3am thoughts…..

It is currently 3am on a Sunday morning and I can’t sleep. I have so many thoughts going round my head and so I figured my only hope of going back to sleep was to open my laptop, to write them out. The need to write for me is something that sometimes feel like a burning in me – something outside of me, something bigger. And as I have previously shared I hate it. My last post left me feeling so exposed and vulnerable, that total fear of what people think, that I would be seen as a total over sharer. One of my best friends told me that sharing your writing felt like running down the street naked and that is exactly how I felt this week but instead of just the street I felt like I had run round the whole city naked!!

The reason I cannot sleep is because I can’t stop thinking about a girl I haven’t seen for over 20 years. A girl I went to school with. Not someone I was close with but someone I have clear memories of. 

When my daughter started senior school I couldn’t get my head round the fact her year had 270 kids in it, as I had been in a year group with 90 other girls and I couldn’t imagine being in a school with that many people. I had a really happy senior school experience, after a pretty miserable time at junior school, and because we were a relatively small number I have pretty clear memories of most of those people. 

The girl I can’t stop thinking about took her own life last week over in the States where she has lived for the last 20 years, with her husband and children. This girl who was now a lady had clearly grown into an extraordinary lady, wife and mother – she was a writer and she had previously shared an essay, which has been reshared many times over on social media since her death has been announced. I had read the essay before but I read it again yesterday morning and it was hard to read, it was raw and vulnerable and painful but also so beautiful. She shared her battles with depression and she talked about the pain of her childhood years. 

I had known bits of the struggles she had gone through, the obvious losses, but had no idea of the extent of those struggles. It just bought home just how often we have no idea of people’s stories, of what they carry and how that history impacts their words, their actions and their futures. 

I no longer knew this lovely lady but my heart breaks for her husband and her girls – I prayed for them on and off all day yesterday, but her story has got to me. I needed to make contact with the girls I am still close with from school and I messaged them on our WhatsApp group and we chatted. They are such a precious part of my history.

As I have been lying here wide awake my thoughts went to a piece of writing I shared about 5 years ago. A piece about what was to come. Now granted none of us could have predicted that we would be living through this particular piece of history fives years on. 

I wonder whether right now it is helpful, it is important to look back, to remember, to reflect on what has gone before. Yesterday I was taken back 30 years ago to my school days, happy days.  The days we are currently living in are hard, they are hard because we are separated, they are hard because we don’t know how long they will last for and I am seeing people become more and more weary. 

I think back to where I was when I wrote that piece five years ago – I wrote it about the child in my sister-in-law’s belly who had not yet arrived, about knowing that someone was coming who would probably be one of the greatest loves of my life but who I had not yet met. I couldn’t get my head round knowing I was going to love someone so fiercely but yet I didn’t yet know them. Well she definitely is and will always be one of my biggest loves. I could never have imagined I could love so deeply a child who was not my own. Alongside my own child, her and her little sister fill my heart and have my heart. I didn’t know either of them 5 years ago but now couldn’t imagine my life without them. 

Five years ago I had no idea I was going to fall in love hard with the most wonderful man. I didn’t know him. I had no idea that I was about to go on a rollercoaster of a journey with him, a journey that bought deep healing, that gave me the closest friend, my person, that has had the divine threaded into every part of it. A journey I had hoped and dreamed would last longer but a journey which will always be one of the most precious gifts I have ever been given.

Some of the people I am closest to now, I didn’t know five years ago and yet they are the people I do life most closely with now. They are the people that know my stuff and I know theirs, they are the people I laugh with and cry with, but yet five years ago they were strangers. 

Five years ago I wasn’t doing the job I am now doing. Five years I didn’t have all the new opportunities and possibilities I have ahead of me right now. Five years ago I didn’t know all the lessons I was going to learn.

The last five years have bought so many experiences, memories and emotions but I had no idea when I wrote that piece of the depth and richness of what was to come. Often though in the hard bits, in the normal bits, maybe especially right now when our days are so different it is hard to remember that. We have no idea what is to come. Who is to come. Will it include loss, tears and struggles, without  doubt YES, those things are the reality of who we are as humans, but just as those things are guaranteed, so are the good things, the love, the joy and the beauty, in the big and the small.

So as I sit in bed typing this in the middle of the night I am thinking of all that has gone before, of the history that binds us to people, in the most precious of ways, that our stories are so beautifully complex, so many different threads, and that remembering propels us forward, to a hope and an anticipation of all that is to come, all the possibilities, the potentials, the maybes.

I am not sure my 3am thoughts are that coherent or that they flow into each other in a very clear way but I am remembering all that has gone, thinking of a lovely lady and her life lived with so much richness as well as struggle but remembering there is always more to come, however, tough it gets, whatever we face there will always be more ahead. New loves, new friendships, new memories.

“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” C S Lewis

Thank you 2020

I don’t think there is any doubt 2020 has been a tough one and certainly a crazy one. I still can’t get my head round how the world can be bought to its knees so quickly. It messes with my head a lot! 

It has put pressure on us all in different ways. I have watched friends lose loved ones, battle with illness, and struggle with relationships. And one of the hardest bits has been not being able to be together properly in the midst of it all. It’s been hard. 

For me personally this year started off with so much hope and expectation, excited about what was ahead. It is ending very differently to how it started. Sandwiched in the middle has been loss and heartbreak – this year has taken from me something incredibly precious. 

Yet in the midst of all the tears and sadness I can feel something rising, something more – hope and anticipation. Maybe 2020 might just be one of the most significant years yet. 

This summer I knew God was cementing in me what my passion was. I think I have always been someone who has wondered what my passions were and what my calling was, never quite sure what it is all about for me. I am a lawyer, and some days I feel like I do pretty well at that, other days definitely less so, but am I passionate about that? In all honesty most of the time I enjoy it, but it doesn’t set me on fire. It pays the bills and I have met brilliant people through it over the years but it’s a job. For a while now there has been a more in me but I haven’t been sure what that more was.

