When I have no words………..

During the last 8 years I have had a pretty large helping of pride, at times, pride in the fact that I have coped in the face of tough circumstances, that I have held down and done well in my career, at the same time as being a single parent and studying for exams. I not suggesting it isn’t important to believe in ourselves but for me there have been moments when it has led to self reliance and maybe at times some arrogance and judgment.

Only a few months ago a few people in my life were struggling and I will ashamedly admit that inside I reacted strongly feeling that if I could cope then surely they could – I have subsequently said my sorrys!! Then suddenly without warning the ground beneath me shifted and due to various circumstances, some out of my control, others not, I felt overwhelmed and had to say I couldn’t keep going and had to stop for a bit. It was so hard to make that decision and has felt like real failure – I am a coper, I am made of stronger stuff, I always keep going – I have beaten myself up repeatedly, partly because I knew me stopping for a bit impacted on lots of other people (who have been incredibly kind, gracious and loving) but I think I almost had to get to that place, that place of weakness and vulnerability, for God to get my attention, to show me my ways were not always the best ways and my plans not always the best plans.

Sometimes I run out of words, I don’t know how or what to pray or how to articulate what I am thinking or feeling and this time has been one of those times. Often during those times it is other people’s words, usually through song, that fill my heart with hope, that I cling onto and which help to move me forward.

Over the last few months pride, expectations, failure and fear are the mixture of feelings that have been consuming me and I have struggled to know how to talk to God or others and fully explain what is going on. In the midst of this there has been two songs that I have played over and over again which have reassured my heart, set hope in my soul and reminded me of the promise that this too will pass.

The first song I was introduced to at the thanksgiving service of a very precious lady in January. Betty was 86 when she died having lived her life so well. Betty was very special to me even though our paths had only crossed in the last few years of her life but she showed me such kindness and wisdom that just seeing her across the room made my day happier. One of the songs we sang that day was a song called Sovereign Over Us (Aaron Keyes).

“There is strength within the sorrow

There is beauty in our tears

Your meet us in our mourning

With a love that casts our fear

 

You are working in our waiting,

Sanctifying us

When beyond our understanding

You’re teaching us to trust

 

Your plans are still to prosper, you have not forgotten us

You are with us in the fire and the flood

You’re faithful forever, perfect in love

You are sovereign over us

 

Even what the enemy means for evil

You turn it for our good

You turn it for our good and for your glory

You’re working for our good

You’re working for our good and for your glory.”

The other song that has been really key for me is “My Lighthouse” by The Rend Collective:

“In my wrestling and in my doubts

In my great failures you don’t walk out

Your great love will lead me through

You are the peace in my troubled sea

You are the peace in my troubled sea

 

In my silence, you won’t let go

In my questions, your truth will hold

 

My lighthouse, my lighthouse

Shining in the darkness I will follow you

My lighthouse, my lighthouse

I will trust the promise

You will carry me safe to shore

 

I won’t fear what tomorrow brings

With each morning I will rise and sing

My God’s love will lead me through.”

I so grateful that other people are willing to make themselves vulnerable, to use their giftings and pour their hearts into writing these words which have given me (and no doubt many others) strength and hope.

I guess some reading this may not believe the same things I do and may be of the view that the God thing is a crutch but for me it is a crutch (as well as being many other things) and I do not apologise for saying that – I could not get through the tougher times without knowing that there is a God whose plans and purposes are bigger and better than mine, who gives me a hope that is not only eternal but also for the here and now, that he has not forgotten me, that in his presence there is no fear, and that if I let him he can turn all things for my good.

So right now I feel pretty vulnerable and a little scared about what the future looks like but I know that God can and will turn it all around for my good, that there is hope for the future and he will carry me safe to shore.

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The thief of joy

If I had to chose one social media forum it would be Instagram – I have always loved photographs and have always been nosey and so can spend hours looking at other people’ s lives/experiences/families. I saw this quote the other day which just about summed it up “Start looking through someone’s insta next thing you know you’re on their cousin’s brother’s wife’s profile looking at pics from Barcelona 2010”.

