Psalm 127: God is the answer

In my weary, 8-month pregnant, sleep-deprived state, the weekend doesn’t appeal. As the chores mount up (and are harder to get through as bending and lifting becomes an effort), the children fight over what (irritating) TV show to watch all the while creating even more mess and work, the husband idling after a stressful week and still recovering from illness, three work deadlines to meet by Monday, worrying about finances and things I need to do but physically can’t… etc… I ask God to be my focus and I immediately get the amazing Psalm 127.

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In the midst of life’s distractions, it’s easy to succumb to the pressure, the sense of simply being overwhelmed, worrying about the future (I would hide under the duvet, if it wasn’t so uncomfortable to lie down with my aching pelvis!).

God has shown me that, without Him, there’s no point. That He’s made me to deal with this, and more!

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God has always provided for us. He’s guided the growth of my business. He’s given my husband a stable job. I need to put the effort in and use the brain He gave me, but He always provides the opportunities for me to provide for my family.

But I also need to allow myself to switch off and rest. To not worry about the provision, to trust that it will come. To be mindful of what – and who – I have now, today.

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Each of our children are blessings – the ones who never made it to birth, the ones who didn’t stay, and especially the ones who test us more than others. It’s not their fault they create physical and emotional work. It’s not my fault I’m too tired to deal with it all at times. They are not there to be worshipped and pampered, but to be moulded and shaped with love and healthy discipline, given space to find their feet within a loving home.

Having another (fifth) baby is scary at times too, as I consider how I’ll cope, or not, with all the other pressures in my life.

Yet this is God’s miracle and I must cherish it. I know we are truly privileged and I must try to ignore the practical stuff to see this, to see that I won’t always feel this tired, this weary.

I must find a way to see the many blessings through the few trials. And God is the answer.

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”

Breathe deeply in faith

I’ve realised that it doesn’t take much these days to break me. I always mourn my daughter harder when life feels tough…illness, sleep deprivation, anxieties, parenting challenges all set to chip away at my weary soul.

Women, mothers, hold up so much. We carry so much burden to alleviate the physical and emotional burden on others. We keep things ticking. Our minds work at a thousand paces. Yet we are human too.

I pray for patience then sin with words. I pray for peace then sin with angry thoughts. I feel I should be more. Be calmer, milder, more accepting but that only seems to create the opposite as I fail to live up to my own expectations. I’m not happy with my behaviour. I beat myself up. I’m irritable. And perhaps worst of all, I feel desperately alone. Pressures God knows I don’t need.

Today, I prayed a psalm of thanks which fell open in my Bible. I then prayed for God’s help, again. My prayers feel selfish but I poured it out to God in the brief moment I had without a child’s demands. I opened my Lent book, God on Mute, by Peter Greig, and read this quote…  Yet again I realise that, in prayer, I don’t need to search too far or for too long to find comfort and guidance just to…

…breathe deeply in faith.

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The expectations of a grieving mother on special days

Now that Mother’s Day has passed, I feel I can exhale. I have a little more breathing space (until Father’s Day which is another tough one). I posted on Facebook yesterday about how hard I find the run of ‘special (bloody) days’ I face. It feels like I’m charging at each one like it’s a brick wall and, by Mother’s Day, I simply go splat!

If I’m honest, I have always found ‘special days’ difficult. As an introvert who doesn’t like ‘fuss and nonsense’ I have developed an association with attention on me being difficult. Difficult perhaps because I don’t like letting my guard down. Difficult perhaps because I don’t like showing my emotions. Difficult perhaps because I’m simply protecting myself from disappointment or hurt…

My childhood, brought up in poverty, was still a good life and we appreciated what we had, but it doesn’t create much sense of anticipation either. Never expecting much, trying to ignore what others have that you don’t, being more thankful for a simple homemade cake than a big party and fuss, keeping a lid on your emotions…. It’s a humbling existence, which I’m not complaining about as I’d much rather have this than be the type of person to cry into my drink because I didn’t get the handbag I wanted.

Unfortunately, as a result, I find myself being irritable and grumpy on special days. I will brush off well wishes and shush people who try to be nice to me. It’s not something I’m proud of at all and I do try to be more open to accept love from others, even my husband and children, but it’s always with a tinge of feeling uncomfortable and wanting it all to be over! I will find myself deliberately busying myself with chores just to avoid the feeling that I must ‘sit down and be Queen for a day’. I clearly have no idea how to be kind to myself!

As I’ve got older and a heck of a lot wiser, I’ve realised I’m not a bad person for being like this. I’m just not the type of person to court attention or expect a big fuss. So, with any special day like my birthday or Mother’s Day I almost ‘vant to be alone’… as Greta Garbo once said.

The expectations of performing a role or being some kind of ‘perfect’, special person make me cringe. For me, rather than feel awesome, days like these always remind me of my failings… of actually not being a ‘perfect’ mother, or not being the ‘perfect’ wife. And then I make myself feel worse as I’m irritated at not throwing myself into it and enjoying some much-needed attention! Attention I know, deep down, I do deserve but just can’t cope with.

