Little Brenda

A constant challenge for me is that of success, money, status and what part those things play in my life and how much they shape my decisions and the way I live my life, partly due to my family, my education and having spent the last 11 years working in the corporate world.

I think, in fact I know, God is doing a work in me in this area firstly by removing me from the said corporate world, into the charity sector, which has meant a pay cut and the loss of lots of nice benefits, coupled with some pride issues, and secondly then having to explain to the said family why I have made such a radical decision. I think this work may be long overdue but no doubt costly and painful certainly meaning less new clothes! I don’t doubt for a minute it is the right decision, and I am really excited about all the opportunities that lie ahead, but I would lying if I said there were not anxieties about the future that come with such a decision.

As that challenge has come I know God has been turning upside down my thought processes and attitudes. A few weeks ago a very precious lady, who had been part of our community as I was growing up, died. This lady had not had an easy start in life going through a series of foster homes and children’s houses. She also had learning difficulties. I was unable to go to her funeral as I was away but I read the order of service, which told of her life story, and as I read it I cried. I was blown away. Her story was one of obstacles and difficulties, of loss and disappointments, but yet she was the most giving and generous and amazing lady. She always had a smile and a hello and whilst she did not have very much money at all to each couple in our community who got married she would give them a tea towel and when babies were born socks or bibs – I know that many of you reading this will have been the recipient of a tea towel and socks/bibs. On my daughter Lucy’s birthday 1st birthday I remember a card coming through the door with £5 in it – I remember at the time it made me weep but reading again of her generosity to so many has impacted me greatly.

Apparently at her funeral there were bus drivers from the routes she travelled on and shop keepers from the shops she frequented and the service was packed.

In the world’s eyes this lady would have not been much to shout about, she was not successful in worldly terms, she was not wealthy with a long list of successes but I have absolutely no doubt she will have a mansion in heaven.

I cannot stop thinking about her – there has been a lot of change in my life in the last few weeks, with lots of challenge, teaching and input but it is this lady’s life that I keep coming back to, that has challenged me the most. She had such a spirit of kindness, of generosity and of friendship – she had it right in contrast to how I often get it so wrong. She knew what was important – she gave and gave from the little she had. She showed kindness without limits.

I have been reminded time and time again in the last month (and I am sensing that there may have to be many more reminders as I wrestle with this one) that God’s heart is not for the things the world puts so much value on, that he does not rate us or judge us or love us conditional upon those values – thankfully he loves us unconditionally which is a good job as far as my life goes, that he loves a generous heart, a heart that pours out love, kindness and compassion – that those things are so much more important to him than job titles, pay packets, reputations and qualifications, which I have no doubt feature right down on his list. I have no doubt that when I get to heaven God will not be interested in how many degrees or qualifications I had or what my house was worth but that he will want to know what I did to love and help the poor and vulnerable, how I used the gifts and resources he has given me to bless others and for his kingdom.

I know that the lovely lady whose story has impacted me so much in the last few weeks will have been greeted with the words “well done good and faithful servant” when she finally got to meet Jesus. She lived her life so well and I for one have so much to learn from who she was and the way she lived her life.

If only we could fully grasp the importance of values such as generosity, kindness and compassion, and give them the weight that God longs them to have then I have no doubt we would see massive change in our communities and in the world. If we could flip over our priorities so our spiritualty and relationships came first and foremost way above our finances, our careers, our reputations and all the other stuff we are constantly told is so important what would it look like? I am not saying that those things are not important, whether we like it or not money is a necessity and can do so much good, and intellect and successes are gifts from God and we need people in influence and power to be advocates for change, but for me it is all about my attitude and the importance I give to these things both in terms of the way I live my life and the way I treat/judge others. Think it may be an ongoing work…………..

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Give thanks continuously…..

Right now I feel full to bursting with gratitude – I have just had the most amazing holiday, seeing a gorgeous part of the world and having precious time with family and friends. I have also started a new job which in the first two days has had me on the verge of tears on so many occasions because I have felt overwhelmed with people’s kindness, their welcome and their words of encouragement, as well as inspired and excited to be part of an amazing work – in two days there feels like there has already been some healing of the crap of the last 6 months that was the legal world. I am thankful to God for his perfect timing, for his amazing provision of an opportunity which feels so right and so life giving.

I feel blessed and life feels good and exciting and there is so much to be thankful for, overwhelming amounts, but it feels like this time has been a long time coming – 8 years to be exact. Since John died I have lost count of the number of people who have told me I am doing amazingly, which has meant a lot, but the truth is that there has been a really ugly side to my grieving, a side I am not proud of and fortunately a side which is now long finished. However, in those first few years I went through periods of real bitterness and of self-pity. I got good at putting a front up so most people would not see it but behind closed doors I would blow up at my family, at John’s family and at my closest friends, so most people never saw it, but those that did I think I probably put through hell. I would scream and swear at them and lash out saying things I knew would hurt them because I was hurting so much that I needed to hurt someone else. I am thankful that they were patient and gracious and are still there because I have no doubt there were times when they would have happily washed their hands of me. During those times I felt anything but thankful – I felt incredibly bitter – I felt like God had forgotten me, that I did not matter to him because if I had mattered he would have protected my little family. If I am being really honest I did not even feel grateful for the basics of life that we take for granted, the things that most of us can still be thankful for, even when we face struggles in life, for health, a roof over our heads, food on the table, family, friends – because all I wanted was to die too, I did not see that there was a happy life ahead for me without John and I just wanted to go and be with him.