Early on in my adult life I knew I wanted to be intentional about loving well. Now often I get that wrong, and sometimes that is easier said than done, but I knew that I wanted to get to the end of my life having loved well. And so in part that is part of my passion but I knew there was still more.

So as my heart broke this summer, we did a road trip through Scotland, and as I drove through beautiful landscapes the tears flowed. I didn’t want to lose again, I wanted to fight to hold on to it, I didn’t want to have to let go. Deep down I knew it was right but it didn’t stop it hurting. I also knew that if I didn’t lean into God I was going to lose hope and the thought of losing hope felt even more painful than the broken heart. 

I stumbled across a website called “Nothing is Wasted” and if you have faith, and even if you don’t, I would recommend checking it out. It is a ministry started by a pastor in the US, called Davey Blackburn, whose pregnant wife was murdered in 2015 leaving him a sole parent to a one year little boy. From the outset he was determined not to let any of the pain be wasted and the choices he made were incredible and have impacted many. 

On that website I found tens and tens of stories of heartbreak, loss, tragedy, illness, abuse, infidelity, infertility, addiction, abortion, racial prejudice, rejection. The hardest of stories, all so different, but one common thread running through them, that those hard stories were never the end of the story. That God heals, he redeems, he reconciles, he restores and he transforms. Those stories were the hope my battered heart needed but I also felt something stirring. 

God reminded me of so many lessons already learnt, but this summer he bedded them down. 

  1. He gently and kindly reminded me that it is ok to feel sad, to lament. 

Lament – to express sorrow, mourning or regret.

It is ok to say this is hard and this hurts, to wrestle with God as to where he is in it all. I know without doubt he is big enough to take it and wants to hear it. I think it is a really important part of the process of processing the hard stuff, the disappointments and the losses. I think it is an essential part of the healing.

But I also think it one of those tension places. The more I go through life the more I see those tension places. I am convinced that the healthy place is to grieve, to allow the pain to exist but at the same time to voice that it doesn’t get to have the final say. And don’t get me wrong I know there are many moments where you can’t declare those things, when the pain is all consuming. I don’t say these things lightly I spent many years letting that pain dictate, for me it became my home and my identity – there was almost something comforting about being known as the girl whose husband had died when she was pregnant. One of the most powerful moments in my life was when I realised that I was stuck in that place of lament because it had actually become a familiar and safe place to stay. In that moment I knew that I didn’t want to spend another moment there and everything changed. It was an incredibly powerful and transforming moment.

We need to acknowledge the hard stuff that has gone, to feel it but at the same time to not get stuck there.

2. This summer also reminded me how powerful and important telling our stories is. There is a big part of me that hates sharing like this, it feels uncomfortable and vulnerable. I wonder what people will think of me. Always I have to remind myself that the only person whose opinion really matters is His, and if I feel like I am responding in obedience then it is ok. And what if in that moment of discomfort and vulnerability someone else hears words that they need to hear in their hard moments, then surely it is all worth it. 

I want the pain of my story to have a purpose. I have lost my two big loves, my lovely Dad is no longer here, my career has been a bumpy ride at times – it has been a hard road to walk at times but that isn’t what defines me, it is not the only part of my story and it certainly isn’t the end of my story

3. Pain, struggle and suffering are part of all of our stories, there is no way of getting around that – not one of us is exempt from it. God never promised an easy life. If this year has taught us anything I don’t think we can deny that we live in a really broken world.  But I have learnt I think what will be one of the most important lessons of my life through it all, another tension, that pain and beauty sit closely alongside each other. I wouldn’t trade the pain for the beauty, or the lessons learnt. 

The hard places, the heartbreak, the losses, those times when it feels like the bottom has fallen out of your world are never the end of the story. I believe that passionately and whilst I know it is not easy to hold on to that when the pain is great I know it is the truth. Grief and loss are never going to be our final story. 

God is absolutely about restoration and redemption. 

I hate the brokenness in me, but at the same time I have grown to be incredibly thankful for it. I know in this season when all I thought was going to be my future has gone I have no choice but to surrender the mess to my Heavenly Father. In fact I think surrender will be the word for this year for me. The other day I heard someone say that the other side of surrender is the miraculous. Bring it on Lord – I am so ready for the miraculous, in my own life, but in the lives of those I love, in the city I love, in this nation. 

I am though very aware that I also have to surrender what my expectation of the miraculous might look like. He works differently to us, his thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are not our ways.  I know that the miraculous doesn’t always look like healing, it doesn’t always look like happy ever after, in fact it rarely does but there will always be His beauty. I really don’t say these things easily. The longest night of my life was in a hospital room crying out with all I had asking God to save my love but that was not his plan.  

4. We always have a choice in our response. I have definitely chosen the victim role in the past and I have certainly had moments in this season but I can see the lessons I have learnt showing a different response to me to what went before. This time rather than saying “Why me?” “This isn’t fair” I can hear a louder narrative of “Come on Lord, if not that, then what have you got for me.”

God is writing a redemptive story in our lives. He is a restorer of the broken places in our lives. He is all about filling the empty places. God has a beautiful plan waiting for every single person that has walked through tragedy, disappointment and devastation – but we have a responsibility in that to pick up those broken pieces and give them to Him to create something beautiful. We have work to do in those places, not avoiding them, not fighting against them but embracing them, the pain and the process.  We need to do the hard work.

5. Our healing, in part, comes from both gratitude and blessing other people.

Refusing to be stuck in the loss and the pain but to look up and around at all we do have. This year I can see so much to be thankful for – for closer relationships with my neighbours, for nature, a slower pace, time to read, endless boxsets, for beautiful friendships. Through thankfulness He can usher in the new things. Gratitude is one of the most powerful tools we have.

And in looking outwards and looking to others I am convinced God changes us, that he brings healing. Whilst I don’t know why we go through the things we go through I know God uses our pain to bring healing to other people, that our stories can release power and authority for other people. We aren’t meant to do any of this alone. 

