Have you prepared for the winter of life?

This morning, I read this brilliant blog post by Cheltenham Maman about how anxiety over our children’s health and wellbeing can affect us. The post provides some sound advice for helping to manage parental anxiety so it’s certainly worth a read if you’re struggling with this. I also wrote this post last week about how I feel so consumed by the hypervigilant state that being a bereaved mother has put me in.

In Cheltenham Maman’s post, she wrote something that struck me.

Liken it to other things in life that are certain; winter will come each year but we don’t let it dampen how much we enjoy the summer.

We can be anxious – and therefore depressed about our anxiety – every day of our lives, worrying about something bad happening but, just like we ‘dread’ the cold, dark winter months, we also look forward to the summer and make the most of the warmer days when they do happen.

This is powerful stuff!

Yes, just like life and death, we need to make the most of the better days, the healthy days, the young days, the carefree days. It is inevitable that winter will come, death is something no one can escape from, so try not to waste precious time worrying about the cold while you’re bathing in sunlight.

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Yet there’s a caveat to this beautiful metaphor.

Because we know that winter is coming, we make plans about how we will cope with it. We get the boiler serviced, we insulate our homes, we buy in supplies that protect against the frost, we buy a new warm coat, we eat warming, hearty foods…

We prepare for winter and so winter, while still cold and dark, is more bearable and we can see hope in the spring and summer just around the corner.

So why not prepare for death? Prepare for the worst?

Continue reading “Have you prepared for the winter of life?”

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Some happy news..

It’s with joy and relief that I can announce that our baby girl was born on Monday. Her birth wasn’t entirely as planned or expected but she arrived safe and well and we are all smitten with her.

We have named her Naomi Grace.

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Choosing her name was fairly easy on reflection although during my pregnancy it seemed a huge responsibility, and perhaps because Abi isn’t here we wanted to think more deeply about what this baby should be called.

We like quite traditional names but ones that are not that common, also we like names that are easy to spell and that won’t cause a lifetime of explanation about spelling or pronunciation.

We seriously considered another A name, so rounding and completing our family with another A. For a few months, I had a strong yearning just to say an A name again! But I found the names we liked were similar to Abigail’s, either in the number of syllables or the sounding. We could do it, but I wondered if we’d later regret it.

My hubby came in from work one day and had a few names on a list. There were 3 or 4 ones I liked and one in particular that we all liked. Naomi.

We chewed them over (and over and over) for a few months but always came back to this name. It didn’t sit entirely comfortably when saying all the children’s names together, but I reasoned that she will be a person in her own right, not a part of a rhyme or always talked about as a set of children.

I also wanted a name with meaning. Not necessarily biblical, although Abigail is a biblical name meaning father’s joy and my sons have variations of the biblical names Joesph and Jacob. We considered flowers or something natural to represent the blessing of this double rainbow baby, there is so much choice! But Naomi had such a serene and pleasent feeling to it, it felt right. It is also the name of a strong and admired female from the bible.

Naomi means pleasentness. Grace, which we chose much later, means God’s favour.

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I’d not read the book of Ruth until we thought of the name. I was interested to find out more about this woman and when I did I felt the name was even more relevant.

So who was Naomi?
The book of Ruth is very short but it’s a beautiful book of the Bible that I encourage you to read. Naomi was a widow and in fact not too much is written about her, but what is gives a huge impression of God and his awesome forgiving love and how he turns pain and misfortune into the greatest blessing.

In short, thanks to Ruth’s (Naomi’s daughter in law) love of Naomi, they looked after each other and through Naomi’s distant family connections and wise and loving counsel, Ruth, having been widowed and childless, married a wonderful man called Boaz and had a son.

It could be a perhaps unremarkable story but for the fact the son of this marriage would go on to be a distant relation of Jesus himself.

Ruth was a poor widow, she was also a Moabite, someone not recognised by the Israelites; again God surprises us by not doing things the way we expect (or want). Using people from ‘humanly’ low backgrounds, sinners, the poor, a woman, perhaps not seen as of value to anyone… and creating something wonderful out of their story.

Jesus was expected to come as a strong king, not a weak vulnerable baby,  which is why his own people eventually killed him. He wasn’t the warrior saviour that they expected.

What I like most about Naomi and Ruth’s story is that the ultimate blessing (the birth of the Messiah) isn’t seen by them as they lived out their lives. They had no idea how their family line would continue, like all of us. Yet they trusted God nonetheless and were thankful for all they had.

Life was far from easy yet even in their bleakest times they stayed true to (perhaps clung to) their faith. Despite her inner strength and kind heart Naomi still expressed despair, grief and unhappiness following the loss of her husband and children, and the desperate situation she found herself in. I like that she is so relatable and real.

My children may not do what I expect all the time, but I trust that God has their lives in His hands and that our stories are just tiny, beautifully created links in His chain.

