“Everything will be okay and if it is not okay it is not the end…”

The other day I read an article by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s daughter about her on-going battle with depression. It was a really honest, vulnerable and brave article.

Again it reminded me that lots of people carry their own struggles, battles and scars – often ones they aren’t willing or able to show to the world but I loved this girl’s bravery for speaking out about such a painful subject which affects so many people but which is often a taboo subject. I am lucky I have never suffered with it but I have walked with people I love who have. It’s relentless, it is misunderstood and frankly it is crappy as it sucks away people’s joy and ability to fully engage with life.

Likewise I have never faced infertility but I have stood by and watched as people I love dearly have- I have prayed feverently and passionately for so many babies as I have watched months pass by and friends’ hearts break a little more each time.

I do not know what it is like to live in an abusive and addictive situation, or to be desperate for money to feed my family, or to live through divorce or a broken relationship, or to love a sick or disabled child.

I do, however, know about loss and loneliness much more than I anticipated I ever would by this stage of my life, which many people do not understand.

All these things and so many more are massive disappointments in life – life was not meant to turn out like that, hopes and dreams have been shattered, and they hurt like hell. What I am about to say feels like a really depressing statement but life will include for all of us, at some point, or at various stages, some level of disappointment, in varying degrees, for some those disappointments will be more tragic and heart breaking than for others but disappointment will be part of all our stories. It is a truth that I think a lot of the time we do not want to face because we do not know how to handle it. I think we buy into the lie that life should always be great and fulfilling and beautiful and so when those disappointments come we feel like we have failed because our lives are not the glossy, happy, smiley, fun lives we should be living.

What I have been reflecting upon recently is how we deal with those disappointments and survive them. I wasn’t prepared for the enormity that was John’s death and becoming a single parent as quite honestly those sorts of things didn’t happen to people like me and as a result I well and truly lost the plot for a good few years.

I don’t have the answers as I reflect upon these things – I wish there was a formula for getting through so that life could get back to normal like it was before, in record speed. I remember a conversation I had with my grief buddy, Em (not sure how you will feel about such a title Em!) about how we both wished the grief process was a tick list which you could work through in a set period, a bit like preparing for an exam, to then be able to get back to normal happy people, whatever normal and happy now looked like. But guess what it was not so straightforward – it was messy and complicated and took a flipping long time! 8 years on and we would both say that that loss still massively affects our lives and who we are. We are probably radically different people to the ones that said those wedding vows all those years ago – the way we react, the choices we make, the way we relate to people I am guessing are all affected by the events of late 2006. We have both moved on so so much but it is still there – only last week I felt the grief consume me more than it has done in a long time because of something that happened.

I have come to accept that that loss and its disappointments will always be a part of me but I do not want them to define me. I don’t always want to be known as the girl whose husband died (and yes I have been introduced as that in a work context on more than one occasion!). Will I always feel the need to tell my story to strangers I meet to justify why I am on my own and why I am a single parent? Is there hope? Can life be ok again when it feels like it is so far from what it was meant to look like and if so how do you get there? Can there be complete healing? Can situations be transformed and redeemed and restored? My answer has to be a resounding YES and I don’t say that because I am there yet totally – as last week proved to me, as I sobbed and raged at God, (the positive being that it only lasted 24 hours as opposed to months) – but I have seen it in the lives of others, I have seen massive steps towards it in my own life, and I have hope in Jesus and his transforming and redeeming power.

I know that those disappointments change us – I often wonder whether John would recognise the person I am now and whether he would still love me. As one grief counsellor Em and I both saw told us it gives us extra corners others don’t have – how we hated those corners and would have been quite happy to have gone without them. I know in me it has birthed a massive compassion and a passionate desire to see people show love, kindness and sensitivity to others, especially for the broken and lonely. It has made heaven feel nearer. It has taught me so many lessons.

How do you get there? Well for each of us I guess it will be a different route, and for some it may take longer than for others. Again I don’t really have the answers as I feel like I am muddling through.

Will there be a day when it is all totally okay again – probably not because John will always have died at 28 not having met his child, I doubt there will be a day when I do not think about him – he will always be part of me but I can say absolutely that I know joy, fun, contentment, laughter, anticipation, hope, excitement –all the things I feared I may never feel again. The disappointment was all consuming for so long but it wasn’t the end of the story. I love that quote which says, “everything will be okay and if it is not okay it is not the end.”

I hope that my hurts will make me a better person, a kinder person, a stronger person, a person who walks more closely with my heavenly father. That more and more I can learn of God’s grace through the disappointments and see him working in my life and the lives of others.

What I loved most about Katharine Welby’s interview on her depression was that she concluded by saying that the trick to survival was finding those that were willing to jump into the darkness with you. I think that is just as true for any of the struggles and disappointments we face in life – I would literally not be standing without so many precious friends who time and time again jumped into the darkness with me – I know when I get to heaven it will be one of things I thank God most for – the amazing gift of incredible people who for some reason keep loving me. I hope and pray that through my disappointments and all that life has thrown at me it is teaching me to jump into the darkness alongside other people, however messy and broken that darkness is, to help them survive and come out the other side.