So this year I finally know what my passion is. I am passionate about brokenness. I am passionate about the hope of a divine story being written in each and every one of us. I am passionate about seeing healing and freedom in people’s lives, whatever that may look like, knowing that in the mess are the miracles. 

So 2020 you have been a bag of **** on many levels but a little something tells me I might just look back and be incredibly grateful to you. 

Where are you?

Where are you?

In the fear, in the anxiety and in the struggle.

Where are you?

In the loss, in the heartache, in the agony and the tears.

Where are you?

When the future feels overwhelmingly unknown and scary. When it doesn’t look like you thought it would.

Where are you?

In the loneliness, in the separation and the rejection.

Where are you?

In the chaos, in the deafening noise and the mess.  When you know one more look at the news will send you over the edge.

Where are you?

When we aren’t quite sure which way to turn, or how to make a good decision.

Stop for a moment. Be quiet. Be Still.

You are still there. You haven’t gone anywhere. In the big and the small. Maybe in these days, these days that are long and at times feel like an eternity, we need to search a bit harder for you but you are still there.

You are there in the text that says, “I love you and I am with you, I have your back.”

You are there in the flowers and brownies that turn up on the doorstep.

You are in the little boy that shouts over the fence to come play Moana or who wants to sword fight.

You are there in the Instagram feed filled with promises that are true throughout the ages, that pop up at just the right moment.

You are there in the many many walks, in the woods, the rivers, the trees and the wildflowers.

You are there in the presence of friendship, those who have many years of memories and those that are just beginning, in those moments of connection, of understanding, of caring.

You are there in the love of family, that lets you cry, that cries with you, that keeps wanting and believing for so much more.

You are in that small voice that whispers in the middle of the night that this is not the end of the story, that there is still so much to come, that wills you to hold on.

You are there in the heat of the sun on our faces and in the rain as it pelts down on the roof.

You are there in the quiet times where it is just you and him, where it is only his voice and his words that stand.

You are there in the moments where hearts are full; music is turned up loudly and there is dancing.

Your are in the tears and the laughter.

You are threaded throughout it all.

You remind us of all the ways you have come through for us in the past helping us to know you will do the same in the future.

You remind us that we are never alone.

You remind us that there is ALWAYS beauty even in the hardest of places and times.  ALWAYS.

You remind us that light always outshines the darkness, the love is greater than hate, and truth wins over the lies.

You remind us of what really matters, what is worth fighting for and what to invest in.

You remind us that best is yet to come.

But you also ask of us too.

You ask us to be that light, that love and that truth for others, to carry them when they can’t stand.

You ask us to speak you into the lives of others, into brokenness and pain.

You ask us to be carriers of healing and restoration; you call us to be generous.

You ask us to live out the joy that is so entwined with your character.

You ask us to believe for more, to fight for more, to speak out for more.

HOPE.

Along with love and faith you are my favourite.

Thank you that you are the greatest of things and always will be.

HOPE.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.” I Corinthians 13 vs. 13.

Jesus and Show Tunes

Well this has been quite a week hasn’t it?

I am not sure what I feel – I swing from being absolutely fine to being consumed by anxiety to being totally terrified. I can’t actually get my head round what is happening.  It is the craziest of times.

And I think one of the craziest things about is that normally when you are going through a tough time it is normally just you or your people, it is your journey to walk and those times are often unique to you. But this is everyone! Our whole city, nation and world – there is no-one who isn’t impacted. Now that blows my mind.

We all have our fears and struggles in this midst of this.

For me they are having to leave my mum and uncle alone in their own homes for goodness knows how long, not being able to be physically present with my Irish one and worrying what this will look like work wise and financially.

Again I think all our fears at this time run along similar lines.

My close friend has been in hospital nearly a week fighting this crappy virus, and his wonderful wife is in isolation. I have friends who are self-employed whose work is slowing right down and who are exhausted with worry. It is heart breaking.

None of us know what this will look like the other side.

I have had a few sleepless nights this week and so I have turned to prayer because actually for me in times like this I absolutely do not know how else to respond and each time I do that the fears subside and a new perspective comes.

What if family relationships are deeper, healed and changed? I have never spoken to my mum so much as I have done in the last few days. We are probably going to have a little bit more time on our hands than normal – time to connect in a different way. Last night my daughter read to her 18 month and 4 year old cousins, us in Sheffield, them in London, with Granny joining in from another part of Sheffield.  We are still a family.

What if this forges friendships that are so much stronger than they ever were before? I lay in bed yesterday morning talking to three sets of friends all of us still in bed but it was nice to start the day with them, to see their faces, and in fact we ended the day again, a day that had felt quite stressful, with different friends sharing different struggles, talking and praying. Thank you God for technology. My friend in isolation, not able to be able to see her sick husband, has said she has been overwhelmed at the messages, the care packages, and the love. I had a twenty minute conversation with her through the window, another friend prayed with her through the letter box. New and different ways of doing friendship but what if they create something more beautiful that we could have ever asked or hoped for.

What if we let this take our marriages and relationships to a deeper place? I had a virtual date on Friday night, me with an orange and lemonade him with a mars bar. If this goes on for a long time this part will be the hardest part for me but my prayer is that actually maybe we can look back on this time and see it as a really significant season for us.

I think we will see tough times ahead. Without a doubt. But there is always hope, always.  I think it will mean a simpler, stripped back life for many people but  maybe that may bring a freedom with it. Financially who knows how this will impact our economies but maybe it will teach us that we actually don’t have as much control as we think we do and that actually money, things, holidays are not the things of substance in our lives. Maybe for some of us it will be a call to be sacrificial and generous in ways we have never had to before – going without those luxuries for a while, giving our excess income to those who have lost theirs, or to those where this throws them into even more dire straits than they were before.  Maybe we will learn to do community in a whole new way, in a way that makes us all richer.

I think when we are forced to let go we often find things we could never have imagined.