For a year I could not step into a church because I was so angry with God, because I just couldn’t fathom why or how or what. Why did he not step in that night and save John? How did John die of some freak illness in his prime when actually it is pretty damn hard to die at the age of 28? What sort of “good” plan was that for any of our lives and what good could possibly come out of any of it?

As I have slowly but surely emerged from the pit of my grief I have learnt some pretty important lessons about the power of being thankful and of celebration even in the hardest of times and the power and release that comes as a result. I knew that I did not want to stay in that place of bitterness, even when I was right in the centre of it and even when at times it felt like the safest and easiest place to be, so slowly I started to be thankful for the things I did have, for the people who loved me and fought for me, for a good job, for a beautiful little girl, for a home and financial security, for my health and in that place of thankfulness started to come healing – it was not instant but it was deep and thorough. When the feelings of bitterness and self-pity came I would allow myself to stay there for a bit but then would pull myself up, focusing on all that there was to be thankful for, and as the months and years went by those times of bitterness and self pity became less and less to the point where they are thankfully no more.

One of the things that was hardest for me in the early years was watching people having babies, on two counts, the first being that I knew that they had gone into the hospital together, as a couple, and gone through the experience of having a child together, with all the joy that brings, and taking that baby home together, when my experience of my child coming into the world had been so incredibly lonely and so far from what it had started off as and secondly because I did not get the chance to have more babies. Early on I knew that I had to celebrate with my friends, I made a point of being the one to organise the meal rotas, and of visiting and standing with them in their excitement and joy. I cried my tears in private and in public celebrated. Often they knew and I knew they knew but it was so important for me to share in those times with them because I love them and want good things for them but because I knew my heart would get hard and ultimately it would only mean more pain for me.

I would be lying if I said those times of the family/couple/baby issue hurting were behind me but the place I am in is so far forward from where it was 5 years ago and even 1 year ago. I still have to put those masks on occasionally but there are only a few people that see those masks go up and generally I know more contentment with where I am that I have done in a very long time. I can genuinely say that if I never have any more children then that is ok, I have one beautiful and amazing child, I love my cousins’ kids desperately, as I will any nieces and nephews I may have, and my life is full of gorgeous children, who make me laugh, who give me cuddles and make life so much better.

I have learnt the important of saying thank you, and of celebrating with others, even when that is hard, it lifts our eyes and souls upwards, it stops us being self adsorbed and stuck, it releases us and it brings healing. It reminds us that it is all so much bigger than just us and our stuff and I truly believe that whilst it may take time having a heart of gratitude, a spirit of thankfulness and a desire to celebrate leads us out of the tough places as it changes our hearts and our attitudes.

Today I am not only thankful for where I am right now, for all the good things that I have but for the journey I have been on, for all the lessons learnt, for the relationships that have deepened, grown and started. I am thankful for a husband who loved me, believed in me and cherished me and a Dad who constantly had my back, who scarified so much for me and in his own way loved me unconditionally – I am thankful that they had a relationship with their heavenly father and are now safely with him in heaven. I am thankful for all they both taught me in their lives, by loving me, but also in their illness/deaths.

Most of all I am thankful to a faithful and loving God who has picked up the pieces of my shattered life and rebuilt me patiently – still some way to go though!!

Family

Families are something we all have whether we like it or not! And those family ties are so incredibly strong in both good and bad ways – no-one can make us feel safer and more loved than our families but no-one can hurt us more. 

I am fascinated by families, I love family trees and history, photos and family likenesses. A few months ago a parcel arrived from Cyprus for my mum which had been sent by my grandpa’s neighbours. It was various papers and photos they had found in his house. I was in total heaven – in amongst that parcel was a detailed family tree going back 5 generations and transcripts of family letters dating back to the 1800s, the originals of which are safely tucked away. I came to one photo and I was totally blown away as it was a photo of my great grandfather (my grandfather’s father) from the early 1900s and it could have been my dad – the resemblance was so strong.

I love the idea of 2 people coming together to create a new family and each of those individual histories, lineages and genetics combining to create a new life. 

It is true what they say in that during our childhoods are families are everything and then during our teens and 20s we make steps out on our to then come back – that certainly feels the case for me! At one point my family were the last people I wanted to spend time with but certainly now the people I love being with the most. 