I also liked in this story, when Ruth’s son was born, the people celebrated that Naomi had a son too. Ruth’s blessing had blessed her life again, a double rainbow of hope, as she sees her beloved daughter-in-law settle into a loving marriage and is able to see new hope and God’s grace. Just like my rainbows have brought joy to not just me and my husband but our family and friends too.

But then isn’t that what God wants? I believe without doubt he has eased my anxious heart through this pregnancy. He has helped me through my two losses with hope upon hope. A double rainbow.

And that’s by any means a romantic Christian dream that everything will be OK. That God’s will be done and all that. This is a much more realistic kind of spiritual acceptance. I feel that, no matter what, it will be OK.

With my grief, I have had to find a way, through my faith, to accept the ugly side of life. I may well face pain with my husband or children in the future. Life doesn’t feel secure in that sense. So I’ve tried to find a way that I can live with this and still walk with Christ.

Naming our child Naomi Grace, I am reminded of God’s immense love and
grace, and I hope she will be too. No matter what happens, we are loved and I will try not to doubt that. Even though I know the life journey ahead will not be a smooth road, having that deep trust in God will be essential to my journey on this side of heaven.

Welcome to the world little one!

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Grief, selfishness and ‘me time’

One thing I’ve noticed about grief is how selfish it makes one. Rightly so, of course, as grief is a personal pain that has to be endured by the individual – there’s nothing ‘giving’ about it. We cling to the memories, we absorb ourselves in the pain of our loss, we channel our energy into coping with how we are feeling – often to the detriment of others.

In many ways, for which I’m thankful, Abi’s death helped me to be less selfish as a person. I had pursued my career running my business, giving all my spare time to it (in truth, it was my escape from the strain and monotony of family life). I considered myself an independent soul within my marriage. I did what I wanted. I deserved the things I wanted. I was dissatisfied if things didn’t go my way. I worried that what I had wasn’t enough.

My priorities shifted completely when Abi died. I saw what was important, that living now was more important than waiting for the right time. That I needed to treasure what I had, not hanker after what I didn’t have. Despite the pain of Abi’s death, I am forever grateful she gave me that insight, because I realised that my life’s perspective had become totally skewed.

But, confusingly, while grief has helped me to appreciate them more and the material stuff less, it has also pushed me away from them, as I try to cope with loss and protect myself from more pain. And this is more obvious to me (and them) when my energy tank is near depletion. Selfish mum is still there, it’s just that she’s selfish in a different way now.

When I found out I was pregnant again in August 2015, my toddler was 18 months old. I wasn’t prepared for the news at all. I was in a vulnerable place emotionally and had just started to get stronger after a period of psychotherapy and finally starting on medication for my anxiety. I felt better for the first time in a long time. The foggy anxious-filled weeks and months after having my fourth child were fading and I felt more like me again. Yet here I was, given a gift I wasn’t expecting. A gift I knew was going to sap my emotions and energy even further and most likely throw me right back to square one.

I asked God what was going on. If this was wise given my situation. If this was really what He wanted for me. I had just started to ‘get back out there’, to feel like I was controlling my ship again. My life wouldn’t be about serving Him, but about serving little people with big demands!

I found I craved even more personal time alone – to think, to do the things that interested me (working, blogging, creating, zoning out), to do things my way. Now, my ‘me time’ isn’t about sitting down for five minutes with a book and a cuppa, my me time is more about having some emotional space from the constant worry and grief – being with my children and dealing with their own complex emotions is draining and me time allows me to shut off from that.

It takes a lot more than a cup of coffee for me to zone out these days
It takes a lot more than a cup of coffee for me to zone out these days

Blogging is a big ‘me time’ factor that my family don’t understand. I need to write this stuff down to save my sanity some days! And as much as I love them, I found I wasn’t good at mothering them because I craved peace, time to grieve, time with my thoughts – I wanted to be mothered myself! The problem starts when that craving begins to overtake everything else.

But God has given me another child. A fifth child. Me? Lord, don’t you know, I’m really not that maternal. I really don’t have that many hours in the day. I’m really not that good at this selfless parenting thing like other mothers. Yeah, I can do the baby days with my eyes closed, but once characters develop and cuddles aren’t enough and the challenging starts I find my head in the biscuit barrel wondering why I’m finding this so hard!

My children need and want to be nurtured. It’s not their fault they were born and need me. It shouldn’t be that I resent them at times for that and then feel terrible, knowing all that I’ve lost! A perpetual cycle of mum-guilt.

This post isn’t meant to be a self-pitying rant, it’s recognition of how intricately life’s web is spun and how making sense of the details helps me to understand the bigger picture. I was brought up in an insecure environment which made me self-reliant and only trusting of myself. I know I’m a deeply thoughtful and caring person, but I have an inherent fear that switches my ‘flight or fight’ button on at any given moment.

With this new baby, I consider that God doesn’t want to give me the easier (for me) route of one-off giving such as helping a charity or someone in distant need, He knows I’d still have my selfish steak, that I’d still be wary of opening up to those I love most. He made me strong. He knows bringing up children with love, trust, selflessness and encouragement is what I need to build on, to show His love daily, and by doing so I will not only allow the better side of me to come through, I’d also be living my life as He intended, for Him.

