Tag: disabled blogger

Transitions (life update!)

Transitions (life update!)

I am going to start this post with a personal life update and the reason for the topic this week. Almost 2 weeks ago, I handed in my notice at work, the place I spend 2 days a week and where I get my income from. There are multiple reasons for doing this but the main reasons are my continual struggle with balancing work with pain and fatigue and the desire to put more time and effort into YouBelong to give it the chance to grow in a new way and hopefully, help people.

As of the new year, YouBelong will be the main focus of my week days and I could not be more excited! However, it is a big change and with change comes a dose of fear. Transitions, particularly ones that result in a less sure income, change in routine and people you see day to day, are often scary. Although I am so ready to get stuck in and see what happens, I also have, what I am going to call, the transition terrors.

Arguably, one of the most famous transitions in the bible is the Israelites journey from slaves to free, but more than that, from being fed and sheltered (even if only basically), to finding themselves out in the desert without protection from the elements and with no food or water easily available.

We can’t deny that God was involved in making this happen – He parted the Red Sea so they could cross safely and then closed it down on top of the Egyptians so they couldn’t catch up to and harm the Israelites. You might be wondering why God, who loved His people and freed them from slavery, would leave them in a desert place. Well, the Israelites did too and they brought that up to Moses who told them they just need to trust God and His plans for them. As you may know, they didn’t listen. They got angry at God, even after He sent them manna – food from Heaven! A few years on though, we can retrospectively, that God was working in that time and that the transition, although difficult, was worth it.

This gives me a new level of confidence in God and peace in my situation as although there are a lot of uncertainties and aspects where I feel like I will be worse off leaving work, I feel this is where God is leading me. I will likely come across moments where I feel like I am walking the deserts alone and struggling to find food and water (metaphorically speaking only I hope!), but if God is in the plan, He has a purpose and will provide.

Autumn is a key time of change in the year so being in that time as I go through transitions in my own life makes it easier to remember that though the leaves change colour, when they do so, they are beautiful! Then, they die and fall off BUT they grow back again. The tree doesn’t die, it just changes and adapts to what is going on around it and that is exactly what we have to do, with God guiding us every step of the way.

Are you in a place of change and transition right now? If so, we’d love to hear all about it and walk the journey together. If you feel comfortable doing so, email us at info@youbelong.org.uk or message us on Twitter or Facebook.

The Master Weaver

The Master Weaver

Before you get confused thinking you have clicked on the wrong blog post somehow, let me promise you that this is not a craft blog but indeed a post about God as the master weaver.

Many of us who were once healthy and became unwell and never recovered will likely have had dreams and plans for our future. We might have studied for a career, saved money for a holiday, dated to find a future spouse etc., but when we got sick, these dreams may well have gone down the drain as they were no longer feasible options for us.

In 2015, I had recovered from a surgery to open my oesophagus which enabled me to eat again and I was ready to start studying theology, ministry and mission at degree level at university. When I left for my first term, I still had some weakness, pain and fatigue that had remained after my surgery but felt it would only be a matter of time before that went away. 2 years into the course, it hadn’t gone away. Instead, it got worse and I had to drop the practical elements of my degree and carefully plan my weeks to enable me to attend lectures and do my assignments whilst ensuring I got enough rest in too.

I was struggling and realised that although I might be able to get through the degree if I really pushed myself, the chances of me being able to practically use my degree at the end of it were slim, so what was the point of finishing?! I am a stubborn, or tenacious (a more positive version of the same word) person, so decided if I could, I would complete the course anyway. Around this time, I was introduced to the world of online forums and pages for people like me to chat about our illnesses and discuss the parts of our every day lives that our other friends and family couldn’t understand or relate to. I also found out about some online ministries and even, online churches and figured that although this wasn’t what I had intended to do when I left uni, it was a possible avenue to explore.

You might be familiar with the story of Joseph, the youngest son of Jacob, who was favoured by his Father. This made his older brothers jealous and they decided to sell him as a slave and told their Father he had died in order to get rid of him. Later on in Joseph’s life, after many more obstacles, he finds himself with power and comes face to face with his brothers again. When they finally find out who he is (a few years and cultures apart made him look very different to how they remembered him), they asked him for forgiveness as they feared for their well-being and Joseph said,

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

There are some things that happen in our lives that don’t turn out the way we want or hope them to, but sometimes the way we plan for things to happen isn’t the way that God has written the story. As much as we can have plans and dreams, our final story will be decided by God and more often than not, His way is so much better when we reflect on the options afterwards. He is the master weaver – reweaving the strands of our lives in ways we couldn’t have ever imagined and making it more beautiful than ever before!

