great day this is.

Sunday 22nd April: drum roll ... IT'S SABBATH TIME BABY! Is God more effective on Sundays? Definitely not. I'm just being dramatic. Anyhow, I always get excited about church Redeemer International Church. shameless plug! No opportunities arise at church to pray for anyone. But after church I go with some friends to the trusty Albert Heijn for the 3rd time this weekend. And just who should be outside? "John!" I hollar, much to the amazement of the passing shoppers and his other homeless cronies. I find out that they are Peter and Jakob from Poland and Willem from NL. After our introductions, I realise they are all hungry, so get them all some food and then offer to pray for Jakob, who's on some sort of zimmer thing. John explains that he's got titanium in his foot due to some terrible accident, because Jakob doesn't speak any English. So I gesture that I am going to pray for him, put a hand on him and just pray for God's healing and blessing to come. I didn't stick around to see if there was any improvement. I am completely trusting God that there will be physical breakthrough in all of this, but the thing that I am perhaps learning the most is that God is so passionately in love with the down and outs of society and in being up for praying for people, he's introducing me to some of his friends and followers that normally I might have frowned at, along with the other affluent shoppers. Jakob's eyes smile and he points up towards God and touches his heart, saying "Jesus". Too right Jakob, we might have nothing else in common, but I'm glad that the most beautiful person in all the universe connects us during this brief and beautiful moment.

I'm nearly up, becaue this post is long and you've probably got things to be getting on with, if you haven't already given up by now. But I was chatting to another friend on Skype this afternoon and I ended up praying for her neck. Somehow something dodge has happened to her spine and she gets a lot of pain in her neck when she's sat still for any length of time. After I'd prayed for her, I asked her how she was doing and she said that her neck felt all hot. Now this is a great sign! Many people that I know who also pray for healing testify that heat is often indicative of the Holy Spirit doing something - I hasten to add for the sceptics, that my hand was not on her neck - this was a virtual conversation. My friend, will update me after her lecture on Monday, if there's been any improvement. I wait with baited breath.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

No need to be narrow minded

I have been unable to pray for anyone's physical healing today. It's not that I wasn't up for it or looking out for signs of physical impairment; there just wasn't an opportunity. (Apart from maybe with the three zimmer frame's owners in the supermarket. Maybe God is trying to challenge me on yesterday's conclusion about not praying for OAPs. If I see another tomorrow, maybe I will just take the plunge.)

Being deliberately open to God today though has led me to pray for three people, that had I met last week (before I felt prompted to start this whole stepping out thing), I might not have ended up praying for. The first was the cleaner Doris. From previous Thursdays preparing dinner for the children in the kitchen that Doris has just cleaned because of the children, I have got to know her a little bit. She's a wonderful African lady with a great big smile. I knew that a few weeks back she'd been suffering with a bad back, so I inquired today how she was. She told me that her back was completely fine because the root cause of the pain, was another cleaning job, which required some back-crippling repetitive motions and her contract there had recently come to a close. Great that there's no pain anymore, but she also confided that she now needs another job to compensate for the loss of hours and pay. I asked her if I could pray for her to find another job. She hesitantly accepted my offer and insisted that she didn't want anything more than 3 hours a day in the morning. So I relayed the specifics of her situation to a wonderful person I know can help. My God isn't just a healer, he's a provider and I don't want to refuse to pray for people's other needs as I go about these 30 days. Afterall, one of the reasons that I believe God loves to heal people is because it demonstrates his love for them, but he can demonstrate his love in so many other practical ways too. Let's hope for Doris that because we presented her request to the King, she gets her ideal job!