Recently, I’ve come down hard on my older children (disciplining your other children after you’ve lost a child is an emotional nightmare, but it’s proven to be essential and worthy of a whole other post, like this one).

I’ve been unpopular. I’ve heard my name shouted and horrible words said in anger. I’ve beaten myself up as I feel tired and emotional, always trying to hold it together yet always managing to give way to my frustration, all the while trying to work out if I’m disciplining as a caring parent or just taking out my grief on them. Failing, failing, failing….

Of course, I’m not really failing, but since Abi died, the expectations of special days adds yet more pressure to me.

Now it’s the same but harder still, as I feel the expectations of grief on these days, as well as on Abi’s special days. I want to hide from the world and get stressed about how I’m feeling. Due to how I am, I know it’s no one’s pressure but mine. I clearly like to beat myself up!

This Mother’s Day was tricky but also revealed a lot to me about why I am the way I am and what I am thankful for – and hence inspired this reflective post.

Continue reading “The expectations of a grieving mother on special days”

Having the courage to believe

This week, I attended my 8-year-old son’s parents’ evening. Like many parents at this time of year, I was keen and somewhat nervous to see how he was getting on.

In the past, before my eldest child died, I was guided a lot by the grades my children achieved. Abi, my eldest child, always did very well. Effortlessly getting good grades due to her natural affinity to the school system and learning. My second child was similar; a good all rounder with a creative flair. My son has found learning at school harder to adjust to. As one of the youngest in his class, he was at a slight disadvantage to his peers. He’s bright enough and loves maths, but he’s not keen on writing or reading in a structured way. He tends to worry about getting things wrong and will simply ‘switch off’ when he can’t handle something. Yet he’s happy and his confidence in himself is growing all the time.

When Abi died, my perspective on many things changed. Everything seemed insignificant… of course it was… but it was such a big thing to adjust to that no one warned me about. I suddenly didn’t know what to care about anymore. But as their routines didn’t stop, I needed to somehow find a way to continue to support my children’s schooling. Our children need to see that we care about all the things they do.

Three years on, I’m in a fairly happy place with this now; my focus centres on my children’s overall happiness and wellbeing. The grades don’t really matter. Clearly, I see the value of learning essentials such as English and mathematics, but I’m not fussed about them achieving the ever-pressured targets set by the government. I firmly believe in a rounded education that includes sports, arts, faith, hobbies and just plain old having fun.

It was something the teacher said that struck me the most about his progress. He was sat at a table with his peers and they were talking about God and Jesus. Everyone except my son said they didn’t believe in Him, they made jokes about Jesus and giggled about it. It wasn’t a deep theological debate this was just 8-year-olds having a chat. But my son went against their opinions and admitted he believed in God, and he said this with simple and honest courage in his convictions. The teacher noticed this and commented on it to us.

Continue reading “Having the courage to believe”

What happens when we die? Explaining death to your child

When thinking about death we have so many questions and very few answers. It’s where the fear and disbelief stem from. Children are renown for saying exactly, and frankly, what’s on their minds. They also have questions which we can find hard to answer, especially when our grief is so raw and we feel lost in our own cloud of uncertainty.

Three years on my children still ask about Abi’s death occasionally. They think about death and heaven, and what it means to die. Part of them is anxious about this, another part very accepting. They have very normal and understandable feelings about death, just like we do, and we take their questions seriously.

My children know what happened to Abi. And while they do worry about death more now, they accept that her brain haemorrhage was a unique illness for her and is unlikely to happen to them.

In the early days, when they were 5 and 10, we kept them sensitively involved in Abi’s death and memorials. We didn’t hide from them what was happening and kept an open dialogue about it all. This we feel has helped them immensely to adjust to life without their big sister. They also fully believe in God and that Abi is in heaven, and again, we haven’t romanticised this to them. She’s not turned into an angel or a star or a bird. She is in heaven waiting for us to one day join her and to live again in a world without pain or suffering.

Yet still the questions come. And I love it!

I love that they always ask why. That their questions mean that they are really trying to understand this life, this world and our purpose. They are inquisitive and will not be ‘won over’ by empty phrases or ‘just because’. And Jesus made it quite clear that us adults can learn a great deal from children, whose minds are open and willing to accept that which they can’t see.
Continue reading “What happens when we die? Explaining death to your child”

A reflection on grief in the Bible

I wrote and adapted this old post of mine for the recent Service of Remembrance at my church earlier this month. This annual service is aimed at those have lost loved ones in the past year or so. Indeed, we attended during the year of Abi’s death and it was incredibly moving.

With memories of that, two years on, I was somewhat anxious about what to say. Preparing words of comfort for people at pretty raw stages of grief was more challenging than I thought. It’s easy enough online when people seek out the kind of words I write, but to stand up and speak about my view of grief was daunting. Continue reading “A reflection on grief in the Bible”

Having faith living in such a broken world…

I’ve been so saddened by recent events in the world, including in Paris, that I felt I needed to write about it and to be more vocal about my beliefs.

