Turning mourning into dancing

In a few days time it will be nine years ago since my lovely husband suddenly and unexpectedly went home to be with his heavenly father. I can hardly believe it is nine years ago since I last saw him and yet in so many ways he feels a lifetime ago as so much has changed and so much has happened.

Normally I struggle with the Christmas period and have been known to have a few meltdowns. 2015 has been one of my most significant years so far – and as I reach the end of it I can honestly say this Christmas I felt nothing but peaceful, content and full of hope and anticipation – more so than I have done in 9 years, perhaps more than I ever have.

The last few months have been pretty special in that I know there has been a massive shift in my heart. God has pursued me and turned up in amazing ways – mainly through other people, through conversations, through answered prayers. I feel like a very different person at the end of 2015 than the one that started 2015. My heart feels full – full of blessings, gratitude and love. The last few months I have had so many moments where as my head has hit the pillow at the end of the day I have just felt overwhelmed with the surprises, the joys, the excitments of life – often small things, maybe just someone’s words, or time with a precious friend or the sound of my child laughing hysterically. That’s not to say suddenly everything in my life is perfect. I still have lots of frustrations, bad days, and feelings of anxiety or insecurity but generally life feels good.

Why did it take 9 years to feel free of the grief? Why has that journey taken so long? Nine years, with lots of blessings, happy times and a whole lot of love but overwhelmingly marked by struggle, sadness, loss, emptiness, silence, and heartbreak. I don’t know the answer – I don’t understand the way God works or the way he times his plans and purposes. A few weeks ago I listened as a friend told his story in church – a story of loss and of tragedy – he talked about how in the last few months God has met him and healed him and you can physically see it in him – a lightness and a life which is new. It was however 17 years before that healing came. 17 years is a long time and I think a little bit of me questioned God as to why it took him 17 years to show up, and what about all those years of waiting.

What I do know is that in part time heals, time takes away the rawness, the agony and the desperation but it didn’t take away the sadness, that always sat there underlying everything and it was only when God came in, on a very normal working day, in a very understated conversation, with some very simple words that everything changed for me, that that sadness lifted. Words that probably I have heard in different contexts from different people at different times but it was at that moment, in God’s timing, that they were to be significant.

I don’t know why it had to take nine years – and I am sure my nearest and dearest wish it hadn’t taken so long (there will never be words enough to thank them for their never ending patience) but I know that those nine years have shaped me and changed me, that nothing will or has been wasted. I may never see all the ways the weeping, the anger, the confusion, the hurt have been used to shape my character, change situations and affect others, but I am sure it has. I have learnt in the last few months that it is often in the silence, in those times where it feels like God is at his most distant, that he is doing his greatest work.

I am someone that strives to get it all right, as I have written about before, to be this really together and sorted person (not easy when you have been gifted with a large amount of emotions and a strong need to express those emotions) – so nine years of a long and frankly at times pretty hideous grief journey have found me beating myself up on many an occasion. I didn’t want to feel the way I was feeling, I didn’t want to still be struggling 3, 4 or 5 years in – I felt like people were expecting me to be over it and moving on. If I had a pound for every time someone asked me if I wanted to meet someone else or had there not been anyone else I would be a rich woman! Not that I mind being asked that question but it was that expectation that I felt that people thought I should be in a different place than I was (and I know as well a desire to see me happy). I wish that healing had come sooner, I wish my 30s hadn’t felt like they had been stolen by that valley of death but it didn’t and to some extent they have but I have to chose to trust that God will redeem it and use it. That somewhere in the midst of those years I have been taught lessons and had things invested into me that are all part of what is to come going forward.

As I come to the end of 2015 and reflect back and look forward I have an overwhelming desire for the new, for God’s plans and purposes whatever they may be, to hopefully in some way be a blessing to others but something deep inside me is telling me that none of what is to come could be without what has been before.

I have lots of precious people in my life that are struggling at the moment with big things, things that break my heart and have me on my knees for them regularly. Maybe you have those places of pain, sadness, and silence at the moment. I can’t take those things away, I wish I could – nobody can. Sometimes they will last longer than we hoped, and I want them and you to hear that it is ok if it takes time. My precious friend, Rich, told me in the midst of my pain that it was ok, that it was ok if it took 10 or 20 years, and only a few months ago one of the wisest people I know, my lovely old housemate Jo, said it would be ok if I still needed to rant and hurt in 10 years time – those word were words of unconditional love and acceptance for me. Things take time, often healing is not a quick process (although I also totally believe it can be an instant thing), but I know with your hand in the hand of your heavenly father it can and will come, (and again I don’t say that easily because most of the time I felt I was hanging on to him by a very thin thread), that he longs to bless each and every one of us, that nothing is ever wasted and in the midst of the toughest times he never leaves us or forsakes us – he will always turn our mourning into dancing.