The next person that I was able to pray for today was an ever so slightly odd, but charming wrinkly man from Curacao. He remarked on the family's dog Mac, as I untied him outside of the supermarket. God prompted me to take the opportunity to strike up a conversation with him, rather than pretend I hadn't heard him (often a tempting option when you get accosted by weirdos about town). Manuel, as I discovered his name was, might have been externally odd in appearence, but he was such a sweet old man who I am glad to have met today. We chatted for a little while yo-yo-ing between his adequate English and my amateur Dutch about our origins and whether he liked my dog. After these niceities, I explained that I was a Christian and believed in healing and asked whether he had anything physically wrong with his body that I could pray for. He said that there was nothing at all, but he suddenly wanted to talk some more, so we walked together past his house and he told me about a prophet that I've never heard of before and about his life philsophy. Before we parted, he said that I could pray for his well being, which I did as I left.

"Thank you God for Manuel. Please bless him with the joy and peace that comes from knowing you. Please help me to be more open to meeting men and women that you created and love dearly, that I might share your love with them and help me not to be so judgemental about outward appearances."

So I looked out on the playground today for Marilyn, the Spannish lady who's leg I prayed for yesterday. But I couldn't see her anywhere. I'll be sure to keep a look out tomorrow and let you know how she's getting on. I wondered today whether there was anyone else God might like me to pray for at school, but I just didn't feel a pull towards anyone.

Once at home with the kids, I wondered if my options to pray for healing had dried up for the day. "God I am up for praying for someone for healing, but you kind of have to show me who." None of the kids got sick today, but after work I went to visit some friends that I haven't seen for ages. They're both Hindu and quizzed my brain for hours on Christianity. I did my best to answer their questions and dispell their confusion. Before I left, I asked them if any of them had any physical need that I could pray for. My friend asked if I would pray for anything other than physical healing because she'd really like prayer for her mum. Of course, no prayer request is void, God cares about it all. From my experience, praying for someone no matter what the issue, touches them in such a special way, that I love to do it.

Today I think God has challenged me that over these 30 days of making myself especially available to him, there's no need to be narrow minded and insist that I pray for physical healing - although these kind of prayers can be exciting and often see "spooky" instant results, I think God heals men and women as an expression that they are not forgotten by him. Any kind of prayer though, can communicate to an individual that they have significance before the God who created and cherishes them. I'm up for informing people that they are loved by God!

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Prayer on the playground

As the first glimpses of light peeped through my heavy eyelids this morning, an immediate awareness interrupted my bleary state. Day two of my personal 30 day commitment to pray for healing. Anticipation mixed with disorientation - who, what and where today?

Cycling on my way to work today I prayed constantly, keeping my eyes peeled for any visible signs of physical deterioration. I was scouring the pavements so hard, that slightly dangerous cycling ensued. Fortunately, I avoided collision - although had I not, perhaps I could have prayed for myself? Anyway, except for an old guy with a zimmer frame, I didn't see a soul outwardly in need of healing prayer. Maybe, I passed up an opportunity with him, but I'm not quite sure how I feel about praying for oldies. If you're old, you're nearing your end anyway and I figure that at some point a dose of bad health normally does proceed the ultimate fall. Is my theology there in need of a little tweak?

I arrived at the house where I work as a nanny without success. So after some laundry and dinner preparation (a tasty chorizo and chickpea stew) I figured that if I took the dog out for a walk, I might stumble across someone in the woods to pray for. I didn't. And this could only mean one thing: unless I am going to be required to stop off in the city centre late tonight on my way home from work, the likelihood is I will have to find someone on the playground at the British School when I go to collect the children. A squirm-worthy thought.