That’s not to say ‘me time’ isn’t important. I know that in order to give to them I need to feel as though I’m giving to myself a little. We all need time to ourselves. It’s about recognising that I shouldn’t get consumed by the need for me time so much that it affects my ability to give all the other times. That life’s pace is slower than the one in my mind. One day I will have all the ‘me time’ in the world and will miss the sound of my name being called for the umpteenth time. I’ll miss being needed!

For now, I will remember that the joy is right under my nose! I’ll remember that I’m only human. I’ll remember that I am enough. I look back on this post and see all the ‘I’s and ‘Me’s I’ve written and how self-centred life has become. Yet I have been gifted with the most valuable treasures and I need to look after them. They depend on my love and love is the most important gift of all.

This post was inspired by the wonderful Melissa over at Your Mom Has a Blog who wrote this thought-provoking post about ‘The Me Time Myth‘.

 

 

 

Take me home – a pop song prayer

When trying to rebuild a life that’s been broken – it can feel like you’re grappling in the darkness, utterly alone, tired, afraid. Even the simplest routines go out of sync, the pace of life seems five steps faster than what we can manage. We’re barely breathing.

Fear, grief, faith, hope all mingle into a mess that leaves us feeling lost, numb. How can we go on…? And where do we go on too…?

Whenever I hear this song I can never hold back the tears. It strikes at the heart of the prayers of the weary me, the me that just can’t do it all anymore, the me that’s fed up with the burden I carry, the me that wants answers, that needs reassurance, to feel safe. I suppose, the vulnerable child within.

Songs can bring so much comfort to the grieving, and while I’m in a fairly clear place right now, sometimes I need to pray songs like this – to get me through, and that’s okay because it helps. I’m sharing this for those readers who need to feel a bit of release, who need to allow the tears to fall, to possibly help them move to a clearer mind.

If you need to hear this, watch Take me home, by Jess Glyne

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Wrapped up, so consumed by all this hurt
If you ask me, don’t know where to start
Anger, love, confusion
Roads that go nowhere
I know that somewhere better
‘Cause you always take me there

Came to you with a broken faith
Gave me more than a hand to hold
Caught before I hit the ground
Tell me I’m safe, you’ve got me now

Would you take the wheel
If I lose control?
If I’m lying here
Will you take me home?

Could you take care of a broken soul?
Will you hold me now?
Oh, will you take me home?
Oh, will you take me home?
Oh, will you take me home?
Oh, will you take me home?
Oh, will you take me home?

Hold the gun to my head, count 1, 2, 3
If it helps me walk away then it’s what I need
Every minute gets easier
The more you talk to me
You rationalize my darkest thoughts
Yeah, you set them free

Came to you with a broken faith
Gave me more than a hand to hold
Caught before I hit the ground
Tell me I’m safe, you’ve got me now

Would you take the wheel
If I lose control?
If I’m lying here
Will you take me home?

Could you take care of a broken soul?
Oh, will you hold me now?
Oh, will you take me home?
Oh, will you take me home?
Oh, will you take me home?
Oh, will you take me home?

[3x]
You say space will make it better
And time will make it heal
I won’t be lost forever
And soon I wouldn’t feel
Like I’m haunted, oh, falling

Would you take the wheel
If I lose control?
If I’m lying here
Will you take me home?

Could you take care of a broken soul?
Oh, will you hold me now?
Oh, will you take me home?
Oh, will you take me home?
Oh, will you take me home?
Oh, will you take me home?
Oh, will you take me home, home?
Oh, will you take me home?
Oh, will you take me home?

My journey: a mother’s testimony through grief

I’ve got to know Vicky through our mutual journey through loss and faith, and our blogs. We both write about our emotions and thoughts as a way to process our experiences. Vicky’s story is very different from mine; however, our views are very similar.

Vicky has shared her faith testimony on her blog which I would encourage you to read, especially if you are dealing with, or have dealt with, the terminal illness of a loved one. Vicky blends her relationship with God so movingly into her story, and while her daughter Leah’s illness and passing is so heartbreaking, I also felt encouraged by her words and very grateful for her transparency.

Vicky’s faith was strong and had been part of her life for many years before her loss, and what her testimony demonstrates is the help and comfort knowing God gave them all during the most difficult time of their lives, something I wish I had at that the time I lost my own daughter.

Vicky’s testimony features some of the many Bible passages that helped them. What struck me, reading this, was when she said this:

I really appreciate this Bible passage (Isaiah 43:1-2) about walking through the fire, as some Christians seem to have this erroneous idea that if you have enough faith that you will live a long and happy life – that you can just command your troubles in Jesus name to disappear and they will go. I have read the Bible from Genesis through to Revelation and that’s not what I have read.

This is an important part of our faith which is very difficult to understand. We can live the most holy life dedicated to God yet still suffer and die, yet some who never bother with God can live long, healthy lives. It doesn’t always make sense. God never said we would not suffer and lose, but He promised He would love us through it all – that life is far more than just our mortal lives here on earth.