So I will continue to no doubt have my moments of disappointment that life doesn’t quite look like I hoped it would but I will keep holding tight to my father’s hand, trusting that the best is yet to come, and jumping feet first into those dark places, when people need me there, because for me that is where Jesus would be and where he calls me to be.

We are all different………that is what makes us the same

This writing lark feels much more vulnerable than it did to begin with and it is not because of the content but more to do with a fear that people will judge me, or wonder why I think I have anything worthwhile to say, or that I am full of nonsense. A very big part of me wants to stop but something (probably God) is compelling me to keep going and I am trying to take the attitude that even if what I am writing about is helpful to one person then it is worth doing, if my story can just give hope to someone else who is grieving or struggling then it does not really matter what anyone else thinks and maybe nobody thinks anything anyway and it is just my insecurities.

I am sure for many introverts the thought of putting their innermost feelings, hurts, hopes and dreams out there for anyone to see is their worst nightmare and they could not possibly grasp why anyone else would choose to do so. Well I am not an introvert I am definitely an extrovert and have no problem at all being open, honest, real and out there but I have had to learn a tough lesson that not everyone is like me. That may sound like a really obvious statement as we all know that we are all different, we see those differences all around us every minute of the day, we work with people that are fundamentally different from us, we marry people who are often our polar opposites and often families are made up of a total mish mash of different characters and personalities. We only have to look at the reaction to the recent election to see just how different we all are.

However for me in my grief that reality was one of the hardest things for me to cope with. When people were not grieving like I did it made it hurt all the more. When people did not want to talk about John and almost pretended he never existed I would want to scream at them (and sometimes did) and ask them did they not care, did it not hurt them too.

I would love to be one of those people that could at all times hold my feelings in and be dignified and well put together but I have tried and I can’t really go more than a few hours. I need to talk about feelings and emotions and relationships – it is the very core of who I am. I love people who are real, honest, raw and warm – when I find people who are like that I hold on tight because they make me feel alive and connected.

The problem being that I have a lot of people in my life, who I love totally and desperately, who are not like that, who would prefer not to talk about how they are feeling, a large part of my family are like that, I married a man like that and many of my closest friends are like that. And actually my experience is that that is ok when life is plodding along and things are good/normal, it makes life interesting, but when tragedy comes, when the “shit hits the fan” and when life flipping hurts those differences can become insurmountable and hard to navigate, leading to misunderstandings and broken relationships. In my previous job I saw this being worked out in families on a daily basis – most times you could see that the dispute was not about money but deeply held issues that went back years and because fundamentally family members were different and reacted and handled things differently.

When John died I needed to talk about him, needed to talk about how painful it was and how much I missed him. Grief is definitely one of the most complex emotions I have ever experienced – it is so much more complex than you could ever imagine unless you have been there. One minute you feel a total desperation and no hope, the next you feel numb and nothing and then you have moments where you may just be able to see a pin prick of light which allows hope to settle only for it all to be swept away again as the despair and desperation sets in and for the whole process to continue round and round in circles. I needed to talk about that process, to express everything I was feeling and so many people around me, people I felt should be hurting too, did not want to go anywhere near those conversations.

Very close family members and some of our closest friends didn’t want to go there and it hurt like hell. I remember one family member saying to me it was not a comfortable subject for people and I had to accept that and not make a fuss (that was one of those moments where I could have quite easily have become violent) – I would say to my parents over and over it was me that had had my life devastated so why could these people not step outside of their comfort zones to make it easier for me. Some friends left Sheffield shortly afterwards and said they just needed to put it all behind them, which hurt me immensely. Thankfully they are now back in Sheffield and those relationships are healed and good again and we talk about John often.

For me I could not understand if these people had cared about John as much as their relationships with him would have suggested then why were they not crying, why where they not talking about it, why couldn’t they express how they felt about it. It was such a hard thing for me to grasp, if you love someone and you lose them, then you express that, you let it out. I battled and battled because it felt like they did not care about John or me, that their lives had been totally unaffected and if I am being honest sometimes it still feels a bit like that. It also felt like they were judging me (maybe they were maybe they weren’t) for being so emotional about it, for being so broken and vulnerable.

It has been one of the hardest lessons for me but I have come to a place were I have learnt to accept that we are all different and just because a person doesn’t react or say things the way I would it doesn’t mean they do not care. I can now see clearly, now I am out the other side that they showed they cared in so many other ways. My ways are not the only ways, they are my ways and that is ok and people have to accept me for who I am and their ways are their ways and I have to accept them and actually as alien as it was for me to not express those feelings and emotions, it was totally alien to them to express them.

I know those people were deeply and profoundly affected by John’s death because every now and again a small comment will show just how it impacted them and continues to impact them.

When the tough times hit massive amounts of grace, patience and forgiveness are needed and I am thankful that people showed me all those and much more in abundance.