So the BSN (British School of the Netherlands) playground is full of yummy mummies and Louis Vuitton leather. I feel a bit awkward there at the best of times; in part because I am not clad to quite the same standard, but also because I am not the mother of the children I am collecting, which means I don't know the other mother's from their coffee mornings or other middle-aged socials, and finally because I am clearly too young to be the mother of these-aged children and therefore I am a visibly identifiable nanny, which makes me feel slightly second class.
I collected the youngest, all the time spying out some imperfection amongst his classmate's guardians, but there were none. Out onto the rainy playground we went. This is normally the time of day that my four year old has me pretending to be a teradactul and flying over imaginary volcanoes as we wait for the older two to come out of their classrooms. Today however, I was distracted, eagerly and yet hesistantly waiting for my moment. That's when I saw a lady limp right over the playground. Now I knew I couldn't go over to her straight away because I had to stay in view for my kids to come out. Just then my middle child came over to me and I could see out of the corner of my eye the had-been-limping lady talking animately to someone about her disfunctional leg. The conversation was coming to a close. For fear that she would hobble right out of the playground never to be seen again, I dashed over to her indicating that the children should follow me. As I reached her, my final child arrived too, a bit confused as to what I was doing. They get rather embarrassed of me at times, but I like to think they find me endearing.
"Excuse me, I couldn't help but notice that you were limping. Is your leg OK?"
"Did you hear me?" she replied.
"Oh no," I assured her that I hadn't been listening in on her conversation. "I just saw you limping and you see the thing is, I'm a Christian and I believe God can heal. Would you like me to pray for you?"
Immediately her tone softened and she took my hand tenderly - she was a middle-aged Spannish lady, which made this gesture quite natural - not that I'm one to easily feel uncomfortable. I asked her name, which I think was the Spannish equivalent of Marilyn and told her mine. She told me that she was recovering from an operation on her leg and was really struggling, having just returned to work (also as nanny). She said that she suffered from pain, particularly at night. After she asked whether I went to church and then what kind of church and told me she was Catholic, she agreed to let me pray for her. I did so there and then in the playground, quite promptly, as I had my three children observing awkwardly from the sidelines and she had to scoot off to collect her own. But she was so touched and insisted that I catch up with her on the playground with her tomorrow. I will do that and I hope to share with you tomorrow that her leg is doing much better!

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

I've got the Dutch, let's get back the Courage

So I'm back for 30 days at least.

A whole LOT has occurred since June 11 2011, which I've just seen was my last post. Since then I've attained an MA in Religion, Science and Ethics: Philosophical Approaches, moved into the beating heart of the Hague (or rather the contorted upper lip that is the wealthy Statenkwartier area) and progressed a fair amount with my Dutch. Nu kan ik een biedtje Nederlands gelesen en mijn liefelings Nederlands vehaal is over een Beer en een Aap! Oh yeah, and I've become an Nanny to four wonderful children. [There is much more that could be inserted here, but those few facts will serve as the headlines to bring us up to speed.]

I'm back on the blogosphere, not because Dutch life has become a bore and driven me into ego-centric cyber activity, but because it has been brought to my attention that my initial fervour for adventure has become dimmed over the last five months or so. I'm more integrated in Dutch life than I was then, but this integration has been accompanied by a kind of apathy when it comes to "stepping out" for God. I think that's in part a fair assessment of my predicament - I've become a little comfortable and thus less Kingdom-focused. But that's only half of the story. The other reason is perhaps that I spent the best part of last year writing my MA thesis on supernatural healing. My attempts at objective, academic scrutiny and investigation were insightful, enthralling, but at the same time exasperating and a little bit painful. It was a long and laborous task (20,000 words!) that left me dampened and confused, and as a result I hung up my coat and thought it easier not to dwell on the topic anymore.

You know what though? As much as I have tried to ignore the topic of healing and praying for it in Jesus' name, there's been an underlying nagging for some time and a desire that I would get back on it in terms of praying for people - friends and randoms alike. Well, I've sulked and been bitter, but after a few recent challenges from some super people - I've decided that rather than agonise over the specifics and unanswerables of Christian healing theology, I could just give it a shot and be taught by "doing it" again, rather than theorizing. So I've said to God, that in an attempt to heal myself from the hurt and disorientation that writing my thesis has caused, that I will commit to praying for someone for healing every day for 30 days. (I'm going to blog about it daily to make sure I do it). God, please show me your heart for healing as I actually start praying for people again and see what happens.