As times of sorrow, it’s so important to hear the words of mothers like Vicky, who share their stories so that others can feel perhaps a little less alone.

Please read My Journey here.

 

 

‘Be now my vision’ – an unexpected experience with the Holy Spirit on the Alpha course

As part of my series about sharing my faith testimony, this post is about my experience of attending an Alpha course. I’ve tried to keep it as brief as possible but also wanted to capture the main aspects for readers to appreciate what and why I saw what I did.

Parts of my experience are deeply personal to me, but in many ways that makes it even more worthy of sharing. In fact, I’ve delayed sharing it for five months because it is so special to me, but I know I must (I would also like to do this before my baby arrives as my blogging will likely take a back seat for a while).

Last September, I attended an Alpha course run by my church. I felt confident in my faith, having had the experiences I had with God, like this one, since my daughter’s death in 2013. I felt I had a strong spiritual side, but I wanted to learn more about the factual side of Christianity… the questions we all ask ‘Who is God? Who was Jesus? Why do we suffer? etc.’

A shaky start!
Entering the first session, I thought that there wasn’t too much the course could add to my faith. I was also a little sceptical about a course which I believed, in essence, converts unbelieving people into believing Christians. To me, belief was personal and couldn’t be ‘taught’, but I was open to learning more and hearing others’ experiences, as after all, Alpha has been hugely successful in bringing people from all walks of life to and encouraging them to think about faith.

One of the first questions that people asked of the hosts running the course was ‘Why do you believe?’ ‘What was it, exactly, that made you decide that God, Jesus and the Bible were all true?’ There was a mixed response from the leaders, but each was based on a profound experience or a moment when the truth was simply ‘revealed’ to them, an awakening if you like. For some this happened in their youth, for others much later in life.

While people do come to faith through apologetics and analysis of the facts, it seems that having an encounter or awakening is the point when they really know Christ.

The Alpha course was spread over 12 weekly 2-hour sessions. For the first half of the course I found, rather than deepening my faith, I was becoming increasingly frustrated by the assumptive and the somewhat lack of an impartial approach by both the Alpha materials and the leaders. Even though I understood the course to be an open forum for us to ask whatever questions we wanted, the scope to ask those challenging questions seemed to close up as we got further in.

Despite this, I found that I spent the week following a session reflecting on the key aspect of discussion, which was hugely beneficial. I also started to read the Gospels from start to finish. So I was learning something, just not in the way I expected… but that’s how God works!

Yet, still, I felt my frustration increase with each session. Some of the others who attended were heavily sceptical. They wanted facts and hard evidence and were not convinced by the rather weak ‘it’s just true so you should believe it’ approach of Nicky Gumbel et al. This was understandable initially, but I could see that their views were not changing as the sessions went on. If anything, they were becoming more sceptical, hostile and confused by the faith experiences of others, because they were so far apart with the ‘nothing’ that they had experienced.

I was a quiet observer during the first few weeks, taking my time to get to know the others and whether I felt safe. I had a difficult story to tell about my grief and faith, and I didn’t want to reveal that until I felt it appropriate. I didn’t want people to judge my faith because of my loss. However, it was quite fascinating listening to the others and hearing their good and bad experiences of religion. It was clear some had got wrapped up in the hearsay and speculation of the media and negative history rather than the core elements of what Christianity is and is not. They couldn’t separate the sinful human from the loving God.

I couldn’t help becoming irritated by the sceptics’ desire for hard fact alone, and actually found it quite upsetting. Like ‘doubting Thomas’ they wanted to see the body of Jesus, they wanted to look at a library of books and photos documenting his every move, they could not see evidence of a loving God anywhere in this world. It reached a point where we were debating a minor point for so long that I almost snapped. I shared with them my encounter with God. I shared my daughter’s passing to Him. I wanted them to know that if they were seeking faith in apologetics alone, they weren’t going to find it.

I’m not sure some of the group even wanted to believe. Devoted Christians can seem strange people. They are so convinced by this thing that is, on the face of it, unbelievable yet the love of Christ radiates from them. I am pretty intuitive to people’s feelings and I sensed they felt uncomfortable around those in the group who were more forceful or stringent in their beliefs. While I felt the hosts could have been a little less domineering in their approach, I also understood that once you have deep faith it really is very difficult to accept any other view (which I suppose is why religion in general has such a poor reputation!).

An unexpected encounter
It was at the half-way point that we were asked to attend an away day together, called the Holy Spirit Day. This day takes the course members away from the endless questioning (which really could go on forever) and offers them the opportunity for a more spiritual experience of the faith and to perhaps encounter the Holy Spirit for themselves.