I am not for one minute trying to downplay what is going on. I know for many the mental health implications will be massive. People will grieve and I know given the circumstances of isolation and social distancing, that process will be even harder. People will struggle to feed their families.

But for those of us who are able maybe this is a time in history where we get to choose a different way. A less selfish way.

I know for me personally this will put my faith to the test. But whatever wrestles and struggles come I know he is bigger, that he is mighty, that he can always make a way and that he loves us. We may not understand everything that is happening in the course of the weeks and months ahead but I know he still has a plan and a purpose, that we still have a future. I can’t do this without believing that.  When everything I know and love is temporarily taken away from me, other than my home and child, he is it. He should always be it, but I am so easily distracted, life gets busy and so I know this is a time where all of that changes and so it will change my relationship with him if I let him. And that can only be a good thing.

So if you pray this is a time to pray hard and if you don’t maybe give it a go. Each day make time to say thank you for because we still have so many things to be grateful for. Sing – I intend to play show tunes each day because a good show tune makes everything a little bit better. Dance. Play. Laugh.  And love hard.

And know that whatever comes, whatever is taken, you are still loved, nothing can take that away and that will see us through.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13 vs 13

He’ll make a way….

So the last few weeks for me have felt quite hard. A real struggle trying to keep anxious thoughts and feelings at bay.

Generally I am not an anxious person but every now and then it comes and it overwhelms and terrifies me consuming everything. I struggle to engage properly and in my head I take every situation/part of my life to the worst case scenario from death to jail (irrational I know!) to losing my job.

90% of the time it is triggered by work, which is in a large part rooted in the past (litigation is probably not the career for you if you are prone to worry!!!), but it then spirals into every other area of life. A few weekends ago after a lovely weekend away we drove home and within hours I had convinced myself I had not locked the cottage up that we had been staying in so in the middle of a crazy storm I drove all the way back to find that yes of course I had locked it up but that on the 45 minute drive back I felt all the stuff of the past – the loss, the fear swirling under the surface.

What if he dies too?

What if I lose my job and can’t pay the bills?

What would I do without them? 

How do I keep her safe?

I know none of these things root in anything of any substance, because life is in a good place, but in those times a darkness comes which I can’t shake and whilst I sit and rationalise still those feelings of panic feel bigger.

A few days later a colleague said to me “What is going on because you are not ok are you.” I was honest with him and said I felt really anxious and he simply responded saying “It is ok. We all have these times.” It helped!

Now I am fortunate because it always passes, and peace returns, there are always people there who will listen, reassure, speak sense, pray for me and with me and I have arms that hold me tight and don’t let me go. Those things help but they don’t take it away.

I am a big believer in speaking things out loud, that by saying the words the fears and worries somehow lose some of their power.

I am learning to handle these times better when they come because actually I know there is only one truth that makes any sense in the midst of it all.

I AM NOT ALONE. HE IS BIGGER. HE IS GREATER. HE MAKES A WAY WHEN I FEEL LIKE THERE IS NO WAY.

A couple of weeks ago I was getting ready to go out for dinner but I could feel the panic swirling in me and I knew I had to get my eyes on the only one who could calm me, so I sat with a journal looking back through my phone at things I had saved last time I had been through this and just wrote and spoke these truths out and over me:

  • God is fighting your battles, arranging things in your favour and making a way even you don’t see a way.
  • Shout Hosanna over every fear.
  • “He will cover you with his feathers and under his wings you will find refuge.” Psalm 91 vs 4
  • God loves me (and he loves you). God is on my side (and he’s on your’s). He is coming after me (and you too). He is relentless.
  • “Fear not, for I am with you. Be not dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you. Yes, I will help you. I will uphold you with my righteous hand.” Isaiah 41 vs 10.
  • “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5 vs 7
  • “THE LORD WILL FIGHT YOU; YOU NEED ONLY TO BE STILL.” Exodus 14 vs 14

The truth helps. It brings hope. It brings safety. It brings peace.

I know life at times can be a battle and sometimes that battle feels harder than other times but I also know the battle is won, and that the one who is victorious is on my side, for me, making a way for me – the one who created the world, holds me in his hands. I may not always get it, I may not always understand how or what or why, but I know he will never let me go, that he is faithful.

Then I worshipped because in the hard moments it is sometimes the only response I have – it is again a way of surrendering it to him.

Then I wondered whether maybe today someone else needed to hear these words too. That you aren’t alone. That it will be ok. That it will pass. But above all that he loves you, that he’s bigger than it all and that he will make a way.

An unwelcome friend

I want to say thank you to you.

Thank you that you came. Thank you for what you brought. Thank you for what you changed. Thank you for what you did.

I actually think that you were one of the most beautiful gifts I have ever been given.

I didn’t always feel like that though. I hated you at times. I fought against you. I resisted you. I swore and screamed at you. I would have done anything to make you go away and to never see you or know you again. I wish you had never come.

You have been the hardest and yet the most beautiful thing.

You are the biggest tension – you steal but yet your presence brings with it so much, you hurt but because of you there is joy, you are pain and love all at the same time. You are death but from you comes life.

Without you I am not sure I would have known so much richness and depth. You have grown my capacity to love, to feel, to care. You allow for vulnerability, for faithfulness, for tenacity, for integrity, for kindness and so much more – things I have been given in abundance from those around me because you came to visit.

You are inevitable. As surely as we take each breath you are somewhere, you are everywhere. I hear of you every day. I see you in the eyes of people I love and of strangers. I recognise you so clearly in their words, in their tears and all over again I hate you but know you will weave into those stories unimaginable beauty.  Or maybe beauty is just always close on your heels – I am not quite sure and certainly not clever enough to fully comprehend exactly how you or it work. I know you are part of a divine story where you are a main character but never the winner.

You are mystery. You leave your scars, and your marks, they don’t go away and when knocked those scars can hurt like it was yesterday but yet I look at those scars, mine and others, and am overwhelmed at how beautiful they can be.