April 17 2012, 7.17pm: I'm cycling to my church small group and I'm thinking today is almost up. Who can I pray for God? Come on, I'm available and I'm up for praying for someone. I park my bike outside my friend's house and am thinking, "I hope someone from small group needs prayer, because my options are eradicating by the second". And then, just as I park up my bike I see two (slighty shady-looking) Asian blokes walk past. One is hobbling - or is he strutting? - hard to tell. Right, what the heck, I'm gonna just do this.
They look at me. "Sprek je Engels?".
Damn. I'm gonna have to do this in Dutch. I string a mock-Dutch sentence together, which can't make much grammatical sense and the fellas must hear something like, "I am Christian. Is your leg pain? Can I pray for you? I have prayed seen people better become. Can I pray now for leg you?" The guy looks perplexed. He says that his leg is in pain and am I wanting to pray for him at home? I tell him that I mean to pray for him now, but he refuses the offer, so I ask his name and then assure him that I will pray for him when I get home. I wish them "fijn avond" (fine evening) and awkwardly shift a metre away to the front door of my friend. They walk past me seconds later and say "dank je wel" and there's an air of deep gratitude, mingled with "what a weirdo" in his voice.

Anyway, Jesus, thanks for Ricardo. Thank you that you love him. Thank you that you heal even today. Thank you that you have shown me countless times on skype and facebook chat that even the internet is an appropriate medium for healing. Would you take all the pain away from Ricardo right now and cause him to be amazed and in wonder of you - to your glory and his joy. Amen!

Friday, 3 June 2011

Interreligious Uncertainty

Wow, so it has been a while indeed...

So I mentioned last time that I was off to Istanbul on my course. It was a really intense experience. Not only time-wise - contrary to the cheap holiday I had hoped I'd signed up for - it was an exhausting 9am-6pm fortnight of lectures. The conference was on interreligious dialogue in South East Europe and we covered issues surrounding Muslim-Christian relations. Some lectures I wasn't expert enough in the field to follow and others aren't adequately described by the term 'thought provoking'. The whole experience really got me itching. Not only the academic programme, but socialising with the other participants from diverse cultural-religious backgrounds became somewhat of a personal epidemic, demanding my attention: my [per]spect[ive]acles were after-all of the western, baptist-come-charismatic christian variety. But over the course of my time there, I began to realise that not only are there Muslims with as equal a strength of convictions as mine, but there are Christians from other parts of the world and other traditions, whose faith manifests itself in a manner completely alien to me. This realisation, that I am not the measure of all things, proved a bit tumultuous at first, but clearly in need of this sobering I have been mulling things over since and hope as a result that I am now less dogmatic. After all, the world will keep spinning on its axis irregardless of my lack of answers. What's more, things might shake up the nitty gritty of my theology, but nothing can take my experience of God away from me.

Anyway for fear of boring you, I shall put down my semi-philosophical meanderings, in favour of some more practical narrative. Since getting back from Istanbul, the reality of impending deadlines have been hovering over me like clouds and I have been seeking to shoot them down like Beijing before the 2008 Olympics. I have also had to say goodbye to two great friends who were studying at Leiden on Erasmus and having finished their programmes have returned to the UK (Johnny and Sophie I will miss you!). A rather strange phenomenon in two respects: 1. I still have a 20,000 word thesis to achieve and will not myself finish until the beginning of August; 2. Even then, I will not be following them back to the UK, having decided to stay put for at least another year.

For a while I felt like I was in exile here, being prevented from returning to my motherland and her benefits, but in a rather unspectacular way, God has whispered peace to me about remaining here. I had been umming and arring like ayo-yo for weeks as to whether to stay or go and just felt the need for decision rising up in me. So that's what I did. I don't exactly know what the following year will hold, but what I do know is that God will provide for me as He did before and always has done. I will have to seek some form of employment to pay my way, but have been offered a place to stay with my favourite Dutch couple (a wonderful pair from my church). Thus, I will imminently be turfed out of my sublet residence in Leiden and hit the Hague's suburbia. Whether I try my hand at bar-tending once more or take on a humble occupation as a cleaner, (or perhaps something more glam will pop up) I will again determine to simply put my efforts into seeking first God's kingdom. A tried and tested cliche, I need some serious shuffling of perspective to make this possible. Besides earning some dollar and serving the King, I will make a proper effort to learn Dutch. My pathetic 'beetje' of Dutch so far is part and parcel of a distraction in MA-form, but I hope that once my study becomes another shiny piece of paper, I will have the mental space to seriously tackle the acquisition of another language.