Despite my prior experiences of hearing and feeling God’s presence, I was particularly – and stubbornly – sceptical about this day. The cynics in the group didn’t want to go at all, they were very uncomfortable about spending a day in worship with ‘fanatics’ when they were not nearly at a stage to believe themselves. I understood this, but as we had become friendly I found I myself encouraging them to go, explaining my own reservations but that I also felt it important to see the entire course through. With Christianity, you can’t pick and choose the bits you like, it is a package. Apparently over 27 million people around the world (including notable celebrities) have attended the Alpha Holy Spirit day, so I felt we really should go, if anything to see what the ‘fuss’ was about. We wouldn’t know if we simply stayed home.

At the same time I felt protective of my previous personal encounters with God. They were special to me and my situation. I didn’t see how the Holy Spirit would suddenly turn up on a prescribed day to convince us of His being, least of all me. It seemed too controlled by us, impersonal and not led by Him at all, almost as though we were testing Him to show Himself. But these were Christian and non-Christian friends of mine, so I knew I would be in very good and safe company.

So it was with some reluctance and curiosity that one Saturday I went to the venue with one of the members of the group who I had become friends with. I went hoping more that she would get something out of it, as I was much further in faith than she was. I so wanted the others to feel what I felt. To soften the hardness in their cynical hearts.

The morning started with an interesting discussion and I learnt a great deal about what the Holy Spirit is, and is not. The others seemed to relax as they clearly enjoyed the safety of the informal debate. After lunch, we reconvened and were led into worship by our vicar. I wasn’t expecting this, not singing! We sang a hymn, which I knew well, but I sensed my friend was becoming more uncomfortable. She wasn’t ready for this at all. It was almost as though if she sang, she was committing to something she wasn’t ready for. As a result, I found it impossible to achieve any depth of mediation seeing as I was so aware of her discomfort.

After the hymn, we had a quiet period of prayer, this was when we invited the Holy Spirit to come. One of the leaders came over and prayed over me. There was nothing strange in her words, she simply stood in front of me and asked the Holy Spirit to fill my life and bless me, or something along those lines. It was an unusual experience. I felt a warmth inside. I felt kind of tired and also like emotions were being pulled to the surface. I suddenly felt quite vulnerable, yet safe.

She moved on to someone else and I found myself sitting down with my eyes closed; my mind felt empty but I tried to use the time to focus. It was then that I saw the most striking vision! It was of Jesus on the cross, at a side angle. The cross was a bright blue and Jesus was dead.

It wasn’t a frightening image at all. In that instant I had an overwhelming sense of comfort.

I felt love like I have never known. Unconditional, constant love.

I felt utterly forgiven – and that I understood what ‘forgiveness’ meant.

I felt a deep and sincere sense of calm and peace. The vision was showing me that Jesus died for me and that no matter how I felt – how I had sinned in the past, how I beat myself up about not being good enough, how I held in my emotions because I was scared, how I tried to fight what I believed in – that Jesus loved me and always, always had. I felt the overwhelming peaceful ‘power of the cross’, of what it meant for Jesus to die. Ultimately, it was not sorrow, it was all love!

(This vision was five months ago, and I finally got round to drawing what I saw. It is just an amateur sketch as I’m no artist, but I always felt I should try to draw it. I still see it vividly today. Jesus was real, with blood and sweat all over his hair and body, the wood of the cross was split and bleached blue… it was a lifelike image rather than an illustration.)

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I found myself suddenly sobbing, to my great embarrassment! I simply could not stop the tears. Tears of love and release, fear and wonder, thanks and submission. I’m a deeply private person, an introvert, yet despite the room full of people, this still felt like a deeply personal moment. I could just as well been at home in my room.

My poor friend beside me must have wondered what on earth had happened! She and many others knew about my daughter so presumed my tears were for her. I couldn’t speak. I just needed to pour out my heart to Him, to go with this awesome vision.

My friend was quite glad to comfort me, I think it helped her to find something to do among all these people acting oddly (I wasn’t aware until after but a couple were lying on the floor absorbed in prayer) and there was me sobbing like a child! But I was thankful for her support and knew I couldn’t fight it and pretend I was okay this time. It was nice to have the human and spiritual comfort.

The group were lovely with me afterwards (as I was the only one who had such a dramatic reaction!). I felt quite confused by it; all I could say was that it was most definitely not about Abi. To my surprise, this experience had nothing of my daughter in it, which felt odd to admit to as, if anything, I was expecting that. In the vision, I had the sense that because I was loved, so was she.

After a brief chat, we went home. I was suddenly thrown back into normality, with the chatter of my children and things to be done. I felt what I can only describe as numb. I had cried so much and was utterly humbled by what I saw and felt. I was scared in a way. I now understood what it meant to be fearful of God, I’d always wondered what ‘fear Him’ meant, and it’s a good fear! I was ‘lost for words’ as I was not expecting anything like what I experienced, especially as my cynicism had been growing along with the others.

I felt numb for a few days. I thought I should feel joyful, so this reaction troubled me, but I realised that it’s normal to feel like this after an intense encounter.