I want to make your presence easier for people – to be the hope when you shatter and destroy because despite the destruction you leave in your wake you make way for that hope. Yet another mystery of who you are and how you work.

So thank you, thank you for all the lessons you have taught me, all the love and kindness that came because of you, all the places you took me and where I am now because of you.

I only hope when you come again, and I know you will, I can remember what I know now so that somehow I can learn to embrace you harder. I hope I can be braver next time knowing that however much you hurt you are never the end of the story, you will never have the final word, but that with you will always come with the promise of more.

It’s been a while

Just over four years ago I felt like God was saying I needed to start writing and set out my story in words – it felt incredibly vulnerable, there were a lot of “what will people think” moments but the words flowed and I felt like there was much to say and most of all it was the start or at least a key part of an amazing journey of healing.

Four years ago I was pretty broken, I am not ashamed to say that 8 years on from losing my lovely husband I was still struggling, that that grief still weighed heavily, as did the rawness of losing my Dad. I was in a job that was sucking the life out of me and without meaning to sound over dramatic I don’t think I was that far off a bit of a breakdown.

I haven’t really written for the last year and party because of time and energy, or rather lack of, but also because I haven’t had that much to say. Not that life hasn’t been full or good but there has been no burning desire to set words to paper. There has however been a little bit of me that has missed it………so here goes again and maybe this will be a one off and maybe not. We shall see!

Christmas marked the 12 year anniversary of John’s death and my friend, also a John, asked me how I was feeling. I told him that actually I felt good, that it all felt like a lifetime ago and that actually I felt overwhelmingly thankful. And whilst I would never have wished John to die in a way I felt an immense gratitude that it had happened because of the story, all it had given me, all it had taught me and the ways in which it had changed me.

I know that I have known a totally transformational healing this last four years – I don’t recognise the girl from those first few years  (can 8 years be classed as a few?) of loss and grief.

I came into 2019 not really having thought about the year ahead – I didn’t have any feel resolutions or aspirations – I was a little tired and weary after a tough few months at work at the back end of 2018 and was just thankful to be coming out the other side of that.

But as the weeks have passed I have thought about the overwhelming thankfulness I had felt at John’s anniversary, about how the immense transformation that I know has happened in my life blows me away and how I stand here today a very different person to who I was 12 years ago, to who I was 4 years ago.  Today I no longer feel defined by being the girl whose husband died when she was 6 months pregnant, or by being a single parent whose child did never and will never know their father, – I know life again and a freedom from those tragedies, I have made peace with the past, with my God who I don’t always understand (I know I am not meant to understand him but oh I did I try for a long time to) but who I have learnt to trust in a much deeper way.

That being said I still prone to irrational anxiety at times, which I can see is clearly linked to the past. My child’s text to tell me she had arrived at school doesn’t arrive and I go into a crazy panic that she has been abducted. A close person, is unwell, and they don’t text back to answer a question, and in my head I am already at their funeral and imagining life without them – on admitting this crazy thinking I am met with eye rolling!! I am working on those anxieties.

What I do know though is that I have known transformation in my life in a very significant way and I know that this year I want to see it in the lives of the people I love and people I don’t even know.

So as I stand in this place of immense gratitude and a longing for change, for more healing, to see miracles come, to see situations changed and lives bought to life again I am believing and trying live out these truths:

 

  1. No situation is beyond hope or beyond repair.

A few years into losing John I was at a social justice conference in London. It was at the end of the conference and I probably hadn’t engaged that much given at that stage I was very much still wrestling with God and faith. I was sat a good few rows back from the front and everyone had dispersed to get prayer, have a drink, to chat and I was sat on my own, disengaged and probably miserable. This young girl, in her 20s came up to me, and said she had had a picture of me – I had been sat in my life, nice and safe, with what was like a glass cover over me. When she said that I sort of saw me and my life inside one of those glass cake covers you find in a café. She said she could see that something had happened that had smashed that glass cover to many many pieces, that it felt like it was all so shattered that it could never be put together again. This girl had no idea who I was or what had happened in my life over the few years prior to that moment. She said she felt God was saying to her that he was going to take those broken pieces, that felt beyond repair and rebuild something beautiful.

I have not thought about that conversation in years but it came to me a few weeks ago as I was reflecting and I thought WOW – he has built something so beautiful, and by that I mean the story he has woven in my life, the significant moments, the people (so so precious – I am a blessed woman to have so many people that are such a special part of that story- I love you all), the passions and compassions he has set in my heart, the desires, the fight, the strength – the things that actually I can’t actually put into words because I don’t really know how to explain them.

So I don’t know where you are today and what is going on for you. Or maybe it is a heavy heart for someone else. I have those heavy hearts for people I love, for situations I don’t understand, situations where I have prayed and prayed and prayed some more and the answers haven’t come as hoped. I do know though that these times pass, and it may be a month or in my case 8 years, but they will pass. Healing and transformation are possible and probably the story will not look like you hoped or wanted but nevertheless it can be beautiful. God is good. As a precious friend reminded our church in his sermon last week, God is the beginning and he is the end, it starts and ends with him.

I am praying for more healings, more transformation this year because I believe passionately that it is never the end of the story, and that there is always hope and always beauty however messy and broken it all is, feels or seems.

 

  1. We are all in it together.

If its too hard, if it feels too much, too overwhelming – be honest, be real and be vulnerable.  I know it feels so hard to do that but I believe passionately in bringing the darkness into the light. That by speaking those battles out loud it takes some of the power out of them. And I know it makes you feel weak to have to keep saying its hard but we all get to those places at some point in our life and we will all probably get there again numerous times before we get to the end and there is no shame in that. It is part of life and I don’t believe we were meant to do any part of life alone let alone the tough parts.

If you are watching someone breaking in front of you – listen, pray and fight – please don’t give up on them. My people never gave up on me and I promise you they would have been totally within their rights to. Eight long years they stood by my side and I will be eternally grateful because they were so significant in that transformation.