The flip side of social media is that it paints only the positive/happy/exciting aspects of people’s lives. I have lost count of the times I have had conversations with people about how social media can make them feel rubbish about their own lives as they get a glimpse into other people’s lives. In fact only the other morning I saw an article on facebook about how facebook can cause depression for those very reasons. I have at times had to sign off social media for periods because seeing other people’s happy family shots was just too hard. In reality those pictures/statuses only show a part of people’s lives and often not the harder bits but yet when we are in our hard bits it is tough to remember that reality.

The other week Lucy turned to me and said totally out of the blue “Mummy you are pretty but you are not as pretty as Lois.” Lois is her adored aunt and my sister-in-law. Laughingly I told her she was welcome to go and live with Lois to which Lucy replied that even though Lois was prettier she loved me more (although I don’t doubt Lois comes a close second). My sister-in-law is a very beautiful lady and so I was not too shocked by Lucy’s statement save that maybe I expected slightly more loyalty!

A few years ago Lucy saying that may have sent me over the edge emotionally. In the midst of my grief my brother fell in love. I struggled so much that they had something I no longer had that for the first 9 months I could not meet my sister-in-law to be, driving my poor parents mad, and in fact had to force myself to meet her once they were engaged. People would say to me I should be happy for my brother and could not understand why it was so tough for me. I was happy for my brother, I wanted nothing but the best for him but at the same time my heart was broken and I wanted my happy ever after back. During that period I spent a lot of time feeling like a failure, here was I the messed up one barely surviving at times, and here was what appeared to be this perfect couple with great, worthy careers and their bright shining future ahead of them together. Basically I was comparing my life with theirs and I was jealous.

I did eventually meet my sister-in-law, and by God’s goodness and grace, had the privilege of being one of her bridesmaid. I love my sister-in-law dearly and am grateful for her patience with me over the years.

Over the last decade I have watched as friends’ families have grown, as careers have developed, incomes increased and larger family homes, in nicer areas, have been purchased. I have really struggled comparing my circumstances with those around me, at times being slightly embarrassed at inviting Lucy’s friends over to play to our much smaller house.

I have learnt the painful way that comparison is truly the thief of joy, as Mark Twain said it is the death of joy. It is an on-going process but I am slowly learning to accept who I am, to be thankful for what I have and to compare down instead of always comparing up, to see just what I have compared to so many in this world and learning that I am not defined by my bank balance, the size of my house or my career successes. Every comparison I make robs me of life, of truth, of relationship – it sows seeds of doubt, of bitterness and jealously and it means I miss out on all the good things there are for me because I get so tied up in focusing on what I do not have or how I could be better or different or what could be better or different.

I refuse to waste anymore time or energy comparing myself to others. Yes I have failed at times, and will fail again, maybe I will never be able to afford a bigger house and maybe I am not always as together as other people around me – I would love to have been one of those people who acted at all times with dignity and grace but I am who God made me to be with all my emotions out there for the world to see and I am learning to be grateful for that. I cannot try to be someone I was not made to be because to do so is essentially sticking two fingers up at God – he made me, he delights in me and he loves me unconditionally as he does each and every one of us and I know he wants us to live in the freedom of those truths.

Our lives are our stories unique to each one of us and I for one want to get on and live each chapter of my story, with all its ups and downs, without thinking I should be a different character in my story or that I would rather my story was actually someone else’s because otherwise I will get to the end having wasted so much time, and so many opportunities and experiences.

Framily

So in the months after John died I would often find myself thinking that I was no longer the most important person to anyone. I knew that I had lots of people who loved me but I was not number one to anyone. John would often call me during the working day just to say hi because I was his person, the one he would think of most, the one he cared about most, his best friend, but he was no longer out there.

There was no-one to come home to and share with when work had been tough, or to make parenting decisions with, or money worries, or to laugh with, that person who knew all my secrets or even just to share the plain old normal moments of life.