Although I had hopes and plans to be a youth worker, that wasn’t in God’s plan. Instead, He is using me to bring together others like me online, to learn more about God, worship Him, tell others about Him and teach the Church that just because we might have a disability or chronic illness, we are not lesser than everyone else. We have lots to give, and God is using us too.

If it hadn’t have been for my chronic illness, and for completing my degree, YouBelong would not have existed, so although some days are hard, I am thankful for this opportunity and excited to see what happens in the next 12 months!

Can you think of a moment in your life that seemed to go wrong or turn out differently to how you planned or anticipated but that ultimately, was used for good? Share your stories with us at http://www.twitter.com/youbelong_2019 or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/youbelong2019

No Shame in Lament

No Shame in Lament

If you follow YouBelong on social media, you will possibly be aware that our founder has been experiencing more crashes, which have left her unable to get out of bed or do anything more than sleep and rest. Each time, these have occurred at the weekend, at the end of a busy week meaning any plans out of office hours had to be cancelled.

If you experience good and bad days with your health, you will likely be aware how frustrating this is. I am not good at expressing how I am feeling (I take myself away from people when I am in pain and when I go to A&E, I am the one making the doctors laugh because my happy instincts kick in despite having not eaten or drunk anything for 48 hours or more, thrown up multiple times over that period and been in horrible pain from spasms). I guess that’s just how I am. Sometimes it’s a positive, as it acts as a distraction at times and ensures that those around me don’t get too worried about me but it also means I struggle to express just how bad I am feeling when I am asked by a doctor, and therefore, am not always taken seriously.

I feel that sometimes, I approach God in the same way. I don’t want to show Him how I am really feeling. ‘There are people worse off than me’, ‘God’s got more important things to deal with’, and sometimes even, ‘He can’t be listening/ care, otherwise He would have done something by now’. We know that is not true. God listens to everything, He even sees our tears and counts them as prayers (Psalm 56:8). Even Jesus wept. That was it. When Lazarus died, Jesus, the Son of God, didn’t have words. He cried. Lament is not far from this. Slightly more than crying, it is about sharing our anguish outwardly with God – ‘expressing grief, pain, suffering or frustration.’

‘And it has a unique purpose: trust. It is a divinely-given invitation to pour out our fears, frustrations, and sorrows for the purpose of helping us to renew our confidence in God.’ – Mark Vroegop
https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/dare-to-hope-in-god

There are texts of lament in Lamentations and in the Psalms. It is not solely an act intended only for the Old Testament era though as Jesus Himself uses one of the Psalms to cry out to God (i.e. lament) when He is on the cross – ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’ This Psalm in the original context of Psalm 22, goes on to turn into praise for God, but Jesus stopped there. No praise, just a simple expression of sadness and pain.

I couldn’t imagine lament as a type of prayer. When I read these parts of the bible, I would view them as humans revealing their imperfectness and Jesus, His human-ness. I certainly never viewed these moments in people’s lives as times of prayer and seeking God. My idea of prayer was, Thanks, Sorry and Please (otherwise known as TSP prayer), where was the lament part in that?! But I was wrong. Crying out to God isn’t wrong. It isn’t attention seeking or unnecessary complaining. When we are suffering, upset, frustrated or grieving, God wants us to go to Him. As our Father, He cares about us and wants to be there to comfort us. He understands. At the same time as dying on the cross, He lost His Son at the hands of those He created and understands our emotions better than we do!

So if you are having a bad day or week due to a flare up of symptoms, the loss of a job, friends, a loved one or frustration at not being able to attend church, visit family or friends or just get out of bed, lament! God is listening. Some of the Psalms end with praise when the Psalmist finds God is with them and they recognise His goodness, but Jesus just did the crying out part. If all we can manage is the crying out, and you are aiming it at God and not just grumbling, know He hears you, and it is as valuable to Him as a carefully planned out, 15 minute, TSP prayer. There is no need to hide our feelings from God. He knows what we are thinking and feeling, He knows every hair on our head. Let us allow ourselves, and our generation of ‘stiff upper lippers’, to grieve and share our pain and suffering with God. It is what He wants us to do and you can bet He will be right there with us, even if you don’t feel Him there at the time.

Glimpses of Heaven

Glimpses of Heaven

Occasionally, we hear stories either in the news or from people we know, that someone has either seen or visited heaven. This often seems to happen when the person is either very ill or injured very badly (i.e.’Heaven is for Real’ and ‘Miracles from Heaven’). Sometimes we might struggle to know whether these people really have seen heaven or whether they have imagined it or perhaps something in between – maybe God sent them a picture/ sense of heaven for comfort. Although we might argue about this, it is harder to argue that people in the bible who were described as having seen/ been to heaven really did or not. Why would God put those stories in the bible if they weren’t true?