I heard someone say the other week that “loved people love, healed people heal” and my soul said a loud amen. I know love transforms but I also know that it can be a long drawn out, messy process but again it can be the most beautiful of processes, one which I am so thankful for in my own life, so many times over.

 

  1. The lessons to be learnt in those dark, difficult places are the most precious.

As I have touched on already I had a few months at the end of last year where I was struggling with a few things work related and the anxiety was all consuming. It felt reminiscent of old job stuff and it scared me. This time tough it was different – I knew it was a battle that I wasn’t going to let win. I spent a lot of time praying, I had key verses on my phone which I looked at 20 times a day, I just kept asking God to show up, I chatted it through with a few safe people, asked them to pray and it slowly started to pass.

Weirdly though some part of me didn’t want it to pass (although I am very thankful it more or less has) because I felt close to my heavenly father in a really precious way, in a way that perhaps isn’t always as easy to find when all is fine and that desperate need for him isn’t quite as strong.

I know that God will always turn up, will always change us, and will always do the impossible, the unimaginable, the miraculous and the wonderful if we let him. For me it is about surrender, perseverance, and a willingness to trust that He is good and He has it – not that I always get that right or do it well.

 

  1. Pray, pray, pray and pray some more.

Say thank you for all the good things. Acknowledge how great He is. Tell him how you are feeling – your fears, your hopes and dreams. Tell him where you have messed up, what you want to change, what is breaking your heart.

It’s so powerful. It has the power to change people, situations and our hearts.

Pray on your own. Pray together. He doesn’t need big eloquent speeches; he just wants to hear your voice.

 

So those are my thoughts as I have sat down at this laptop tonight – I am thankful for the one who brings hope, who brings peace, who brings joy – for the one who never gives up on us.

Stories

“We feel the most alive when we’re connecting with others and being brave with our stories.” Brene Brown

 “Story –  report of connected events, real or imaginary, presented in a sequence of written or spoken words, or still or moving images, or both. A report of something that has happened.”

“Chapter – a distinctive period in history or in a person’s life.”

I have been thinking a lot recently about stories over the last few months.

I love stories. I love hearing people’s stories. Nothing gives me more life than real, honest stories – I could sit for hours listening to people’s stories. One of my favourite things is making new friends who bring with them the promise of new stories. I have a habit of asking a lot of questions, but I like the details. As a friend recently said to me they have learnt to give me my heart and guts otherwise they are just faced with more questions.

The details of love and loss, of the different characters, of experiences, of travels, the colour, the tears and the laughter, the food, the emotions, the words – the richness that makes up each and every one of those precious stories.

That actually not one of us could tell our story briefly or succinctly because our stories have so many facets, so many seasons, so many different parts to them. And therein lies the beauty.

This is what I have been reflecting on:

  1. Being brave in telling our stories.

“Owning your story is the bravest thing you will ever do.” Brene Brown – Sorry I love Brene – but not really sorry at all – she is amazing and if you haven’t read any of her books you need to!

Our stories, in all their fullness take time to tell and often trust to tell the harder parts – those parts that we hold close, deep and dear – those parts that require vulnerability, that can be a whole lot scary to share.

We need to hear each other’s stories. As another of my favourite’s CS Lewis puts it so well “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”

One of the reasons I have been thinking about stories so much recently is that I have come to the end of a very precious season in my life in the last few months and I have been reflecting on my story and the part that particular season has played in the overall story. I have been thinking about each  people that has played a significant part in this season and why those relationships have been so important to me and one word was consistent for each person – HONESTY. They have being willing to listen to my story, in all its gory detail and have still loved me, they have trusted me with their stories, they have wanted to be part of my story and given me the privilege of being part of theirs.

So please keep telling your story, because it will be an amazing story, and it is a story worth hearing and a story not ended, a story with so much more to be written. Celebrate your story, celebrate each person who is part of your story – thank them, be thankful for them, enjoy them. Celebrate the experiences, big and small, the exciting and the normal, the boring, celebrate the memories – the good and bad because they are all such precious parts of your story. Celebrate who God has made you to be, because you will be such a blessing to so many people around you, you give so much.

  1. We need to listen to other people’s stories. It is so important not to get so tied up in our own stories that we don’t listen to other people’s. People need to be heard and need to be given safe spaces to tell their stories and to find acceptance whatever those stories may be.

Being brave with our stories, of telling them and of listening to them helps us and others to heal, to overcome, they become a place of encouragement, a place where you hear the words “you are not alone in this”, a place that pushes us forward with love towards healing restoration and all the “more” there is to be had.

The other day I text one of my closest friends, in the middle of the working day, because I was having a minor stress and I needed to say it out loud. I knew they would help me find perspective. I had told them about the particular situation a few months before but had not expected them to remember but their response showed me that they had heard me the first time round and had listened and remembered the detail. In that moment I felt cared for because I had been listened to, I had been heard – that they cared enough to remember the details of my life I had shared. So in all the stress which the minute I had shared it and bought it into the light had quickly reduced the overwhelming feeling that I came away with was that I had been heard and I mattered enough to be heard. What a precious gift to give to someone.

Some of us will be better at listening than others because we are all so different, and for some it comes more naturally than others, but it’s a discipline to listen and to listen well and its such an important discipline to develop because it brings such power with it – it tells people they precious, that they matter and I think it brings the power to transform with it, as it encourages vulnerability and trust.

Who do we need to listen to today? Where do we need to slow down and make time to connect and be present? What can be put to one side to allow relationship to come first?  Life is flipping short – I do not quite understand how I am entering my fifth decade because surely I am still in my 20s but the reality is that time is going by fast and I desperately want my time to be about connection, relationship and loving and listening well.

  1. All our stories are made up of chapters and each of those chapters have chapters within them. Some of those chapters are painful and rubbish, some we would rather shut the page on, other chapters we would stay in if we had the choice but the page turns and we have very little control over it. Often we don’t get to chose when one chapter ends and another starts. If we did I would have definitely stayed in my last chapter a little longer.