I lost track of the number of people who said to me “well at least you have Lucy” and who secretly I wanted to smack round the face – I did know deep down that they cared and were just trying to make it a little bit better but the angry, hurting side still wanted to smack them in the face. Yes I have Lucy and she has been my lifesaver, a reason to keep going, someone who I love completely and utterly and who makes me laugh every single day but one day Lucy will go out into the world on her own and hopefully become number one to someone else. Lucy is my child, she needs me to look after her, to provide for her– her role is not to look after to me, to support me – she cannot and should not fill the hole John left.

One of the things that breaks my heart most in this life is loneliness in people. In my mind everyone should have love, companionship, acceptance, safety in knowing that someone has their back. I get lonely because my husband died but for other people it may be divorce, or maybe never having met that special person or maybe they are married but are lonely within that marriage. I know that marriage/relationships are not for everyone and that many people are very happy being on their own and I am also not trying to say that marriage/relationships leads to total satisfaction/happiness/completeness because we all know that is not the case but I believe we were not created to live alone or be lonely. As a Christian I strongly believe that there are two things which matter above anything else, to love God and to love others.

I do get lonely and whilst the passing of time has eased the pain, so much, the loneliness is the one thing that still remains. However I am one of the lucky ones because whilst I may not be number one to anyone anymore I am part of amazing communities or as one of my friend would say “framilies”. Those communities include my work community, my church community and the community of people who became my friends when I moved back to Sheffield after uni.

Recently I have been having a bit of time out of work, a few weeks off to recharge my batteries, for various reasons. Nearly every single day of the time I have had off I have had contact from my work mates, rooting for me, saying they miss me, caring for me. I have the best work mates in the world!! My job is tough and stressful but those people have my back, and me theirs – they understand, they help me and they make me laugh. They share a big part of my waking hours and we are a great team. I could not do my job without them.

Common to most churches I am part of a smaller group within the church, a group of people that meets to together, to share life, the highs and the lows – we talk and pray together, eat together, laugh together. As a community we have been together for about 18 months, and at the beginning some of us knew each other, some of us didn’t, but I have come to love that group of people. We can call on each other when we need something be it practical or emotional; we share the good stuff of life and the hard stuff. Those people and that community make me feel less alone, they belong to me and me to them, and yes that will not be forever and people will come and go from that community but these are the people God has given me for now to be my “framily” and I am so very grateful for each and everyone of them.

Fifteen years ago I came back to Sheffield from London after finishing uni and working down there for a short time. I came back to all my friends having moved away and being faced with having to start all over again. I gradually got to know a group of people, all in their early 20s, who invited me to go skiing with them and that trip was the beginning for me of belonging to a community who are now the people who probably know me best. That community has evolved over the years, again as people have moved and life has changed for us all – we are a mixed bag of people who have been through so much together, death, babies, marriage, marriage difficulties, job struggles and losses, fertility issues, singleness, holidays, picnics, bbqs, brunches, but whatever is going on in my life when I get to sit round the table with those guys I know it is all ok because they are my safe people, they know me, warts and all, and they love me. It is not perfect, we are far from perfect, and over the years there has had to be a lot of forgiveness and grace, because we are nothing but a group of people who are very honest and real, but we are still together and in one way or another I think we will be for many years to come.

So yes I get lonely and maybe in some ways that loneliness will always be there because my person is no longer here and I have to raise our child without him but I am not alone because I have those communities, who love me and who love my child, who share our lives and open their lives to share them with us. Those people and those communities enrich my life so much that I am regularly overwhelmed at how grateful I am for them.

However I know it does not end there because I hate seeing loneliness in others, it is the one thing that without fail can reduce me to a sobbing wreck. I am lucky/blessed/fortunate because in terms of friendship and communities I have been given so much but I know that because I have been given so much I have to give back. I hope that I will always open my life and my home to people who perhaps don’t have what they would have hoped for out of life, who are lonely and who simply want to be loved and accepted – to give to other people what I have been abundantly blessed with because I know what a difference that can make when your life feels broken. For some life doesn’t work out how they hoped, not everyone gets to be part of a “normal” family unit, but I am constantly challenged by the fact that if we love and give to others whilst we cannot take away hurts and people’s pasts, or maybe even change their circumstances we can make it so much easier for them to deal with, and we can give hope – by loving them, by listening, by caring and by sharing life so they are not quite as alone.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is LOVE.