It started this morning when I read a Christian devotion someone had written online which encouraged those of us who believe in Jesus to talk about it and live our lives through Him.

Firstly, I tend to keep quiet about my deep beliefs because I feel people misunderstand me. But as I wrote this post, I realised that this is what I am doing, today, choosing to open up so that maybe some of what I share will be understood.

Secondly, when I attended church this morning, naturally we prayed for Paris and other parts of the world affected by violence, and sometimes prayer alone can seem so futile in the midst of such sorrow, but also there was an overwhelming sense of people coming together, uniting, in faith and peace, singing all the louder to drown out evil. And knowing the freedom we have to worship together at all was incredibly humbling.

Regardless of what you believe – and I expect many will already be heading for the ‘x’ button to close this post now that I’ve mentioned J already – if we all lived as Jesus himself actually taught us, this world would be filled with peace and love. It wouldn’t stop all bad things from happening – He never promises that! – but it would put an end to humans hurting each other. Where is the threat in that?

So, if you’ve read this far, here is my take on it.

When atrocities happen, to us, to others, people seem to get angry at God, yet when they come together in such unity and strength I always feels this demonstrates exactly how God is working. Predominantly people of no faith will rant and rage with passion about religion and ‘our God’ allowing us all to suffer and perish in the most horrible ways.

It’s undeniable that heinous crimes have been committed in the name of Christ and God, through the centuries. Horrible things have been done to people who follow a religion. But religion and belief in God are not the same. Religion is supposed to provide a system for humans to worship and share a common belief, which, as we humans like to meddle so much in things, we have used and abused in the name of power – we just love hierarchies, riches, control! Atheists have a form of ‘religion’ too, as others – that is, they all believe there is no God at all. It’s still a universal belief system and they have their ways to support their ‘faith’. And it’s important to remember that many major world atrocities have been committed with no reference to God at all.

Continue reading “Having faith living in such a broken world…”

Book review: Through the eyes of a lion, Levi Lusko

I was contacted by the publicist in Nashville, Tennessee, for the pastor and author Levi Lusko, to review a copy of his first book, Through the eyes of a lion.

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The press release said:

‘On December 20, 2012, five-year-old Lenya Lusko went to heaven while in her parents’ arms after a massive, unexpected asthma attack. With a ferocious personality and hair that had been wild and mane-like since birth, they called her ‘Lenya Lion’. But a few days before Christmas, Levi and Jennie Lusko had to leave the hospital without their vibrant daughter.

After Lenya’s death, Levi had to make a choice – one that anyone going through dramatic events has to make – to give up or to live. In Through the eyes of a lion, Levi explains why he chose to live, and not just survive – but live with the fire and passion that comes from acknowledging that there is more in this life than what can be seen with the naked eye.’

One afternoon, I had a few hours to myself so I decided to start the book. I couldn’t put it down! In fact, I got a highlighter out and highlighted sections that reached out to me most. I read the book in two sittings, which is pretty impressive as reading for ‘pleasure’ for any length of time has been hard for me since Abi died. I have only managed an hour at most. It even inspired this post which I shared about my faith.

There was much about the story which resonated with me. From the way Lenya died so suddenly. That her parents were with her when she passed. That she was one of four children. And that Levi encourages us to see life with fresh eyes – to see what has been invisible to us until now.

Continue reading “Book review: Through the eyes of a lion, Levi Lusko”

Thoughts of God and Grief – reflections on suffering

It’s been a while since I wrote about my faith. I’ve been somewhat stuck in a mental block of grief and anxiety. But I read a book the other day that resonated so much with me that I found almost an awakening. I will be reviewing that book in another blog post, but I found myself pouring out words of faith, words that have been muted up to now.

Writing about my faith isn’t always easy, mostly because I don’t want to alienate those readers who don’t believe the same. But I can only hope that my words spark some thought and continue to bring comfort. My religious posts are the least popular, I presume because people simply don’t want to know, can’t relate or dislike the idea they might be ‘preached to’. One thing I’ve learned about talking to bereaved people is not to talk about God! But if my words speak to one other grieving parent I will know it has been worth writing.

In the not too distant past, religion and belief played a key part of everyone’s lives. Life was fragile, death was a daily fear no matter what age. As we have developed ways of extending our lives and knowing more about how to keep ourselves healthy, we have settled into a frame of mind that is no longer fearful of our death and now more about enjoying life, getting pleasure from material things, chasing personal goals and aspirations.

We grow up believing that we will live to a ripe old age, that we have plenty of time. So we don’t need to worry about God anymore, we don’t need to think about ‘what’s next’. When death takes someone we love, we are surprised, shocked, angry that it could happen at all, and the trauma stays with us. Yet death is the most certain thing in any life. For every thing that lives will die.

We live as though death is an illness. We live as though death is an inconvenience. We live as though death is the end.

It’s not.

How can it possibly be? Continue reading “Thoughts of God and Grief – reflections on suffering”