I know you'll be wondering, what's a little further down the line? Well, at present (and I stress at present) the longer term goal is to train to be a secondary RE and Philosophy teacher. I have realised that I have a knack for explanation and what's more find myself really drawn towards teenagers. On top of that, the Istanbul experience did really stimulate me to think about promoting interreligious dialogue and open-mindedness. I wasn't really sure, who outside the walls of our conference would be affected by our abstract musings, but nevertheless thought we were getting at something. If our aloof considerations and inconclusive conclusions could be translated so that they become accessible to the many (rather than the academic few) and at a much earlier stage in education, then they could help to shape the thinking of influenceable young people, before their open minds become closed, and beyond that promote peace and understanding. I wonder if this could be my role as teacher? Sometimes we can snuff at this profession.

That being said, whilst I will apply for some teacher training programmes in the UK for 2012, I'm not 100% convinced that this will all come to pass. God has a habit of surprising me and my plans will thus reflect this in their pliability and openness to amendment. After all, life with God is an adventure and too much planning takes away the fun. I guess this blog is in essence an elongated and rather poetic way of saying, I really don't know what's around the corner.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Alive and Kicking

I have been insanely busy since I last blogged - I have absorbed copious literature and secreted a 19 page essay on healing over the last few weeks ... exhausting and mind-frazzling. What this means is that I am intellectually bankrupt and incapable of creating any novel material this evening. I imagine it will be a while until I blog again (I'm going to Istanbul for 2 weeks as part of my course - what a hard life). However, I have just - whilst thoroughly tidying my room for the first time this semester - unearthed a poem that I wrote a little while ago and I thought I could share it with you. It very much reflects the spirit of the motivation behind the essay I have just been writing and my thoughts on healing and the Christian life in general as I perceive it.

I don’t want to live a normal life,

Don’t want to give up sex, drugs, inebriation

And not replace the thrill with a new sensation.

I don’t want to suck the joy out of my being

And replace laughter for stillness

Dancing for kneeling,

But I want to live my life to the full.

Her solemnity is not a reflection of my saviour

His rigidity is not an imitation

Their ritual does not proclaim him

Empty religion does not honour him.

On most days I’m radical

On Sundays they’re cynical, sceptical

I’m over the top – I don’t think so,

It’s just that he fills me until I have to go

The passion it just overflows

What he’s done for me no other man ever could;

No other man ever would.

They pretend to herald the good book

I wonder if they’ve had a good look

As they fallaciously traditionalise

Birthing unbiblical rigour

Fairytale, fable, fiction minus action

Their twisted version, a boring perversion

Of a living freedom, a free invitation

To a much faster experience

A more intense kick

Laced with superior spirituality,

Supernatural expectancy:

The dead raised, lepers leaping

Blind men seeing

He said it would never stop

He said it would never stop


But greater things he announced

We would pronounce

With holy articulation, righteous authority

Graceful affirmation, miraculous authentication.

They want to introduce you to doctrine

But I want you to meet my man

Breathing oxygen into these formerly withering bones

I exhale captivity, inhale freedom

Shackles broken.

So give me an adventure of faith

Abandon me to the unworldly, otherworldy way

Which I was created to walk in.

Oh and one other thing, a preemptive HAPPY EASTER! Jesus is alive and kicking.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

I don't have to say anything

I think I talk too much,
Predicating to my mind
thoughts I'm not sure there abide.

I must be still
and know you are God
Silent, and know who am I.

Calm my active, wagging tongue
Harbour this dissonant song
and only allow harmony.

I don't want to give myself away
parcelled oft in uncareful words.

Protect this fragile heart of mine
Block the gush of biographical verse
I think from now, I'll talk less.

So I'm feeling pretty down at the moment. If you're a prayer, please send one up for me!