Today is one of those days where I need to hold tight to hope, to believe that life is fundamentally good, that it is not all about the hard and the heavy stuff.

This week has been a week of deep sadness, not my own personal sadness, but sadness for people I love which I guess means it becomes my sadness, of situations I wish with every fibre of my being I could change and make better but which I can’t and all I can do is stand by and watch, praying and loving.

In those early days after losing John I would desperately seek out stories of people who had been through similar situations and had come out the other side in one piece. If people told me they had a friend who had lost their spouse I would grill them about what that person’s life looked like now. I desperately needed to hear stories to fill my broken heart with hope that it would not always feel like it did, that I would not always feel so lost or so sad.

Sometimes I just could not have hope, it simply hurt too much and I couldn’t believe I would ever feel ok again, would ever laugh or know that lightness in my spirit again. In those times I knew those that those that loved me never gave up hope for me, that they never stopped believing in my future and in those times their words of hope kept pushing me forward and giving me life. They would tell me that they totally believed that there were better times ahead, that I would be loved again, that this wasn’t the end of the story. One day at church a friend came up to and told me that he and his wife had watched the film “Ps I love You”, a film about a man who knew he was going to die and left 12 letters for his wife, for each month following his death. In one of those letters he wrote to his wife saying that she had been the whole of his life but he was only a chapter of her life and there were many more chapters to come. My friend said that God had really spoken to him about me whilst he had been watching that film and that he felt like God wanted me to know there were so many good chapters of my life to come. Those words meant so much to me, words of hope and encouragement.

There are a lot of crappy things that go on in this world. I do not often pick up a newspaper or watch the news, much to the disgust of my brother, because in all honesty I just end up very heavy hearted when I do. That may sound like a very selfish and ignorant thing to say and obviously I do find out about important news events, but I think having had tragedy and loss in my life, and watching friends and family going through tragedy, and because the area of law I specialise in is what we affectionately refer to as “death and madness” I simply do not have room in my heart for any more sadness, heaviness and dispute. Having said that I am passionate about wanting to commit my future to using my experiences to help others, to see broken people restored and healed, as one of my best friends says not wasting the pain – to bringing hope from the pain for others, in whatever ways I can.

On Instagram I follow an Australian lady whose account is pictures of couples, mainly older couples, which are accompanied by a narrative of their love stories.
Couples who have shared their lives, weathered the storms, and come into their latter years still as in love and stronger together. I cannot get enough of these stories of hope and love – they lift my soul. Likewise I am sure many of you will have see the Humans of New York stuff on social media. The idea is that they go round taking photographs of all sorts of different people in and around New York and you get a glimpse into their story – now not all of them are happy and inspiring but many are, of people overcoming adversity, of bringing change and transformation, of love and hope. I love reading those stories.

Right now I am in a bit of a funny place in my life, for reasons I cannot really share in a public forum – nothing bad though, and in time I probably will write more about it but it has meant I have a little bit more time to write, process, and think than I normally would have. So in the midst of that time I have started to write and have been a little overwhelmed at the response but I do not want this blog/my writing to be simply a sad story I want it to be a story of hope, of encouragement – so hopefully people can read my story and my experiences and be encouraged that whatever we go through in life, the hard times, the battles, it is not the end of the story, it too will pass and you can come through it changed with a greater capacity to love, trust and hope.

One of the most famous verses is the bible is this one – “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1Corinthians 13 vs. 13). Whether we believe in God or not, whether we are young or old, rich or poor, whatever our lives look like I believe with all that I am that these three matter more than anything, FAITH, HOPE and LOVE – and if we build our lives with these 3 things at the centre we will not only survive anything this crazy adventure that is life throws at us but we will know such beauty and joy in the journey.