There appear to be only 7 people in the bible who saw heaven, or a glimpse of it, including Jesus who was said to have seen heaven upon rising out of the water following baptism:

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” – Mark 1:9-11 (NIV)

Before Jesus’ time on earth, there were only 3 people mentioned who saw glimpses of heaven, Elisha, his servant and Ezekiel:

15 When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked. 16 “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 17 And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. – 2 Kings 6:15-17 (NIV) (thought to be chariots and horses from heaven as they appeared out of nowhere).

Ezekiel saw many glimpses of heaven which are all spoken about throughout his book but it begins with chapter 1, verse 1 which says:

1In my thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God. – Ezekiel 1:1 (NIV)

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, there were also Stephen (Acts 7:55-56), John (Revelation 4:11) and Paul (2 Corinthians 12:2-4). If you want to know more, you can read their stories in the corresponding passages.

Have you ever wondered what heaven is like? Perhaps you’ve always imagined it as a place full of clouds and unicorns with big golden gates with a fancy house sat behind them with God in a big throne and angels all around, or maybe the image in your mind is more like those in the Scriptures.

As I write this, it is gone midnight but I am still awake, ironically, not because the pain is too bad, but because for that 1 in every 1000 times I take pain medication, it has really worked and the pain is almost totally gone leaving a calming tingly, relaxation. When you live with chronic pain, this is a rare feeling so when it happens, I like to lie still and enjoy it – which is exactly what I’m doing now! To me this is as close to a glimpse of heaven as I’ve ever had. A life without pain and suffering and with an overwhelming joy and peace. 

There is a song that I first heard back in 2013, at the start of my chronic illness journey, called ‘You Hold Me Now’, which is written by Hillsong and goes, ‘No weeping, no hurt or pain, no suffering, You hold me now, You hold me now, no darkness, no sick or lame, no hiding, You hold me now, You hold me now.’ This song has come back to me recently whilst I have been thinking about this post and I think this is a really good, yet probably simple, description of what heaven will be like. No more pain, suffering, fear, shame, upset, darkness, just joy, hope, peace, love and comfort.

Therefore, although those short moments in my life when the pain is gone are infrequent and irrelevant to most people, to me, those moments are glimpses of heaven. In the same way, I see heaven when I see a rainbow that reminds us of God’s promises of hope and when I hear the birds singing and feel peaceful and even when I taste something good. These are all God’s blessings to us and small bites of what heaven will be like. I am quite content and excited by the things taking place in my life right now, but I am also so excited for the day when I come face to face with God and get to see heaven in all it’s fullness -not just glimpses but full 20/20 vision, luminescent, panoramic fullness!

Have you had any glimpses of heaven this week? No matter how big or small they might seem, they are glimpses of God’s goodness and what is to come for us in eternity.

Daring to Give

Daring to Give

“But I can’t do that thing,” said the lady as she waved her arms around. She meant sign language. I had asked her if I could sit beside her in a church service, and share her books for the songs and readings. This would help me follow and, in the case of the songs, leave my hands free to sign them.

It is a privilege to guest blog for this site. I was asked to pick out a key way the church has played a part in my journey, and the above story sprang immediately to mind. Because it’s a story of someone doing what she could, despite at first being concerned about what she couldn’t.

Since I was diagnosed with NF2*, and subsequently lost the ability to do various things, including hear, people doing what they can for me have been vital to my journey. People who pray for me. People who speak clearly for me to lipread them. People who carry my cup of tea for me (I have bad balance). People who welcome me. People who are patient. And much, much more.

On a family holiday in the Lake District last August, we decided to climb up to a waterfall. On balance (pardon the pun), it would have been sensible for me to stay behind. But my seven-year-old niece came to me and took my hand; “I’ll help you walk.” And she did. For as far as she was able, and then her mummy took over. My niece couldn’t physically help me over the really difficult parts, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t help. She went in front and told me when there were rocks to avoid tripping on. She did what she could. The lady at church, and my niece, looked beyond what they couldn’t do to what they could. Acknowledging the ‘can’t’, and embracing the ‘can’.

After the service – during which I did share the lady’s books – I thanked her for helping me. She took my hand and, putting ’genuine’ into the word genuine, she said, “It was my pleasure.” It was my pleasure. She really meant it, I could tell. Helping me – yes, me – had given her pleasure. She hadn’t found me a nuisance, or an embarrassment, or an inconvenience.

