Tag: theology

1 Year Review and Looking Forward…

1 Year Review and Looking Forward…

I cannot believe that after creating a Twitter account one year ago, YouBelong would be what it is now and heading in the direction it seems to be!

At the time, my Mum was working in a cafe and as I had a hospital appointment later that day, I decided to go into work with her to wait for my appointment. I can’t remember exactly what was going through my head other than that I had just completed my theology degree and was wondering what the purpose of it was as I was too unwell to use it. Then I was reminded of something my course director had told me about – online church. I didn’t really know what that would look like but knew there must be others like me who were too unwell to attend church some weeks, or maybe even every week, and others who could physically attend church but felt isolated by the complex theology and ‘Chistianese’ used in many churches. I can attend church most weeks, with the help of my parents, but have avoided some churches not because I cannot physically access them or because I can’t understand them, but because their theological teaching around pain, suffering and disability is damaging and hurtful. By giving others a safe place to share their thoughts and concerns around balancing life as a Christian with a life as a disabled or chronically ill person, and discover that God isn’t as harsh and judgmental, or formula abiding, as some places make Him out to be.

I quickly knew this project was going to be bigger than I ever intended or imagined when the number of followers grew. This was confirmed to me whilst at Spring Harvest just before Easter when a number of church leaders told me about people they knew of, within their congregation and in the community, that do not attend their churches due to disabilities or chronic illnesses. It wasn’t that they weren’t wanting to change that, but they didn’t know how.

Meeting leaders led to me being invited to a conference where lots of other church leaders gathered to discuss and help one another run their churches in the best way possible. Although a lot of the teaching was for physical churches, it gave me some ideas but more importantly, it grew my network and has helped raise awareness of people with chronic illness and disability in the Church – or not.

Around March, I started a blog (youbelong2019.wordpress.com) as a place to share my thoughts and experiences in greater detail as social media only allows for limited characters. I was shocked and surprised to find out just a few months after starting the blog that I was a finalist in the Premier Digital Awards! As the Premier Digital Conference preceded the awards show, I decided to attend that first and came away with lots of notes and more connections and I hope to work with these people over the coming year. The day flew past and suddenly YouBelong was being announced as winner of the up and coming blog! It still amazes me now and I am so thankful for all of you who guest blogged and who read the posts each week – thank you!

Before long, December was here and with that, advent. I knew I wanted to arrange something for us to do together as a community and after seeing the idea to study the 24 chapters of Luke in 24 days, that the 24 days before Christmas would be perfectly suited to that. I wanted to ensure that people from all platforms (YouBelong is on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram now) were able to participate so I posted every day on every platform. It was a bigger commitment than I initially realised but I was thankful for having done it as I not only learnt more about the stories in Luke’s gospel but also got to interact with more of you and have since heard stories of couples reading the chapter together each day and some people sharing them with others they know to encourage them which I love to hear!

And know we are into 2020, YouBelong is 1 year old and we have LOADS of exciting plans in place to move things forward in new ways this year. One of the biggest things that we hope and plan to do is register as a charity so that we have access to funding to enable the team to grow, to reach isolated people where they are, provide resources and training for churches and start a more official online church for those who cannot attend church, either at all or occasionally. This will also include a connect group which will begin on Facebook and be a closed group of people who study the same passages/ topic together so if you are interested in getting involved, I highly recommend following us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/youbelong2019 now as this will be launching in the next few weeks!

I am excited for what the year ahead has to bring and hope you are too! If you have any ideas of things you would like to see included then please get in touch either via email at info@youbelong.org.uk or on our social media.

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.

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.

The importance of faith deconstruction in chronic illness

The importance of faith deconstruction in chronic illness

You may recently have been aware of Marty Sampson, Hillsong song writer and worship leader, who recently posted on his Instagram account that he was struggling with his faith and had even come to the point where it was easier not to have a faith at all than to battle with the ongoing questions and doubts that arose in his mind. The majority of the responses were sadness and disappointment and others simply shared their prayers of hope for a new found faith for Marty and wished him the best on his journey.

I have to be honest that my first thoughts were ones of shock and sadness as I found out that the person who wrote one of my favourite and most impacting worship songs, ‘O Praise the Name’, was no longer identifying as a Christian. I couldn’t work out how someone who once wrote such powerful words, seemingly from a place of strong faith, could end up disowning the God he once sung lovingly about.

Then I remembered my journey. When I started my degree, my faith felt foundational – despite what has happened so far in my life, my faith has never left me. I have overcome some very big challenges so was sure I would never lose my faith now! Then my illness progressed to the point I couldn’t work or fulfil the full criteria of my degree or even do the thing I thought God wanted me to do – be a Youth Pastor. My faith wobbled.