I didn’t tell anyone about it for some time, and I’ve only told a few people from church who I feel would understand. What could I say? I would be seen as totally bonkers! Brainwashed even! As time passed, I tried to find reasons for the vision, but couldn’t. I thought perhaps my brain was recalling another image I’d seen, like when you stare at something and close your eyes and it’s still there in your mind. There was some modern abstract Christian art in the room but otherwise it was very neutral. I don’t recall seeing an image of Christ like this, especially not at this unusual side angle. I didn’t feel I was led into this vision by anyone else in the room or by the hymns we sang.

The rest of the course was about living out the faith, presuming that people were convinced by the Holy Spirit day… my friend dropped out.

I felt sad that she didn’t get anything out of it but was more excited by the fact that God was still very much with me! That I did get something from the course, that He is interested in me, that it is all true and He really wanted me to know that. Perhaps it was more useful to Him that I have an experience rather than my cynical friend, because I am now glad to share it with others through my writing? Who knows?

I don’t know why not everyone gets a direct Holy Spirit encounter… perhaps they do, but they miss seeing it? There was a faithful woman in my group who had never heard or seen God, despite praying for it all her life. She so longed to see him. She didn’t go on the Holy Spirit day so I’ll never know if she would have received something then. But then it’s not my concern. I remember being struck by this quote when reading The Horse and His Boy by C. S. Lewis: “Child,” said the Voice, “I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.” It made me aware that I shouldn’t worry about what God is doing for other people, he’s got it covered!

It took me a few weeks after to feel the joy of my experience. I wasn’t sure if what I encountered was correct. Of course it was, but I wasn’t sure what I was feeling – my practical mind tried to convince me I’d made it up. But I just knew what I felt and importantly what I saw. Again, as in other my encounters, my mind was ‘closed’ and distracted when I had the experience. I wasn’t seeking an encounter, in fact I was rather afraid of it in a room full of people and was more aware of making my sceptical friend feel comfortable. I felt I had become the sceptic again, yet God came and literally showed me the cross. My eyes were opened. I finally understood the cross, what it really means to give your life to Christ (up to then it seemed like nothing but a phrase).

Since then, I felt it important I document my faith journey. I’m not expecting my experience to convert anybody to Christianity. It will be interesting to some but a relationship with God is personal so, if you have one, it will be very different to mine. Most importantly, I cannot – and should not – forget these encounters and also how God is working in my life.

I don’t have all the answers – far from it! I still have much I want to understand, but now I do less doubting and questioning and instead seek answers in faith.

I’m probably the most surprised by what Alpha gave me in the end, having had such a shaky start, but I will always be glad that I bothered!

When I consider my journey to and in faith thus far, I can see that I don’t have just one testimony, I have a few of them – from my youth, my early married life, my eldest daughter’s death, and now this. That’s quite something and shows me that God is constant and always will be. I wonder what’s next?

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart,
be all else but naught to me, save that thou art;
be thou my best thought in the day and the night,
both waking and sleeping, thy presence my light.

Be thou my wisdom, be thou my true word,
be thou ever with me, and I with thee Lord;
be thou my great Father, and I thy true son;
be thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one.

Be thou my breastplate, my sword for the fight;
be thou my whole armor, be thou my true might;
be thou my soul’s shelter, be thou my strong tower:
O raise thou me heavenward, great Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise:
be thou mine inheritance now and always;
be thou and thou only the first in my heart;
O Sovereign of heaven, my treasure thou art.

High King of heaven, thou heaven’s bright sun,
O grant me its joys after victory is won;
great Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
still be thou my vision, O Ruler of all.

Irish, ca. 8th century; trans. Mary Byrne (1880-1931) versified, Eleanor Hull (1860-1935)

Luke 12: 4-34 – Jesus’s advice about worry

Yesterday, I posted on my grief blog about the anxieties I feel whenever illness visits our family. How, since I lost my eldest child suddenly, my life is spent constantly hovering over the anxious switch, never knowing whether to brace myself for the worst happening again – and I’m very aware that just because I have lost one child does not reduce my chances of losing another. I try not to let the anxiety dominate my life now, but in times of pressure it is hard.

As if in answer, today, I read Luke 12 and there was much in it to encourage me that I wanted to examine:

“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

 

When Jesus speaks here he comes across as somewhat aggressive and, if I’m honest, not that comforting! Yet, when I read the tone of his voice, I get a sense of that parental frustration I have with my own children. It’s that assertive reassurance that we all do, to try to fill our child with confidence – because we know it will be okay. ‘Oh don’t worry, there’s no such thing as monsters’ or ‘You’ll be fine!’. Jesus knows exactly how it will be, but teaching that to people who don’t know is not that straight forward!

In verse 4, Jesus tells us quite clearly that if we are going to worry about anything we should be worrying about God. The ‘fear’ of God is such that we should not be scared of him, like a demon or monster, but actually fear that we are doing right by Him. That our lives are lived to love Him and He us, and that in fact our bodies and our lives here on earth mean nothing compared to this eternal relationship.