As I reached the end of this particularly significant and special season of my life I have been reflecting, and looking back at all that has happened, all that has changed, and all that I have gained and learnt during this particular time.  I know with absolutely certainty that this is the right time to close this chapter but I guess there is no promise that the right thing is always an easy thing.

If I am being honest I felt scared of closing the door – it is a season that has bought healing, it has been full of love and it has been a safe place. I wasn’t sure what life looked like without those people, that place, that community but I know God was asking me to step out. As I made the final decision to close the door I had on a loop in my head the words of the Rend Collective song which says “letting go and trusting when I cannot see.” Trusting that where he was asking me to let go, to let go of things that are painful to let go of, he has other things waiting for me.

I also knew I wanted more, more adventures, more of the new and deep down I know I couldn’t have those things without letting go, that those things are only going to come by stepping out of the safe places, the comfort zones, into the unknown, trusting that he will catch me, trusting that he is and has the more.

Already in a few short months I have seen that because he called me out and I followed that call his favour has followed – he has bought peace, made the adjustment easy for me and protected those oh so precious relationships that I was so scared of losing, as well as giving me such life giving new ones.

I have also known those chapters were I was desperate for the page to turn, where grief and loss seemed to go on and on, where it took too much time and where I just wanted it to end. The more I see and the more I hear the less I understand, and certainly I have no answers for those chapters but what I do know with absolute certainty is that those chapters are never wasted, I am convinced when one day we get to see the whole picture we will see the precious parts those hard times have played in our stories, we will see the beautiful sub-chapters that formed part of those painful chapters, we will see the beautiful and the painful woven together and the ways it shaped us and others.

So here is to telling more stories, to falling in love with listening to stories more and to celebrating all stories in the different shapes and sizes they come.

Thank you God for stories, for the richness and variety of all our stories, may we learn to embrace and celebrate our stories and those of others so much more and thank you for all the chapters of our stories still to come, may we see the adventures in them and thank you that you are there threaded into each of our stories whether we see you or not.

May it start and end with LOVE

I haven’t written here for a while because whilst I have started posts nothing seems to have been coming very easily or felt quite right so I figured better to leave it than to force it. But recently I have had lots of thoughts going round my head although I am not sure quite if and how they fit together or how to put them into words so I hoping that by starting to type they will come and make some sort of sense or maybe this will be another of those posts that is started but never quite finds its end.

The thoughts going round my head are all rooted around expectations, perfection and love. I think in my head they probably do somehow fit together so here goes trying to work out how.

One of the prayers I try and start each day with is a prayer that my day will be marked with love, that I will be marked with love, in the way I interact with the people that will be part of that day ahead, be that colleagues, clients, family, friends or strangers. Some days it may be the only prayer I pray, and sometimes I pray it over and over again, but for me it is one of the most important prayers I can pray.

“Let love and kindness be the motivation behind all that you do.”  1 Corinthians 16 vs 14

The older I get, the more of life I experience, the more I continue to try and find my place in this crazy world the more I know that my biggest passion in life is people, relationship, connection – for some it may be sport, music, art, or cooking that gives them life, for me it is people – real, honest and soulful conversation – heart and guts! I love those life-giving connections, I love loving people.

However, the last year or so I think my idea of what that prayer to be marked with love really looks like has changed dramatically. I know that for a long time I bought into a fluffy notion that if I did my best to love well, everything would be beautiful and perfect, relationships would always be easy and lovely – which in reality I found to be a one-way ticket to disappointment. I believe wholeheartedly in the idea that love is powerful and has the power to heal and transform but for me the change in the way I see that prayer working out is that yes love is beautiful, transformative, life changing, redeeming, restorative among so many other things, but rarely does it come without mess, without struggles and wrestles, rarely is it is easy. And actually I have come to embrace that imperfection and to celebrate it.

I read this in my devotional (DVO Devotionals), the other day, which I just loved:

“Living a life of love is inconvenient, messy and often controversial – it will wondrously mess you up.”

I have also learnt that I do not have to keep striving to try and be perfect to live a life of love. Or that the impact of loving well does not have to wait until I am perfect or reach a state of perfection in certain areas of life. I am not prefect, so far from it. My imperfections could fill a book. I am over emotional, I am an over-sharer, I get tired and impatient, I think mean thoughts, I can be selfish, I spend too much money on clothes – the list could go on and on. There are some days where I get the being “marked by love” thing very wrong, when I am tired, or frustrated, days where I lack grace or patience, where I respond out of my own insecurities, where I want to be anything but loving.

 

Part of my story is that continuing to strive to try to be perfect, to have it all, to do it all only made me poorly. Yet I still find myself every now and again striving for perfection. On New Year’s Eve I had a total wobble. I felt overwhelmed with loneliness and I couldn’t really understand why as there were a whole host of people at the touch of a button or a short car journey away. I was chatting with a close friend on text and shared this wobble and then immediately felt vulnerable for telling them, and got myself into a spiral of beating myself up for being too emotional and for sharing that weakness. That friend very patiently and very lovingly reminded me that that emotion of loneliness was not who I was, that weakness was not who I was, yes I may have those moments, and yes maybe those moments made me less that perfect but they did not stop me being good enough to love well. He spoke the words over me that I was a child of God, that I was worthy, I was valued and that was how he and God saw me.

I do not have to be perfect to be marked with love, to love people and to make a difference through that love and neither do you. Yes there may be days where we have to say sorry, to say we got it wrong, to have to start again with the love and yes there are days where we get it really right and it feels amazing but I am increasingly convinced that wherever we are on any given day that if we always start with love, choosing to be marked with love then the foundations of all we do, whether we get it right or wrong, will bring beauty.

Since losing my lovely daddy I have reflected a lot on who he was and how he lived his life. We are a pretty real family and we have had a lot of honest conversations over the past few years about how wonderful my daddy was but also about the fact he had his weaknesses, his struggles and his insecurities but none of those things take away from the fact that he loved us well. He didn’t have to be perfect to impact our lives, in a massive way, in the biggest way, with his love.