Often, I can be apologetic, thinking I’m making life difficult for people, hesitant to ask for help. But, if I hadn’t asked, that lady would have missed out on saying ‘it’s my pleasure’ and meaning it. If I hadn’t accepted my niece’s help, if I’d pushed her away, then yes, I’d have missed out on the waterfall. But more than that, I’d have rejected her gift to me. And potentially discouraged her from offering to give to me, or others, in future.

  • Remember that our Lord Jesus said, “More blessings come from giving than from receiving.” Acts 20:35b

By daring to allow ourselves to be vulnerable, to ask for help, to admit our weaknesses, we offer people opportunity for blessing. Opportunity to give to us, and so receive what is better. And, in a glorious paradox, as we offer that opportunity, we, too, are giving. We, too, are blessed. We, too, do what is better. And we become more and more caught up in the body of Christ, of which each one of us is a part (cf 1 Corinthians 12). Growing together.

  • In Him (Christ Jesus) the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.. Ephesians 2:21, 22

How good are we at allowing others to give?

Emily sometimes describes herself as a professional patient. She has spent a fair bit of her life in hospital and knows more medical jargon than she ever wished to. Thankfully for her, this is offset by an amazing medical team.
Emily is an author and speaker. Most of her books have been written, at least in part, from a hospital/recuperation bed and, she hopes, are more accessible than above mentioned jargon. For more information, please see the links below.

Emily’s books: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Emily-Owen/e/B01EWPKC9W?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1569511001&sr=8-1
*More about NF2: https://nervetumours.org.uk/what-are-nerve-tumours/what-is-nf2
Emily’s website: http://www.emily-owen.co.uk/

Peace in the Storm

Peace in the Storm

As some of you will know, I have been very absent from social media as a result of illness. When I first became unwell on Thursday, I didn’t think much of it as I often have Thursday reserved as a rest (which often turns into a crash) day but this one was worse than it has been in a while. As the day went on, I felt worse instead of better as I would expect to do so. I work in the office doing my 9-5 job on Wednesdays and Fridays so needed to be ready for that but as Thursday night came and I hadn’t left my bed and felt too nauseous to eat and too dizzy to stand and too exhausted to even make sense of basic words on social media, I knew something wasn’t right. I was aware that a bug was going round but I didn’t really have regular symptoms in the way I would expect. I felt awful.

If this was a stomach bug, I figured I would have had these symptoms before the rest of it and if it was the flu, I would have more of the cold symptoms which I did not have. In desperation, I cried out for relief from it all but mostly, my mind was focused on being afraid. Terrifed that this would be more than just a virus which would go away in a few days but instead a new normal. My new way of life due to over exerting my body. If this was the case, it would mean that I would be unable to work to pay the bills or spend time on YouBelong or engage in fun activities such as spending time with friends and family.

I felt like I was caught up in a storm. Rains that brought pain, wind that brought dizziness, fog that brought exhaustion and waves that broughht nausea and sickness. This analogy rolled around my mind as I lay in bed but still the connection didn’t come – until now:

‘Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”’ – Matthew 8:23-27

When the wind, fog, rain and waves ecumulated into a massive storm around the boat the disciples were in, they didn’t hesitate to wake Jesus. They knew He had the power to calm it and calm it He did. I did cry out in desperation for it all to stop but mostly out of frustration. I for sure never cried out that Jesus would bring peace to my storm. I wonder what might have happened if I did?

Peace is something that Jesus promises us – ‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’ – John 16:33, but did you know that peace is a fruit of the Spirit. It is not something we just have or get, but something we grow and work towards. Often, this happens by enduring our own storms and asking God to work in us in those situations to help us rest peacefully in Him. If we do that, He promises to give us the peace that we need.

What area of your life do you most need peace right now? Ask God to bring peace into the situation and think of ways in which you might be able to action that peace. If, like me, your storm is a sickness, pray for peace and then take the opportunity to sit or lay quietly and rest in God’s peace and rest for you. If it is a rocky relationship, ask God for peace and perhaps send that person a nice text or a gift to help mend the breaks. Whatever it is, be a peace grower in your world but remember, you are not alone – God is always with you.

Bringing structure to YouBelong

Bringing structure to YouBelong

Today’s post is a bit different to the usual ones but hopefully still of interest and even a little bit interactive!

If you follow us on Twitter or Facebook, you might have started to notice some more structure and recurring themes each week. This is partially because it helps us to keep up the content and ensure it is frequent and also that it offers something for everyone (hopefully!). I thought it might be a good idea to explain this new structure so as you can know what to expect when following YouBelong on those structures and if you don’t follow us on social media already, perhaps this will help you see what we do and give you an insight into what you can expect to find in the community there.

