Learning to read again 

How I’m rediscovering hobbies I stopped when Abi died http://wp.me/p4R8Lk-EP

Advertisements

Grief is a thief 

While death is something I accept as part of life, the impact of a death, especially that of my child, troubles me. Her death has been and gone, she is at rest now, yet the ripples of that loss pass over me constantly. I’ve largely accepted that she’s not coming back, I’m making the best of it, but nearly four years on I find myself battling with the after effects of grief and am becoming aware of all the many ways it had impacted my life… who I was…who I am…

It is therapeutic for a victim to write to the perpetrator of a crime or injustice, so, I have written here to grief:

Dear Grief,

You have robbed me of my heart, a heart which perpetually aches, is tired, weary. A heart which is too scared to love deeply yet carries the scars from loving too much. A heart which beats so slowly at times that it seems it might stop, yet at other times races as if it’s trying to run away from the hurt you’ve brought upon me.

You have robbed me of my passion, blinding my eyes from the pleasure of reading words on a page that could take me to places of escape, tormenting me when I try to relax by tightening my muscles and clenching my teeth, mocking me when I try to create, or plan or dream dreams…  why are you even bothering?!

You have robbed me of my compassion, I feel unable to give to others, I absorb their troubles as though they were my own yet becoming detached when it becomes too much. I’m too scared to care for fear of the pain, running, hiding from the horrible memories that are ready to surface at any moment.

You have robbed me of myself, remembering the person I was and feeling confused by the tired, fear-filled eyes staring back at me in the mirror, wondering about the point of life if there is only more grief to come.. focusing on the maybes, forgetting how to find the joy.

You have robbed me of trust, in them, myself, life itself… everything becomes a new thing to fear, by day fearing the future, by night reliving the past.

You have robbed me of my sanity, nails chewed, tablets swallowed, relationships strained, a mind fraught with what is and was and will be, the toll ready to chime at any moment, living on the edge. No one can tell me it will all be okay when you know what I’ve seen.

You have robbed me of my clarity and put a million distractions in my path that simply tempt my heart away from the truth, the truth that bites into me when I least expect it. The distracted mind becomes quickly overwhelmed with too much to process and not enough capacity to take it in. My tank is full, drowning my tired mind in pointless, relentless thoughts.

You have robbed me of my sleep, brought me nightmares, a racing heart. In the stillness of night you sit on my bed and watch me. You jab me awake, making me gasp for air, disturbing my rest with the dread of what or who might be next…

Grief, you’re a thief that stole far more than my child  on that horrible night… but I won’t let you win. I have just enough strength to fight back, to stop you leeching my energy further. I will not allow my darling girl’s memory to be clouded by you, Grief. She is heaven, you are hell.

But through all this and even though it is crap, I respect you and I forgive you, Grief, you’re only doing your job after all and I need to continue on the journey with you. But I will use you to build me back up, to develop resilience, to give me strategies for the future so that I need not be afraid of what you might do to me again. I can’t cheat death, but I won’t give up trying to overcome you.

From a broken-hearted mumma.

IMG_3734

 

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

maxresdefault

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.)

image

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.

Fight or flight – coping with illness as a bereaved family

My personal anxiety is much better these days although I’m still on a minute dose of anti-anxiety drugs just to help me through the first months of having a newborn should it suddenly increase with my hormone surges. It seemed sensible to do this, keeping any risks to baby to a minimum but allowing me the scope to get a bit of extra support if I need it.

Pregnancy and the birth of a new baby are always exciting and a reason to celebrate. A rainbow baby is an absolute blessing, there’s no question about that. The rainbow baby is treasured in a way deeper than another child. Not loved more I should add, but the joy of that child’s life is remembered by the parents and family as it reminds them of joy and hope after the most painful loss, or losses, imaginable.

But the joy is a double-edged sword as post-traumatic anxiety always threatens to spoil the fun!

The very fact I have already lost a much-loved child and much-wanted pregnancies puts me in an anxious state of mind, fearing having to go through that kind of loss again. Not fearing about them breaking a leg, or falling over, but fearing they will simply not be here anymore.

It’s an odd and unsettling feeling. It’s not the same as general parental anxiety. It’s not the same as an overprotective mother who might stop her child from climbing a tree or going out to play for fear they might get hurt, it’s not saying ‘be careful’ for the umpteenth time that day, it’s a deep unnerving knowing that at any time they could be gone. Forever.

We try hard not to overly protect our other children. We let them play out, we encourage some independence, we encourage bravery and trying new experiences even when they feel anxious themselves (and all we want to do is wrap them up, close the curtains to the ‘nasty’ world and stay home). We know we have to do this, to enable them to live as full lives as possible.