So for me I can’t wait to see what 2016 brings. I am incredibly thankful for all the amazing people I have in my life and for all that has gone before, the bad and the good – which is easy to say out the other side but for those still in the midst of it I promise it won’t always feel so hard and so tough, that there are brighter days to come and even though the wait can sometimes feel like it will never end it will end – there is always hope and always a future, it may look different but it can still be good. I pray that you like me, in the midst of it, will have good people to love you, to believe in you and to push you forward and more than that you will know there is someone bigger, someone whose plans and purposes are greater than ours longing to hold you and heal you.

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When its not how you thought…

So what if what it was all about was not about being happy? What if that wasn’t the main purpose of it all? What if actually it was about being broken? What if being broken was better than being whole?

These are all questions I have been thinking about the last few weeks.

Growing up I was always taught that life is not always easy, that it sometimes has its struggles and battles and that you learn and grow through the tougher times. In reality though my life was pretty easy, safe and comfortable and so it was easy to say and believe those things because the struggles I faced were pretty inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

So when the struggles and battles then came at full pelt I wasn’t prepared, because whilst I knew that suffering was part of the human experience it wasn’t meant to be quite as devastating and life changing. And ok if that is how it had to be God would put the pieces of my life back together in a way deserving of all the loss and devastation that had gone before wouldn’t he?

I think the last few weeks/months have been a bit of a revelation to me, a lesson perhaps only now I was ready to learn. I have been so fortunate to be able to have had access to an incredibly wise lady in the States who has been helping me process this stuff and there has been a fair helping of tough love.

I am not so sure I will articulate this well but here goes – I think I have been asking for a comfortable life, a life where everything is together and whole, that that was somehow the aim.  I think I have been fighting the battles, the struggles and the lessons to be learnt because actually they didn’t fit into my picture of how life should be. On a train to York the other week I suddenly realised that all the things that I felt were a priority for my life to be put back together in the way I expected or thought was best were not the priorities on God’s agenda.

God’s agenda was that I know him and love him, that I experience him deeply, that I surrender myself to his ways, his plans and his purposes, whatever they may be. To get to that place I had to be broken – that brokenness was the only way to that place and will always be the only way. To acknowledge that actually everything else wasn’t enough. That actually the reality was that God’s plans were better than mine, and saying that when it meant letting go of what I wanted – my hopes and dreams.

I know and totally believe God is in the business of blessing us and loving us but what if those blessings and that love weren’t what I thought they should look like.

Alongside all of this for me has been the bible story of Ruth and Naomi –Naomi lost her husband and her two sons, a hideous and painful story. She spent a decade angry and bitter at God, but then met with God in a new way. At the end of her life she was able to say categorically God’s plans were better than hers.

I have also been thinking about Joseph of the nativity fame. I have never really given him much attention before. Then something I read a few weeks ago got me thinking about how it must have been for him, and how his life did not turn out how he expected. He thought he was going to live a simple life, marrying a nice girl, raising a family and working in the family business. He was then suddenly faced with an unbelievable situation which I have no doubt at times felt like a nightmare for him – his fiancée pregnant and it not his baby, then being visited by an angel, in the middle of the night, telling him the baby was conceived of the holy spirit. The different gender issue aside I have tried to put myself in his shoes and imagine how he must have felt and how messed up his head must have been. Yet he trusted God, trusted his plans were greater than his and look how that story ended up!

So as the tears flowed over Skype I told my wise lady that I accepted that maybe God’s plans for me weren’t remarriage or more children – my heart broke as I said the words out loud, and maybe a little more as I write them down now. However as I am letting go of one of my greatest heart’s desires, I have found more and more a longing for more of God and what he has, in ways I have never experienced it before. Trusting that his plans for my life, for my child’s life are good, even if they don’t look like I hoped – that actually they will be so much better than I could ever have hoped or imagined.

I have changed the way I pray. The prayer I keep praying is asking that my desires, my plans, my thoughts be aligned with God’s –instead of asking God for his will at the end of a long list. It feels like a scary prayer but also exciting. Exciting because it becomes less about me, and more about love, more about adventure, more about others, because it becomes more about being where I am made to be, with the people I am meant to be with, doing the things I was made to do. It becomes more about hope, change and transformation.

So thank you God that with you nothing is wasted and that you take the broken, ugly, messed up, sad parts and you make something new and amazing.