Monday
Monday is the first day of the regular working week and therefore I wanted to keep things light and encouraging and open up the community members to receive prayer or, if you feel like you would like to, to pray with or for those who comment their prayer requests for themselves and others. Sometimes the posts on a Monday will be minimal and may consist solely of a post asking for people to post their prayer requests and for others to pray with those people and other times there will be some prayers to pray together or some other more creative prayerful posts. In order to keep things memorable, Monday is Mediation Monday – meditation meaning intervene on behalf of others. In this case, the idea is we intervene for others and take their prayer requests to God, somtimes known in churches .

Tuesday
Transient Tuesday as it is now to be known as, is the day I will be sharing my short(ish) blog posts. The word ‘transient’ isn’t really the right word to use but I wanted to keep the same pattern of names with the same first letter as the day name throughout and it’s not that far off! As well as sharing our most recent blog post, we will also be encouraging you to share yours with us by tagging @YouBelong_2019 and #TransientTuesday and we will share as many as possible.

Wednesday
Each Wednesday is going to all things worship. There will be a mixture of worship and praise songs and verses from the bible about worship and sometimes there might even be some quotes or stories about people worshipping God in amazing ways. Some weeks there will be multiple posts and some days will be more quiet due to other commitments but I will do my up most best to ensure there is always something.

Thursday
Thursday, or Theological Thursday as it will now be referred to, is a day to post about some theological questions (sometimes these will be prompted by issues raised in the news or from the blog posts on the Tuesday and sometimes they will be generic theology discussions surrounding church, faith and chronic illness/ disability and other topics that arise in these contexts. We will be encouraging as much interaction as possible and we want to hear a variety of experiences and opinions – all we ask is that we keep the discussions pleasant so as not to upset others in the community. Encouraging others to see our point of view is one thing, forcing our opinion on others or telling them they are wrong is another and will not be tolerated. We are a Christian community so although we will have differences, we have one big thing in common and that is Jesus who showed patience and understanding and love towards all, even those who were clearly wrong and against anything and everything Jesus stood for.

Friday
The one word I use more than any other when describing YouBelong to other people is family or community, therefore, Fridays have come to be known as Family Friday as a way of encouraging people in the community to share a bit about themselves so that we might get to know one another better. At the moment, each Friday has been kicked off with a question posted from the YouBelong account which could range from asking about the members’ favourite colour or animal or food, the place they live, their favourite memory or almost anything else about them as a person and the world they live in. The hope is we will find some things in common to talk about and just generally get to know each other a bit more beyond our illness and disabilities.

Saturday
This is a bit different to others mostly because I, the owner and founder of YouBelong, am currently working part time whilst being full time ill, and trying to grow and maintain YouBelong, the one area of my life I am passionate about and working to make into my job full time. Due to my lack of time and energy, and needing a down day, Saturday has been labelled as Spontaneous Saturday giving us some freedom from posting at particular times of the day or with a certain style of post. Sometimes there might be no posts on a Saturday and other Saturdays might have 10 or 20 posts which might be about what we have been up to in YouBelong world or some interesting posts from others, a beautiful passage we have discovered in a book or almost anything else! I hope you are okay with and understand why this is the case. Hopefully in the coming weeks and months as the team grows and we can get some funding the word ‘spontaneous’ might just become something a bit more interesting!

Sunday
Finally, Sunday. I say finally because as someone in a 9-5 job, Monday is the start of my week although I see Sunday as both the beginning and the end (that makes me think of another key figure in YouBelong land who is the beginning and the end…) so although I had a lot of ideas that would have been nice to use for Sunday, as some of the community attend a physical church and others do not, I thought it would be nice to have Still Sunday. So far, it has been shaped around church attendance in the UK being most common in the morning and the majority of the Christian community having Sunday afternoon and evening as a time of rest and time to spend with friends and family. Therefore, Still Sunday will consist of a few posts, sometimes in a block and sometimes scattered througout the day, encouraging us to be still in sit in God’s presence, to say thank you for the week gone by, raise any worries we have as a result of the week just gone and say thank you for the week that is coming and think about where we might need God with us more thann normal, bring others to Him who mighht need an extra special tough and to listen to what He might have to say to us. There will a variety (like on Worship Wednesday) of verses, songs, thoughts, prayers and more so hopefully, there will be something for people from all backgrounds, traditions and lifestyles.

I am really looking forward to seeing how this works out going forward especially as it should mean I am able to connect with more of you and I hope this more frequent and structured approach will enable more people to learn about the YouBelong community and join us as we support one another and spend time together, and alone, with God.