When worrying turns into anxiety
Anxiety is always there for us. The anxiety switch is ready to turn on at any moment. We can go from normality to are they/we really OK in an instant. Will this common illness turn into something traumatic? Will they wake up this morning? The anxiety surrounds sudden loss, which is understandable considering Abi’s sudden death from a brain haemorrhage. The anxiety is the fear of life changing in the blink of an eye.

The ‘fight or flight’ reaction, commonly known as something we have inherited from our ancestors to save us from harm, is still very real for the anxious grieving parent. At times of pressure, I found I have conflicting thoughts – one part of me says ‘Ignore it’ or even ‘Run! You’d be better off alone than worrying about this’, another part says ‘Don’t mess about, get them to a doctor’ and ‘Let’s fret about everything bad that can go wrong’. It can be very hard to think clearly.

We’ve had some nasty seasonal illnesses (which added to the worries of my son’s illness earlier in the year). Things I could handle pretty well in the past, but now I have to work overtime just to keep myself from going over the edge with worry, especially knowing with children how hard it is to read the signs sometimes, how one illness can mask another. It’s more exhausting than ever to know what to do for the best. With our NHS system on overload, we are conscious not to clog up busy waiting rooms with things that we can treat at home, yet invariably we’ll find ourselves taking them down, just in case (I try to avoid using Google to diagnose us seeing as every symptom seems to relate to something terminal or life-threatening!).

What are the chances…?
Life has become a game of chance. Abi’s illness was one of those ‘million to one’ scenarios, so it’s hard to say now ‘the changes are slim’ when we’ve been one of those million.

The other night, my son sat in the car and simply said, from seemingly nowhere, with tears in his eyes, “When did I last see Abi alive?” He has been talking about her a lot lately. I said it would have been the day she had her brain haemorrhage.

“Brain haemorrhages are really rare aren’t they, Mum? So why did Abi have to get it?”

I admitted I didn’t know why and that I often think the same. Why her? She was our daughter, their sister! Like us, he misses her. He knows it is very unlikely he’d get it too, he knows it was Abi’s ‘thing’, but being exposed to death at such close range so young makes the fear of death very real for us all. We think about death more often than most. And, after the viruses have passed, the post-illness anxiety lingers much longer.

 

image
“I still miss her.”

Our children are most vulnerable to anxiety as their perception of the world changes, we already have their fears to ease, let alone the fear that death may come to them again at any time. Of course it will, because, like it or not, death is the most certain thing in life, but I am sad for them already knowing we will have to face loss again some day.

Faith in God has been vital to our comfort and it’s not to be underestimated. My children are always asking about heaven, Jesus and how it all fits together. Yet we also have to do what Jesus said, live life like a believing child, not a cynical, bitter adult. Be honest about our feelings, when we feel sad in grief, happy, adventurous, scared…

For example, literally minutes after having an emotional but straight forward chat about missing Abi, my son was building a pretend toilet out of his two-year-old brother’s bricks and laughing at his idea. It’s not to say his feelings about Abi were insignificant or made him feel uncomfortable, far from it. He said what was on his mind, it moved him, he processed it and then moved on to the next thing.

I admit that I struggle to be the same. As I watched him play with the bricks for a while my mind was still deep in our conversation. I wanted to hear more. I wanted to help him talk it through… but he’s done that, for now it was enough for him. He didn’t need to wallow or grieve. He didn’t need to be clung tight and watched. He just needed to express his fears and emotions.

He worries about death a lot, which is normal for his age, and I’m more ready than ever to answer his questions. I also admit that I don’t have all the answers, but one thing I do try to tell him is that worrying about death will not change the fact that we will die, and that even though everybody worries a bit about dying, we need to work hard to try to enjoy the days that we have and make the most of our lives rather than allowing the worries to control us. It’s harder than it seems when you’ve seen death like we have.

image
The siblings as they were. Abi united them.

As I reach the last few weeks of my pregnancy, when I hope to welcome another daughter into the world, my mind is filled with excitement, fear and worry. Aside from the usual worries that most mothers have about the birth and if baby will be okay, I am thinking about the long-term pressure of life. This will be another person we, essentially, have to keep alive, another person to worry about, another person who relies solely on us to keep her safe and well. At times, it seems such a huge responsibility! A lifetime of worry!

Despite all this, I feel, as a family, we are doing pretty well. We are laughing and living as best we can, and there isn’t much to be done about these anxieties, they are part of our grief now, and I hope that it reduces as time passes. But I really wanted to record the mixed emotions that arise every time the ‘panic button’ is pushed. I’m sure I’m not alone!

Here’s to, hopefully, a healthier spring and summer!

 

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…

View original post 613 more words