So with that in mind I would love to hear stories from you of hope, love, faith, – love stories, stories where people have overcome adversity, of families, of friendship, of miracles, of healing and transformation. I would love to hear them for selfish reasons because today I need to hear that good things happen, that life is full of love and goodness even when there is death, cancer, loss, pain, and that those things will not win but also to maybe share some of those stories on this blog, to lift us in hope, love and faith because I know that those things lead to life in all its fullness. So if you do have stories, maybe not your own, maybe people you know or strangers’ stories you have heard, do drop me an email at rebeccaforder77@gmail.com – look forward to hearing from you x

Kindness in the dark

So had things been different I would be about to celebrate my 10th wedding anniversary, with 2 or 3 kids and working part time but instead I am a single parent (oh how I hate that title!!), to an only child, with a full on legal career.

What I am about to admit is not something I am proud of but there have been many times over the last few years when I expected God to make up for the things that have been taken, where I have felt like I deserved good things to happen for me, for life to be easy going forward, to balance out all the bad things that have happened. I felt that God should hand to me on a plate a rich husband, more babies and a life of international travel, to make up for my broken heart – I am still waiting and I have a feeling I may be waiting a long time!!

I have come to a place where I can accept that life is not always going to be easier going forward just because it has been tough in the past. God is not in the business of always taking away our struggles, our battles, our losses, our disappointments but I can testify that he gives us all that we need to get through those times, and that he is kind in the midst of the pain and the heart break.

On the morning after John’s death I wanted to be in church, in a place where I would feel close to John. I went with my close friends, Katie and Rich, who had come up from Bristol to be with me and they sat either side of me, as John’s death was announced from the front. At the end of the service our vicar, Mick, said that he felt God was telling him to change the hymn that they had planned to end the service with and that the hymn that we were to sing instead was for John. As the music started to play I was totally overwhelmed as they were playing John’s favourite hymn. Afterwards I asked Mick if he knew that it was John’s favourite and he said he had no idea. I knew at that moment that God was with me and in it and that small thing was something that I held close to me even during the months and years I was doubting and wrestling with my faith – it was to be a very gentle reminder that God had not forgotten me.

At the time of John’s death my friend was doing an art course. On that course was a girl called Emma. Emma had lost her husband 4 months before John had died and she asked my friend if she could contact me. A month after Lucy had been born I met with Emma in Starbucks and it was the start of a relationship that was one of God’s biggest kindnesses to me as I grieved and rebuilt my life, and I think and hope to Em too. Em’s husband, Andy, was knocked off his bike, by a car going too fast, 5 weeks after their wedding. Andy was the same age as my John and Em and I were born a day apart and had grown up roads apart but our paths had never crossed.

Em helped me to feel normal when everything normal in my life had been turned upside down, and ripped apart. I was able to share with Em what I was thinking and feeling, and she with me, sometimes dark, irrational, crazy thoughts and feelings and we were able to reassure each other that the other of us had had similar thoughts and feelings and that we were not in fact going mad!

I spent a fortune on clothes, Em on bags and cars and we were able to justify those purchases to each other!!

Em was a total gift from God – the one person who totally understood, who was walking the same path, and through it all a deep bond formed and continues despite now being in different continents and time zones.

Other kindnesses were friends who totally embraced us into their family, who we have holidayed with, whose children have become like siblings to Lucy, who have wept with me, laughed with me, encouraged and pushed me forward. Then there was the amazing loyalty my brother showed by living with Lucy and I for two years, commuting a 2 hour round journey to get to work and yet still getting up in the night with a crying child when I couldn’t take it any more.

I could not have got through the last 8 years without amazing friends and family, too many to reference here, each and everyone who have been a testament of God’s kindness to me – I am blessed abundantly by each and every one.