The same is true with the majority of people I love – I love them fiercely, but not because they are perfect, I see their weaknesses and struggles but it doesn’t stop the depth of what I feel for them, it doesn’t stop me seeing all the amazingness which makes up each one of them. It doesn’t stop them impacting my life in big and small ways every day.

Love is messy. I am messy. We are all messy. It has been my biggest lesson of 2017. You have to be brave to love and to keep loving. If you let people in, if you have those vulnerable and real connections then there will be mess, because we are broken people – you don’t have to scratch the surface too much with any of us to find the mess. And those messes may be hard, they may be painful and frustrating but give me that mess any time over superficial.

My three words for 2018 are SIMPLICITY, CONNECTION and ADVENTURE. In terms of simplicity I think it will be a journey this year for me to work out what that means for me and how that plays out in my life but the one thing I do know starting out at the beginning of this year is that I need my life to be simpler, I want to be marked by love more and more, I want it to be the beginning and the end in my life, I want less of the stuff and more of the things that matter, those connections with people that are little glimpses of heaven, despite my imperfections, and something tells me it is there, in the messy business of loving people, the best way I know how, I will find the adventures I crave.

The Book of Joy

IMG_2157So this summer we hit a rough patch. A rough patch that saw my kid struggling with anxiety and panic attacks, that saw her lovely spark go out. I knew the day would come eventually, I had always known it was around the corner but perhaps naively I thought that corner was a little further down the line.

During one of the panic attacks she was struggling with her breathing and was crying at me that she was going to die. I was trying to calm her down but she was inconsolable. I told her she was not going to die and she responded:

“you don’t know that everyone in our family dies young.”

And right there it had come.

It is a question people often ask me “how does she cope/deal/manage with her Dad not being here, with never having met him?” I always responded that she didn’t cope/deal/manage because it simply didn’t affect her, she was a happy kid, she was loved and had lots of people around her – she had never known him and so you can’t miss what you haven’t had, or something along those lines. But this summer it did start affecting her, she was beginning to process what it meant for her.

Watching your kid struggle is hard, whatever it is they are struggling with, but when it is your biggest struggle too – it took me out, it knocked me flat and took me low, my long time wrestles and struggles came to pay another visit. It took me back to those hard places, like it was only yesterday.

Then one morning on my drive to work I was listening to a Sheryl Sandberg podcast – she is an amazing lady and for me she is up there with Brene! Sheryl is the COO of Facebook and two years ago she lost her husband suddenly leaving her a single mum to two small children. I cried as she cried for all she had lost, all we had lost and the pain it had brought. But she ended that podcast talking about joy and how struggle, loss, disappointment should always be a catalyst to learn and appreciate joy more. It hit me again that I had a choice in this.

Only a few weeks earlier I had found myself one Saturday evening in St Pancras with some time to kill before my train and as anyone who knows St Pancras will tell you it is probably the best station to have time to kill because the shops are pretty special. I had walked into an overpriced stationary shop coming out £30 lighter in the purse. One of my purchases was a small, thick, pale blue note pad with the numbers “365” on the front in gold and on each page a number from 1 to 365. I had no purposes for buying it except that I thought it was pretty – I wasn’t really sure what I was going to use it for.

Fast forward a few weeks to that morning in the car listening to that podcast and that book came to mind and I knew exactly what I was going to use it for. And so was born our “Book of Joy” and so a new ritual was started. Each night at bedtime we sit together and talk about our days and the things that we have been grateful for in that day, the things and people who have bought us joy, that have made us laugh. We have to include at least 3 things each, but some days it is more. Those things range from ice cream, to a conversation that touches our heart, to a situation that turned around, to answered prayers for people we care about, to Netflix.

On that podcast Sheryl talked about how joy is a discipline. I guess sometimes it is easy to get overwhelmed by the stuff that is hard, to allow that to take hold and that is ok, its ok to struggle and to voice that but for me in those hard moments of this summer, watching my child in pain I needed to hear that I needed to bring joy into the situation, that I needed to be intentional in doing that.

And you know we are 5 weeks into our Book of Joy and it has been such a positive exercise. In those moments where the struggle was looming we would say to each other “Joy” and there and then we would talk about the things we were grateful for in those moments and so shifting the focus from dark to light.

For me personally it has helped me recognise throughout the day things I am thankful for, something will happen and I will think “that will make the Book of Joy today.” I have been surprised at recognising how it is the small things that lift my soul, the simple things, and for me it has been nature – it has been my amazing beautiful journey to and from work, my beautiful passion fruit plant and its flowers, the clouds in the sky. It is those moments that bring me peace, that have helped me start to settle the wrestles in my heart.

For my kid well the spark is back, the panic attacks have lessoned, I am not sure we are out of the woods totally, and the processing will maybe continue for a lifetime but I am convinced that our little book has helped.

Sheryl Sandberg talks about second derivatives, so if you get angry you get angry that you got angry and so the anger becomes anger becomes anger. Likewise with joy – learning to find joy and gratitude in the small things of life multiplies the positives because joy becomes joy becomes joy – I love that! I love that so much! It is such a life-giving concept.

For us that Book of Joy is here to stay, because I know the negatives, the hard stuff of life is part of the deal but I don’t want it to take me out, I don’t want it to take my child out – I want us to be people marked by love and by gratitude because the more we go along with this new discipline the more I see the fruit of gratitude, the challenge it brings to bad attitudes, to self-focus – it has helped me see again how small I am, it has humbled me because yes I hate that my child was ever put in this place but the minute I start to think not about what we don’t have but rather all that we do have (which is an amazing amount of amazing things) the battle, the ego, the “poor me” mind-set gets kicked back down.

And something tells me learning to walk more and more in the ways of thankfulness and gratitude still have an awful lot left to teach me!