It has taught me to try and stop before I react and not blow up or judge but to think that most of the time a person’s reaction is not personal to me or my situation, sometimes it is to do with their character/their make up, or the things they have experienced in life which become part of their framework for dealing and responding to things and the same with my reactions. It has been a painful lesson in tolerance, in grace and in forgiveness. It has also made me realise that sometimes I cannot stream roller in with the feelings and the emotions, I have to think about what would help that particular person, what would make them feel most comfortable.

In my family I can see as the years have gone by that we have tried to find a middle ground, not always successfully, but I think we are getting there. Whilst some people may not be comfortable with the “john” subject they try to talk about him, and I try not to talk about him too much and somehow that middle, compromising ground feels like the best place.

I have also realised that actually those differences are to be celebrated and enjoyed- if everyone was like me it would be a flipping nightmare we would drown in emotions and tears! My family members are practical at getting on with things and so many times that has been my saving grace!!

Dreaming dreams

Do you ever have those times where you keep hearing the same thing being said in totally different places, times and contexts? Usually for me that means that God is trying to tell me something.

A few weeks ago I was at a conference and the speaker was saying that at least four times a year she pushes herself outside of her comfort zones, which in and of itself did not really impact me, we all know we are supposed to push ourselves, to test out limits, try new things, but what she followed up by saying was that if we do not push ourselves, and step outside of our comfort zones, our worlds get smaller – for me that was something that had never occurred to me before, and maybe that is just me being dim, but it really challenged me and in some ways scared me.

Then this morning in church the talk was again on the importance of stepping out of our comfort zones and the “magic” that came come as a result, finishing off with this great quote:

“Sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage, just literally 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery and I promise you something great will come out of it.” (We bought a zoo- the film).

I confess that I would like an easy and comfortable life, where everything goes to plan, where everyone in my life is lovely all the time, with no parenting/family issues, where money is never a worry and where the sun always shines. I hate confrontation, stress, anxiety, conflict – I do not handle them well hence why 11 years as a litigator often pushed me to the edge of myself and my sanity. I like to feel comfortable, steady and safe – I am risk averse and like to know the outcome of my decisions.

Tied into the whole subject of comfort zones for me is that of my dreams/hopes/ambitions. When John died it felt like a big part of me died too, so many of my hopes and dreams were tied up with him and the future we thought we had together and even with those that weren’t directly linked to him he was no longer there to push me forward into them, to encourage me and to catch me when I fell. Then as time went on life got consumed with trying to survive as a lone parent, whilst holding down, at times, an insanely stressful job and dealing with the big “C” and all that came once the big “C” had had its way with my family. I was exhausted and spent – there was nothing left of me to dream and if I am being honest I don’t think I wanted to dream as my dreams had left me pretty heart broken.

I think certainly for me I became so full with other stuff there was no time to dream but not only that I was scared – what if I followed those dreams and I messed up? What if people thought I was stupid or did not agree? What sacrifices would I need to make to follow my dreams – financial sacrifices, relational sacrifices, time sacrifices?

What I did know was that the law, in the big law firm sense, was not my dream. I knew that it was not what I wanted to invest my life in especially as most of the time it left a bad taste. I have written about this previously but stepping out of that safe, secure career in some ways was a no brainer as it was making me poorly but in so many other ways was so very scary. I have gone backwards and forwards in my head so many times in the last few months questioning my decision, counting the financial costs, asking whether I have just committed career suicide. It was a costly and scary decision, which has taken me very far out of my comfort zones, but in the two weeks I have been in my new job I have been so blown away – I have known a welcome like nothing else, from such gorgeous people, such encouragement, such affirmation. I have been inspired, challenged and filled with an anticipation of things to come. I have felt like a massive weight has been lifted and like I am a different person. For the first time in a very long time I feel like I am beginning to dream dreams again, I feel excited and hopeful about the future.

And I say this not as some big up to myself because it had to get pretty horrible to get my attention and shake me into action, but rather, hopefully as an encouragement that when we step out and take risks things change and shift within us, and good things come. As I heard a wise person say recently there is blessing in the sacrifice and over the last few months that has certainly been my experience – the blessings have been too many to list but what I will say is that it set something in me that makes me want to dream bigger dreams, that makes me want to take more risks, to keep stepping out of my comfort zones. I do not want to settle for the easy route, for the comfortable and safe (although some of that would be great!), as whilst that would be the easy route it would also be pretty dull. I want to go on the adventure God has for me, holding his hand tightly, trusting that he will be my provider, that he will be the one who catches me when I fall. I want to see lives transformed, people healed up and set free, and cared for and loved. I want my world and the worlds of those I come into contact with to get bigger, more colourful, more full of life and love and I know that that is not going to happen unless I am willing to make changes and sacrifices and to be brave even if that does risk failure and embarrassment at times.

Let’s encourage each other in our dreams, to be brave and to take risks and as the quote from the film says I think we could see great things come.