Other kindnesses were financial. I have never had to worry about money – I have never been afraid that there is not enough. Yes there have been times where funds were a little tighter but usually my Dad stepped in and in his kindness was generous to me – my heavenly father showing his kindness to me through my earthly father. There has always been enough.

So no God did not taken the pain away, he did not wave his magic wand and make it all better, he did not step in in the ways I thought he should, but he was kind to me, and gave me what I needed to survive and so much more. Not only did those kindnesses help me survive each day, each week, each month, each holiday, each anniversary but so so much more they led to such precious friendships/relationships, an ability to trust and hope for the future, whatever that may bring, and hopefully a greater ability to be kind and love others in their struggles. More beauty from the ashes.

Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself it’s later than you think!!

I have been thinking a lot lately about how short life is and how quickly it seems to go by.

In 8 weeks time I will be in Sydney and I can’t wait!! Whilst there I am hoping to catch up with an old uni friend who I haven’t seen in 16 years. 16 years!!! How have 16 years passed since uni? And where has it gone? How am I old enough to have been graduated over 16 years?

Only the other morning I was looking at baby photos of my little girl, Lucy, and it seems like overnight that baby is now nearly 8 years old and in the same time again, in what I have no doubt will feel like a blink of an eye, she will be nearly 16.

I should know better than most that life is short but so frequently I forget and I get consumed with the craziness of life, running from work to picking up Lucy from this, that and the other, to seeing friends, to sorting something for my mum and often falling into bed too exhausted to really think about the important stuff of life or to really live in the important moments, and so weeks and months and years pass by and suddenly it is 8 years since my baby arrived into my world and 16 years since I graduated from uni. Don’t get me wrong there are so many amazing moments and memories in those crazy busy weeks, months and years but sometimes I wonder whether I miss out on more of them.

Tragically a few weeks ago our church family had devastating news of a lovely bloke in his mid 30s passing suddenly leaving his gorgeous wife and kids. I have no doubt they took for granted the fact they had many years ahead of them as a family and rightly so. At the same time I have been watching one of my best friends as a member of her family battles cancer at a stupidly and frankly pretty shitty early age. These two situations have affected me deeply.

My lovely daddy bravely fought cancer for 3 years before losing his battle just over 18 months ago. To my dad work/career and to a large extent status/success were his priority – he owned his own business and with that came an immense amount of stress and pressure. In my eulogy at my dad’s funeral I talked about how the last 6 years I had with him, the years after losing John, had been the most precious. During those 6 years he loved and encouraged me when I was at my foulest and probably my most unlovable, and it was also during those years that I learnt the true worth of him as we spent many hours talking and grieving and just being – beauty from the ashes. My dad knew that his life was coming to an end and I think losing John, then his own father and then facing his own mortality changed my dad in significant and positive ways. On one occasion when I was stressing about work (unfortunately a major factor of my life!!!) he told me that he had realised that all the years he had spent worrying and stressed about work (yes that is where I have inherited it from) had not been worth it.

I am guilty of putting myself under significant pressure work wise and setting very high expectations, to meet my targets and exceed them, and to obtain the best possible results therefore regularly battling with stress and anxiety. This is partly due to my background and the whole success thing that I feel is expected from the paternal side of my family, but like many I get self worth from achievement and success.

So as I have been thinking about how short life is I have been thinking about what is really important and how I want to live my life, what and who I want to invest it in and how I want to look back and see my life. I want to work hard and do the very best in that work, and succeed and do well, because I believe that is what God has called me to do but there has to be a balance, there has to be perspective and my life cannot be driven by the size of my pay packet or being successful in that corporate culture. Above all when my turn comes to go home I want any career successes to be way down the list – I want people to say she loved her God and her people hard and good, that she was kind, compassionate and committed, and that she had fun and enjoyed the journey home. I have some way to go to in getting there and there maybe things I need to let go of, probably some deeply held attitudes and expectations. I know that probably before I get there there will be more bumps in the road, dramas and more tough times, because that is the reality of life, but I also know there will also be many more happy times, many more amazing people to love and cherish and plenty of adventures to be had and I intend to embrace them.