“Why would the God who made me and loves me cause me to be unable to do the thing I not only love to do but also that would help spread the good news and bring others to know and love Him?” This was just the beginning. From here, I found myself questioning everything I ever knew, even those things that I once would have argued were unarguable and parts of my faith that simply couldn’t be wrong such as, God made me and God loves me and even, that God exists! I was terrified. Despite feeling like I was losing my faith, I was desperate not to do so!

Around this time, we covered faith development at uni (what amazing timing!), and I realised that these periods of seemingly, losing faith, were actually periods of rediscovering and affirming it. A faith established in childhood (such as mine) which isn’t challenged or questioned, cannot and will not grow. I don’t know Marty’s life situation but I would not be surprised if something has recently occured that has caused him some distress or grief and has kicked off this period of faith deconstruction. My questioning started because I was chronically ill and had taken the time to reflect on my situation more deeply than I would usually because the issue was affecting my entire life in one way or another so I had no choice to wonder why and attempt to make sense of the situation.

As you might have guessed by now, I am very much FOR faith deconstruction. Although its a hard time, its also a time where I have learnt not only more about God but also more about me and what I really want in life. The trick, I have found, for getting beyond the ‘lost’ phase, is to find those key things that ground your faith and to recall the faith moments – the ones which have anchored your faith, and gradually work through the questions you have one by one with no pressure to get the ‘right answer’ or arrive at one by a particular deadline.

From here comes the reconciliation stage. Now you have unlearned everything you believed about God and Christianity, you can relearn it in relation to your situation and experiences. It is going to be hard but in the end it is worth it.

There is so much more I could say but the key point is that without being willing to embrace the deconstruction phase of my life with chronic illness, I could never have got to where I am now and have a strong established faith once again (yet always ready to be broken down and question everything over again!). If I had not have allowed myself to question and be challenged, I would not be in this same place. The greatest piece of advice I would give to anyone watching someone else going through this is to give them space and time. Be open to conversation but don’t push it or hurry them. Pray and let them rediscover God through your simple acts of love and patience.

When a miracle doesn’t feel like a miracle

When a miracle doesn’t feel like a miracle

Just over 2 weeks ago I lay inside an MRI machine for almost an hour whilst the technicians moved the table back and forth with me on it to get images of my spine and surrounding tissue. 20 minutes in the pain hit me hard but I couldn’t move or I would risk damaging the quality of the images that were taken which might mean I had to lie still even longer whilst they re-took them. My eyes filled with tears but I got through it.

Today is day 3 of lying in bed trying to find that comfortable position that doesn’t seem to exist whilst at the same time, battling with nausea, fatigue, headaches, dizziness, the side effects of the tablets I have been taking in the hope that they will at least reduce the pain a little bit. I have already had my pain relief changed to a different tablet which can be taken alongside other pain relief I was taking for my regular daily pain, but the doctors won’t give me more until the MRI results are in and we know what is causing the pain.

I know that Googling symptoms is never a good idea but in my desperation to find answers and relief, I typed in ‘back pain’. A lot of the results that came up were not relatable as they talked about back pain caused by injury or short term pain. Mine has been progressively getting worse for 18 months after waking up one day in pain without seemingly any cause. As I kept scrolling I found an article from a hospital which stated that the use of MRI scans in diagnosing back pain is generally not recommended as very often it will show some ‘issues’ which many people have but that they are not aware of therefore, it is unlikely that these issues are the cause of the pain.

I was diagnosed with mild/moderate degenerative disk disease and schuermann’s disease a few years ago but the medical professionals didn’t feel that these issues were capable of the causing the pain I was experiencing then and I was told to simply ‘get on with it’. Now, the pain is 10x worse, I am terrified that when I get the letter with the results on through the post it will say ‘nothing to comment on’, i.e. no issues that would give a reason for the pain I have been having for the last year and a half.

I know of some people who would be giving God the glory for that because no issues on a scan means that there is nothing serious that needs to be addressed, no operations needed or drastic treatment methods. It would be the miracle everyone had been praying for. I don’t know if you have every experienced back pain (statistics would say that it is more likely that you have than haven’t), but when you have back pain that goes on for many, many months without much relief, it changes the way you move, live and feel emotionally and can even affect you spiritually. I most definitely have struggled with the mental and spiritual battles that come with long term pain and other symptoms associated with chronic illness and it is no easy feat. If the MRI comes back showing nothing that can/ needs to be addressed, I know I will struggle with the mental and spiritual aspects at an even greater level as just because the medical world can’t see my pain, it doesn’t mean it goes away. The pain stays there but I have to continue to fight for medication and care and support and even fight with God for some kind of answers in order for me to make peace with the situation and with Him.

