Real love

 

I have been thinking a lot recently about what love looks like – real love, love that transforms, love that heals, love that brings hope, love that is in it for the long haul, love that really makes a difference. I have realized as I have thought about it that I am not very good at it. I love my child, my family, my friends but they are pretty easy to love most of the time – I have chosen them or they are a part of me and so love for them comes naturally and that love is fierce and overwhelming.

Is that though the love that the bible talks about?

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

I have no doubt I am asked to love the people that God has given me to share life with but I am pretty sure that that is not where it ends.

The other week I heard someone say that the gospel could be summed up as always being willing to love the next person that came along. I love that! But what if that person doesn’t fit into the type of person I want to love or that I find easy to love. What if that person is difficult, or needy or smelly?

Then on Sunday I read a really familiar passage from the bible, from Mark 2 and in particular verses 2 and 3 just really hit me in the gut – “Some men came, bringing to him a paralysed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on.”  That is quite some effort for that man’s friends to go to – to take time out of their day to carry their friend to find Jesus, with presumably the hope that he could heal him, but then they get there and they can’t easily get to Jesus because the crowds are massive and so they climb up with their friend to the roof, and then start to take the roof apart to be able to lower their friend to Jesus.  As I thought about the level of their friendship I was really impacted – they put in so much physical effort, presumably a fair bit of emotional effort as well as risking embarrassment and getting into trouble for taking someone’s roof apart. They jumped in and got stuck into the mess of their friend’s life, they showed commitment, compassion and faithfulness despite of how hard the circumstances were or what the outcome was.

I would love to think I would show that same commitment to people– to sit with them in the hard, dark places, to stick with them even when issues and struggles did not disappear quickly or when those same issues and struggles were tough and heavy going and when it meant personal discomfort or inconvenience to me. If I am honest I think there are probably times where I haven’t been able or wanted to go to those places because it pushed me out of my comfort zones, or when I was just plain lazy and/or selfish.

I say those things totally and completely believing that love is the most powerful thing there is, and knowing it has the power to change lives but yet often my sin, my humanness and my rubbish just gets in the way of loving the way I was made to do and called to do.

On the flip side I have experienced that love in abundance when I have been so undeserving of it. As I waded through my grief, my anger, my hurt, my questions I was truly horrible at times – I lashed out over and over again. People would say to me that they thought I was doing amazingly but I knew the truth that if they asked those closest to me, my parents, my brother and my closest friends they would be able to tell them a very different side. My pain was so deep and so big that at times I just didn’t know how to handle it. I can feel the tears coming as I write this as I think about the faithfulness those people showed me, they never stopped loving me even when I was at my foulest, they would hold me as a I screamed and sobbed, they listened patiently as I threw questions, struggles and confusion at them – they got right in there, right in the crap of it all even though they were hurting themselves and walked through it with me, sometimes pulling me through – quite simply loving me through it. I would not be where I am today without them. They showed me true love, the love of God.

I have been given so so much in terms of family, friendship and community that I know that so much is expected back of me. So how do I do that? I believe God wants me to love not just those that are easy to love but those that are difficult, those whose lives are not easy and comfortable, but those whose lives are in chaos, those whose lives are broken- even when that is really uncomfortable for me.

I work for a charity called Church Army, which works with hundreds of people, each year, throughout the British Isles, who are on the margins of society – the broken, the rejected, the hurting. Over the past year I have grown in passion for this organization – I love what it does, its projects are amazing – so many people sacrificing so much to get stuck into the brokenness of people’s lives to bring hope and transformation. I have the privilege of working with people, many of whom I often wonder if they are actually angels. They have shown me what real love means – transforming, healing, powerful, life-changing love – loving when it is hard and messy and complicated- young people self-harming, women locked into lives of addiction and prostitution, homelessness, mental health issues, deprivation.

So as the challenge has come my prayer has become “God help me love the next person that comes into my path with that life changing, hope giving love that only comes from you, and don’t let me hide away when that love is hard, when it takes commitment, when it is out of my comfort zones.” I truly believe that if we truly learnt to love we would see so many more lives transformed and situations changed and healed. That type of love is infectious and so life giving. I can think of people I know and love who just shine with that love and every time I spend time with them I feel closer to God and come away with a desire for more of God and more of that love. I am desperate to get better at it but I know that that will be an on-going choice to push myself, to think beyond my own needs and to keep falling into God.

“I am a strong believer in aggressive love. And it challenges me to the core. I AM going to love my neighbour. I am going to forgive. I am going to have faith that things can and will change. I am going to hope that my children will lead a better world than the one that I leave behind. And I fight that lust that licks at my feet day in, day out, choosing generosity, love, inclusion, hope, faith, …it is these things, and these things only that make an eternal difference in our world.

Live an inclusive life, not a selfish one. Challenge yourself to seek faith, hope and love in every circumstance. Don’t just look out for yourself, but build into other – share you life openly, spread faith, hope and love around generously.” (DVO)

 

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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.