Yet Jesus immediately says, God knows every hair on your head, and loves you and values you far more than any other creature. While our souls are the most valuable thing, our bodies and lives are also important to him. Jesus is trying to tell us that God is looking out for us in every way, so therefore we don’t need to worry.

But worry we do!

It took me a long time to read this section without getting irritated or feeling guilt for my own worry. In misunderstanding the message, I read it as though my personal worries were not important, the anxiety that I couldn’t control was my fault and that my worry was sinful. But that’s not the case at all.

Jesus never told us to not worry about stuff because there’s nothing to worry about. He doesn’t deny what we feel, he’s actually acknowledging the fact that we can’t help but worry about our lives, our health, our loved ones, our finances and jobs. He’s telling us not to worry despite the fact there is so much to worry about. He’s teaching us that we don’t need to worry about these things because God has our backs. He is the one who will provide for us after we die as well as today, not our clothes, jobs or money.

Jesus then goes on to tell the Parable of the Rich Fool. This is the story of a businessman who created a successful business and had become very wealthy as a result. He received admiration from people around him and most likely felt very important. However, Jesus describes him as a ‘fool’ – and pretty much a ‘failure’! The man assumes he has a long and happy life to live, with his success, but he had never considered what was beyond this life (v.20).

His life was focused entirely on himself, on his success. The word ‘I’ or ‘my’ appears 11 times (vv.17-19). He thought he was worth the same as all he owned but he failed to understand the way to be truly rich. He was not ‘rich towards God’ (v.21).

Jesus then goes on to talk about worry in more detail:

22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

We think we have worries today, but our worries haven’t changed all that much since Jesus said these words – food and provision, what we wear or how we look, wealth and status, being a success or a failure, ‘having it all’ – we are still wrangling with many of the same anxieties today. Jesus is telling us that, while these things aren’t bad (God ‘knows you need them’) we are so distracted by them that we forget God, we forget the very essence of life and how to achieve true fulfilment. Talk to anyone who has found faith, and they will tell you that God fills that ‘void’ they have been seeking all their lives. The ‘thing’ we feel as though something is ‘missing’ or there is ‘more to life that this’. Fulfilment comes through Him.

Like anyone else, my personal anxieties tend to slip into the material elements of life – wanting a nice home, cars, to look good, money to spend on pastimes and luxuries, but they don’t define me either. My deep anxieties relate to the fear of losing someone I love and the fear of feeling my heart ripping open again. A bigger problem perhaps, but also something that God has hold of.

I read a lovely story the other night to my daughter, which explained this very simply:

If you put a silver coin into a matchbox, and then squeeze the matchbox in your hand, what happens? The box breaks but the coin stays the same.

If you were to burn the matchbox in the fire, what happens? It would turn to ash, but the coin would not be damaged.

Now, which of the two items is more valuable – the box or the coin? The coin of course.

Adapted from A Young Person’s Guide to Knowing God, Patricia St. John.

Our bodies are like the matchbox, it can look any way on the outside – be a ‘posh’ matchbox from a luxury hotel or be a scruffy cheap box from the local shop – it can be pristine or a bit battered. The coin on the other hand is stuck in silver. It is precious and worth infinitely more than the matchbox. The more we look after the matchbox, the longer it will last but the coin represents our soul, that’s the part that will live forever. That’s the part we need to look after most.

Far from calling us all to sell everything, wear rags and donate all we have to the poor, Jesus is saying we can have wealth and comfort, we can look good and wear nice clothes, we can use our money to do things for personal pleasure, so long as our focus is on God and the love and care of others. The businessman only cared for himself, his worth, his status. The only person benefiting from it was himself. Jesus asks us to seek God in every area of our lives and then the worrying will stop and the true joy of living will start.

As the saying goes ‘You can’t take it with you’… so, what will you take with you when it’s your turn? A silver coin, or an empty box? We need to work on refocusing our lives to God first, and then the rest will follow.

The Listening Life

This is such a moving and inspiring post from a bereaved mother who is walking through her loss with Jesus. Inspired writing!

My Journey:

Today when walking down the corridor at work, I bumped into the specialist in paediatric palliative care who was enormously helpful to us in organising Leah’s end of life care.

Straight away I felt the pangs of heartache, as my heart was transported back to the 14th January 2014 in Belfast City Hospital. I silently asked myself “Must it always be this way, will there always be pain triggers waiting round every corner?” Then I remembered hearing recently that every event is actually 20% fact and 80% perception, so I started talking to myself in my head about how blessed we were to have had the support and expertise of this amazing woman and how much her input meant to us at the time. Within minutes I was feeling more positive.

A couple of hours later I was going down the corridor and I met her again. She…

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God on Mute: When God seems absent

I’ve been reading God on Mute for Lent, which ended at the weekend. There is much in the book that has both challenged me and opened my mind to understanding unanswered prayer in ways I’d never considered before. The book looks at various reasons why God might not appear to answer our prayers – in the time we want, the way we want or why we want them.