In his book, ‘God on Mute’, Pete Greig told the story of a university peer who despite his young age, showed a great amount of faith. One day, he hurt his back and was obviously struggling with the pain but one day, he came over to Pete and told him that he had been healed, “it’s just the symptoms I can’t get rid of’, he said. I think we can all agree this is rather silly. If my MRI results come back showing nothing, it doesn’t mean I have been healed of whatever was the problem if my back is still keeping me awake at night.

When I spoke to my physio shortly after the MRI she was concerned by some of the symptoms I have been experiencing and said that she would keep an eye out for my results. That was the first time that anyone had believed my pain and had been concerned by what could be going on. Now, if I get a clear scan back, of course I will be happy that the possibilities that my physio had considered to be the cause of my pain are not the cause as non of them are very pleasant diagnosis, but at the same time, how can I move forward when I am so much pain all the time and no one believes me or is willing to treat it or dig deeper into what the cause might be?!

I don’t often go forward for prayer at church simply because I have done so so many times before and yet I am still ill and therefore I figured that there must be a reason for it but in the depths of intense pain, I took myself forward for prayer on Sunday morning last week. As I stood up, I was hoping that they wouldn’t try to tell me I had been healed or tell me it was my fault if I wasn’t, or even worse still, if it made them feel bad when they weren’t able to make me better (I know that sounds ridiculous but that’s just the way I think). I was thankful that none of the above took place but that they instead told me to come back for prayer persistently. They didn’t even follow this up with “until you are healed” so maybe I will go back again and see if God has something to share with or do for me – a miracle like other Christians thought, but not necessarily a medical miracle.

To sum up this rather longer than intended blog post, yes, God can and does still do miracles but a blank scan or blood test doesn’t necessarily mean a miracle, particularly if the person is still in pain or symptomatic. Perhaps the issue is just not visible in that method of testing or the illness is too early on in its progression for it be picked up by scans etc. If you know someone who is going through testing for a diagnosis due to debilitating symptoms, please remember that not all ‘miracles’ are actually miracles at all, but rather the result of imperfect medical testing, and sometimes these ‘miracles’ can actually cause the person involved to struggle with their faith more. Miracles don’t do that. Real miracles are God’s way of caring for His children and helping us see Him in the world we live in. If the ‘miracle’ of a blank scan doesn’t do this, it isn’t a miracle and shouldn’t be treated like one. This person will need lots of care and support and prayers so if you can, offer to help them, whether that be attending appointments with them or simply sitting with them at home whilst they process the news. They might cry, they might get angry, they might want you there or they might not. Try to be for them whatever they need at that time. Friendship is the great act of God that can be done for them at that time.

(Note: I apologise for the length of this post and the babbling in it. I am struggling to think straight through the pain and medication blurriness.)

Healing or Wholeness – what’s the difference?

Healing or Wholeness – what’s the difference?

Definition of ‘Wholeness’According to the Miriam Webster Dictionary – ‘The condition of being sound in body. The quality or state of being without restriction, exception, or qualification.’

I believe this definition is exactly what causes the confusion and arguments around healing because it makes healing and wholeness one in the same by stating that only when the body is ‘perfect’ can wholeness be achieved and I just don’t think this is right.

If we are going to be looking at wholeness from a Christian perspective then no, people with disabilities are not ‘whole’, but nor are those without disabilities. Even those people who spent most of their life with brilliant health and fitness. no mental health problems, relationship issues, financial issues, spiritual battles, etc. aren’t whole until they reach heaven.

Philippians 3:12-13 reads, ‘Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead’.

The original word used in this verse to mean ‘perfect’ is the Greek word ‘Teleios’ which is also translated in some versions/verses to mean ‘whole’. The fact that we are taught in this passage to strain or strive for wholeness tells us 2 things:

  1. we are in control of it – we are not in control of how we are born or what happens to cause us to become ill or disabled therefore, removing a disability is not part of becoming ‘whole’.
  2. we will never get there in this world – we are told to strive for it which suggests it is an ongoing challenge. Only in Heaven will we be fully whole and the reason for that is because once we are in Heaven, we will be clean and without sin just like Adam and Eve were before they disobeyed God in the garden of Eden. God punished Eve with pain in child birth but it the suffering that might her less than perfect. It was her sin.