No family is perfect – ours is far far from it. Like most families there are plenty of characters, family arguments and history- there are broken relationships, geographical distances and long held hurts. I often wonder how I could possibly be related to half of my relatives and no doubt they feel the same about me. That being said though however much they may frustrate me or however different we may be they are the same flesh and blood and there is something very powerful in that. 

My sibling, my cousins, their spouses and their children are absolutely my favourite people. After spending time with my cousin’s little ones in Sydney I was overwhelmed at how much I fell in love with them. My mum is a legend who literally holds my world together and the absence of my dad leaves a big hole in my heart. I am blessed to have uncles and aunts who love me. So whilst my family is not what I hoped it would be, whilst I thought it may include a husband, more children with their Grandpa here to watch them grow, more and more I am realising how very blessed I am to be part of the family I am part of, with its warts and all.

I am though very much aware of the pain families can bring partly because at times I have experienced that pain myself but also because for the last 11 years I have worked day in day out with warring families, dealing with siblings that hate each other, parents and children who have been estranged for many years and step families where there is no love lost – I have literally been waist deep in dealing with the hatred, bitterness and sadness that comes with these broken relationships, for years, and it is incredibly sad and heart breaking. On nearly a daily basis my colleagues and I would voice out loud our wonder at how things could get that bad.

I know that families are not always easy to be part of and that sometimes other people make those family relationships all but impossible and I also know that for some the area of family is a deeply painful one. I am thankful that my earthly family aside I have a Heavenly Father and that where family relationships are tough he has those situations and is more than able to carry us in the midst of those pains, but also to turn those situations around. I know there can be healing, restoration and redemption when we let God do his work. 

Families need grace, forgiveness and a sense of humour but they are worth fighting for and investing in. And whilst I have said this before and I will no doubt say it again, because it is something I feel incredibly passionate about, for those of us that are lucky enough to have families we love we need to be sharing those families with people who are not so fortunate, to include people and welcome them into our families with open arms. 

Reflections

In a few weeks time I am moving house temporarily which means I have spent the last month going through drawers and cupboards sorting through things. I am not a hoarder, I pride myself on my organisational skills and my neatness so in theory the job of sorting through the contents of my house should not be a particularly onerous or time consuming one but it has taken me hours and in those hours not a lot of progress has been made. The problem is that every few items I go through there is a letter, a card or a photograph I have not seen in years and it sets me off on a trip down memory lane and 95% of the times induces tears.

The other Saturday as I was going through boxes of photos and letters I was overwhelmed by the fact that each photo and letter represented a person, a friendship and a story and I sobbed – tears of sadness but also tears of joy and thankfulness.

Many of the photos I was looking at were from over ten years ago before the age of digital cameras and smartphones. I looked at the faces of people I loved and a strong sense of each of their journeys welled up in me – of all that had happened in their lives in the last ten years or so. I saw answered and unanswered prayers, successes, relationships, losses, opportunities seized, joys, disappointments,  babies, marriages, job triumphs and struggles as well so many memories.

Not only did the sorting of my stuff make me reflect back on each of those individual’s lives but on what part those individuals played in mine and how rich life is with all its experiences, dramas, highs, lows and even the mundane aspects of our every day. 

Then the other day I saw for the first time this CS Lewis quote “Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes but when you look back everything is different.”   That quote so resonated with me because most days are pretty normal, and you go about your work and your play with nothing being particularly out of the ordinary and then every now and again you have the chance to reflect and you realise in the ordinariness of the every day which often feels exactly that, ordinary, in amongst those ordinary moments there are moments of the extraordinary, which alongside life’s big events all combined together means life changes, we change and we are different people from the people we were ten years ago and the people we will be in ten years.

So as I reflected and remembered I was also full of thankfulness for all that God has done in the last ten years. I think often it is only as we look back at the past we get a clearer idea of what was happening and how God was working. As I look back I can see answered prayers and lives changed in ways that I could not see at the time those prayers were being prayed or those lives being changed. 

I love the idea, as cheesy as I accept it is, of our lives being like a tapestry with two sides, the beautiful picture on the front and then the underside, the mess of different threads, colours and patterns- the underside being the side we see as our lives in the here and now – the side that often feels messy and confusing. Then one day when our lives are at an end and we get to heaven we see the beautiful picture side and we gain an understanding of how what often felt messy and confusing was actually worked together to create a beautiful picture.

I totally believe that one day I will come face to face with my Heavenly Father and I will understand more of this life and have answers to the unanswered questions but I don’t want to wait until then to see how beautiful my life is. I want to get into the discipline of reflection – to be able to look back and see how God has and is working in the ordinary and the extraordinary, how he has answered prayers and transformed lives and not only so I can be thankful but so that I can be encouraged to keep on going. I believe that God has a plan for each of our lives and that he is a good God – it may not always feel like that when the tears come, when our hearts break and when things are tough but my testimony is that as I look back I can see that he has worked in amazing ways – that in the midst of the darkness the light has always come again!