What is clear is that, even when he is silent, God hears our every prayer. Every song, praise, outpouring and simple ‘Jesus’ or ‘God bless’, He hears it all, but answering all those prayers the way we expect is quite a different matter.

I wanted to reflect on Chapters 10 and 11 from the book, Exploring and Engaging the Silence, which explores why, at times, God might choose to be silent. I don’t mean listening to prayer and answering it later or in a different way, but actually withdrawing from intervening in our lives.

When Jesus became an atheist
This part of the book reflects on the theme of Easter Saturday, a holy day that is vastly overlooked and understated. Easter Saturday is the time when Jesus was dead. When God was silent for him and for the world. He went down into death like any other person. God was gone.

Jesus, effectively, became an atheist. The resurrection was to follow, he knew that, but he also knew he had to go through the pain of Saturday. The Saturday expressed the despair and utter hopelessness of death without God, without heaven, without love. Nothing. It was a period of agonising waiting. In many ways, we are all now living this Saturday, while we wait for the joy, peace and grace of tomorrow’s paradise. It’s a concept I often reflect on in my grief.

Jesus cried out ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ as he was dying. Words also written in the Psalms (Psalm 22:1. 16-18). Not only did he feel the physical and emotional pain of all sin, but even worse, the total absence of God, his father. Jesus’ words expressed the feelings we all feel at times – of doubt and a collapse of faith. Yet, at his hour of most need, his father had to step back.

I just read this moving article by Joey Feek’s husband about how in the months leading up to her death she painfully but determinedly distanced herself from her young daughter in order for her daughter to create a stronger bond with her husband, which would benefit both her daughter and her husband in their grief after her death. You can only imagine the strength it took for her to do that when every fibre of her being would want to hold her child every minute until she couldn’t anymore. God felt this too, as he left his son to die, yet He knew it had to be this way. We, even 2000 years on, still find it hard – with our human minds – to fully comprehend this seeming deliberate withdrawal of love.

Growing into spiritual maturity
What challenged me was what the author, Peter Greig, describes as moving on from the ‘infatuation’ with God to a mature relationship with Him.
Continue reading “God on Mute: When God seems absent”

If God is so good, why do we ignore Him?

Something that’s always bothered me is why some humans believe in God and others don’t. Where did it go wrong? We are I believe mostly good people, trying to raise our families and live our lives well, so if God was so instrumental to this why aren’t the churches packed with worshippers?

Since diving full on into a life with Christ, my Bible reading has ramped up and I relish learning more about God and Jesus. It really is true that the more you read, the deeper your faith grows. But… if someone told me this a few years ago, I would have been more than a little sceptical.

Like many, I would have thought:”Yeah right, they only want to brainwash me with their religion. Who has time to read the Bible when there is so much else to do? Give me OK magazine any day! And why go to church? If God loves us all, He’ll know I’m fine as I am and will love me whether I bother or not. We’re not all meant to be pious martyrs!’

Yep, pretty cynical and, if I’m honest, I was brushing it off because I didn’t have time in my life for God, I didn’t find church very exciting, I didn’t understand much of it, I’d had some bad experiences and I simply wasn’t ‘holy’ enough… so I just didn’t go there.

I considered myself, for most of my life, to be a Christian (of sorts), someone who (mostly) believed in God and felt a sense of something special when I went into a church (which became more as a tourist or spectator). I’d look at Christians and feel a bit envious that they had something I didn’t, that depth of faith that I seemed to be lacking, yet also I’d be very wary of them….

But all that changed when my daughter died and I found God waiting patiently for me.

Just as an atheist struggles to understand why anyone would believe in God, once you have experienced God you look at people who haven’t and wonder why. Why don’t they feel this? Why don’t they see what you see? They are missing out on so much deep joy! It really does make you want to spread the Word!

But the thing is, people don’t want to be saved.

Right from the beginning, Genesis, since the Fall (yes, I totally believe all that about Adam and Eve) we have turned away from God. God gave us free will, which in the main we love and make use of, but it means He won’t interfere to turn our hearts towards Him. He’s no wish-granter, but it’s a bit like the idea of a genie where you can have whatever you wish for but he can’t make you love someone, including himself.

And early in Genesis, we start doing our own thing and losing touch with the creator. So much so that God sends the flood to wipe the earth clean! Then, in Exodus, God is obviously involved with his people and communicates to them through Moses and others and numerous signs. Time and again they go to him then it’s not long before they seem to forget. Forget how powerful and loving he is. Forget the creator! If he’s not there, right there, performing miracles or some other wondrous act, he’s forgotten. Out of sight, out of mind! And just like children, once we are left to our own devices we usually get up to no good!

I imagine it to feel, to Him, the same way we do when our children grow up, gain independence and not need us any more. Some children stick around and keep in contact with their parents, often or occasionally. Others don’t. In God’s case, many of his children have said, ‘See you later Dad, we can do it by ourselves, that is, until we need something so we’ll pop back just in case you can help, or we’ll blame you for everything and never speak to you again!’

Continue reading “If God is so good, why do we ignore Him?”