The same goes for us. We are not less ‘whole’ than others because we can’t see, hear, walk, struggle with pain or fatigue, don’t have 2 arms and 2 legs or can’t function in the world in the same way as the rest of society. The only reason we are not whole or perfect is the same reason as the marathon runner next door, the lady across the road who spends all her waking hours doing the gardening, the postman, or the shopkeeper. We are born into a world of sin and in order to be free of it, we need to know and love God and those around us and in our eternal life, there we will find wholeness.

Gathering

Gathering

by Liz Carter

‘As we are gathered, Jesus is here…’ So goes a (slightly dated) worship song. It’s all about the people joining together, the congregation united in worship, the sense of harmony. The gathering.

But what if we can’t gather? What if the very word ‘gathering’ sends us into a great sadness, because the physical act of gathering with others is impossible for us?

I’ve lived with a long-term lung condition all of my life. Over the years, it’s progressed, caging me in further and further, robbing me of my career and those dreams of youth; dreams of travel and far-flung skies and running on lonely beaches, the wind in my hair. Some days now, I’d be lucky to manage a few steps before I collapse on the sand, spent and breathless. I live within four walls for weeks at a time – sometimes, even, for months, when infections have hit me particularly hard. On days like these I can barely gather myself, let alone with others. I cannot gather up my clothing or my home or my thoughts, and when visitors come my desperate thoughts remain unsaid in my pain-soaked exhaustion.

In the last year I’ve been very ill. I’ve been better over the past couple of months, but there were weeks and months on end when I didn’t make it to church at all. I didn’t gather together with others for worship. Does that mean Jesus wasn’t there? Does Jesus only show up with the gathered ones, the ones who can make it, the ones who are healthy?

Over the years, I’ve learned something about what gathering means, and what it means to come together to share life and to pray and praise. I’ve discovered that gathering goes far deeper than the physical presence of a few folk in someone’s front room.

The book of Revelation talks about a great multitude from every nation, every tribe, every tongue, every people, gathered together around the throne. They worship together all day and all night, clad in white and digging into the depths of who God is. I recently attended a seminar about worship, and the speaker introduced the idea that when we worship we join in with this song around the throne, this endless song which never ends. As well as that, we join together across cultures and nations, class and race divides, one voice around the world as we join together in the song which is always sung. This great harmony which climbs walls of hatred and oppression and shatters the bondage of poverty and injustice. Walls crumble as we join hands across our boundaries and barriers, and give glory to the God we love. 

Here is a real gathering. A gathering of millions upon millions, myriads upon myriads, of those gone before, those living in the groaning pain of the now, those waiting in agony and in hope. We can all join in the gathering, the weak and the strong, the lesser and the greater, those who have nothing at all. Because God cannot be defined by boxes of words or concepts, and because God longs to pour fullness of life on all of us, whoever and wherever we are – so certainly cannot be restricted to church meetings and festivals.

I’m so grateful that God is bigger than I know.

I’ve discovered something else about gathering, too, and it’s something I am so thankful for. I remember a time when I was in hospital with very painful and serious double pneumonia, and it was in a city far from where I lived. It was a lonely time as well as agonising; hours were struggled through and wrestled with without let-up and with few visitors. I felt un-gathered, with nothing to ground me or bring me into company with others. I wasn’t even allowed to leave my room, for fear of cross-infection, so I remained in my pen, walled in by my own body.

It was a time social media was taking off. I’d recently joined Facebook, and hadn’t realised the effect it would have on my life, in those early days of poking people and playing silly games with farms and fishes. In this time, I began to understand the power of online gathering, as people from across the world joined with me in my suffering, stood with me and prayed with me, joined hands with me and worshipped with me. Since then, I’ve gathered hundreds of times online with hundreds of people in hundreds of situations, and Jesus has been there with us, despite our presence being only of the cyber type. That’s why I’m so grateful for the work of YouBelong and other organisations that seek to gather people online, to build up and to encourage and equip people who perhaps wouldn’t be able to gather elsewhere.

So I gathered with the world and joined in the song, and I gathered with the online people and joined in with care and justice and peace and mercy and holiness. Somehow, in my un-gathered cage, I learned to gather more profoundly, and found God at the very root of it all, present by the Spirit in gatherings un-gathered and gathered, present with one and two and a million, gathering up my own pain in tender arms of love and rivers of joy.

Liz Carter is an author and blogger who likes to write about life in all its messy, painful, joyous reality. She’s never known life without pain and sickness. She likes Cadbury’s and turquoise and lives in Shropshire, UK with her husband, a church leader, and two crazy teens.

Liz is the author of Catching Contentment: How to be Holy Satisfied, which was published by IVP in November 2018. This book digs into the lived experience of a life in pain, and what contentment could possibly mean in difficult circumstances.