And the truth will set you free

This follows on a bit from what I wrote about a few weeks ago but it is something that feels like is weighing on my heart really heavily and normally that means I just need to write it out.

Do you ever lie? Big or small lies – do you ever tell them?  I am not talking about lies we may or may not tell to other people but rather the lies we tell ourselves. I am pretty sure that the answer for the majority of us would be a big YES to those questions.

I do it all the time – I am not good enough to do what is being asked of me. I am not interesting enough. I am not attractive enough. I am not a good enough mum. I am not holy enough. And so the list goes on.

I hear friends tell these lies all the time about themselves. I can recognise the lies much more easily when my friends are telling them about themselves than when I hear them about myself in my own heart.

Last year I had to do a lot of letting go of my time in my previous job and it has been painful in many ways. I worked there for 11 years and it had become a big part of who I was and had been the steady factor when a lot of my life was being pulled from under me – it was the one thing that didn’t change. Not long after I had moved jobs I sat chatting with one of my oldest friends, who has known me most of my life – someone who is one of the most rational and level headed people I know, a thinker to my feeler. My friend asked me how I felt about the job stuff and I said to her that I felt like I had failed. She told me very clearly that for 10 years I had thrived in the job, that I had had many successes, passed exams and been promoted in spite of really tough personal circumstances and that what had happened in the last 8 months had not been my fault and was not indicative of my abilities and the rest of my time there. She very firmly spoke truth into the lies my heart was telling me. It was so releasing to hear those truths and every time I hear the lies I remind myself of that conversation.

At the beginning of December I had signed up to do a 10k race but1.5k into that race my ankle went, my whole body seem to go and mentally I felt like I had gone too – I knew I couldn’t continue. I had only done a 10k race a few months before and had been training in between and whilst I knew the last 2 or 3 k would be tough I had been regularly running 6 to 7k without too much issue. I felt so humiliated as I had to hobble back to the start, through the spectators, and spent the rest of the day in tears or very close to them. By the end of that day I was ready for the day to end, to sleep and wake up to a new day and a new week. I was really struggling with a heavy feeling of failure. The next day a friend emailed me to see how I was feeling and I told her I felt sad and like I had failed and the response I received was pretty firm but loving, clearly telling me that it was far from the end of the world, these things happen and reminding me of all that I had achieved and survived and that that made me far from a failure. It was exactly what I would have said to a friend in my position so why couldn’t I be kinder to myself? Why couldn’t I see or believe the truth?

Feeding into these lies are the lies that our culture, our society tells us. Those messages that we don’t have enough or we aren’t enough, and that we would be better off with more or in some way different.  I am a monkey when it comes to clothes – I love clothes. I can always justify a new top – ALWAYS! I buy into those lies that it will make me be a better person but without exception the shine wears off within days.  For others it may be shoes, or music, or gadgets, or their house or holidays.

I think sometimes we have told ourselves/heard these lies so often that we believe them to be truth.

I have been really challenged recently to almost have a list of truths that I memorise – that every time a lie comes into my head I can speak against it – whether that it a scripture, or a quote or just words I know are right.

  • You are valuable.
  • You are precious, adored and cherished.
  • You are worthwhile.
  • You are a child of God, of the King.
  • You are not a mistake – God knew you before you were born, he has a plan and a purpose for your life.
  • You are loved.
  • You are good enough just as you are.

As I have come to the beginning of this year I have felt a little overwhelmed, it feels like a big blank canvass and I have struggled a little bit to say goodbye to 2015 as it was so amazing and so crazy and so full of transformation and hope. I have no idea what this year holds, absolutely no idea and I am a little scared it won’t be able to top 2015!

I feel like seeds have planted in my heart and head about the future, about things I would like to have a go at, about possibilities and potentials but each time I think on those things I hear a little voice saying “but surely you don’t think that is possible or that you could do that”, “how would that ever work financially” but the biggest by far is “what will people think”, “would people think I am not good enough”.

Maybe I won’t be good enough to do those things, and maybe those ideas will come to nothing. Maybe people will think I am stupid or not like me but what I have realised more and more is that those insecurities usually focused around what other people think of me are more about me than them and so what if people don’t agree, or don’t like me as a result – I know the one who loves me unconditionally and I also know there are plenty of people who do have my back.

I feel like that about my writing – each time I go to press the publish button I sit there deliberating, fearful of what people will think but I feel so strongly I have to keep writing until God tells me to stop that I have to trust it has a purpose.

I want to live in truth and in freedom from the lies. I want to live a simple life loving God and loving people. When the lies take hold they taint all those things – I may be on my own here but when those lies take hold I struggle to come before God vulnerably and honestly, they affect relationships because I almost start believing that my insecurities are what other people think of me and most definitely those lies don’t allow me to see me how God sees me.

More and more I know that the only way to live in that freedom and that truth is to come and be with God, to talk to him, to listen, and to learn. If I don’t invest that time the lies win out.

I also know that we need to be people who speak truth over one another, who speak love and encouragement, – when we recognise the truth in someone else’s life, when we see the good in them, when we recognise their amazingness, we need to be speaking that over them and into them. We need those people in our lives and we need to be those people.

So as I face a New Year I am going to hold on to these words I read on New Year’s Day:

“Just humbly live every day doing what you love, doing what you can with what you have: dare to do. And you never know where you’ll find yourself come 2017.” (DVO)

I am going to keep saying yes to the opportunities that come along, keep taking risks, as each day I come before God giving him my insecurities, the lies and rubbish that hold me back, asking for his plans and purposes, that he will set his dreams in my heart and resting and learning more of his truths.

And if today you are struggling to hear the truth know that you are precious, that you are so so valuable – that you were and are wonderfully created, and that there is hope and a future for you.

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.

Sucking the marrow out of life!

So I have not written for a while because whilst life is good in so so many ways there has been a big wave of grief in the last few weeks – all I have wanted is John and my dad. Quite frankly I am pretty sick of these waves – they make me angry, they make me sad, they make me feel like a failure and I end up lashing out. I am not always sure why they come when they do – sometimes there is a trigger sometimes not. I feel misunderstood and I feel very alone. To put it bluntly I become a little irrational because the pain just feels too big.

As always there are angels in the midst of it– one of my besties who sat outside in the cold with me on a Sunday morning and cried with me, my friend in another country who let me rant over text, didn’t preach at me and told me she will always be there even if I need to rant in 10 years time, my lovely boss who listened (and is probably thinking he has recruited a nutcase) and told me it was ok. I am so thankful for those who don’t judge me, who love me and hold my hand (literally and metarophically).

This time there was a trigger – this time it was going back into one of John’s environments and him being remembered by his people – it is rare he is talked about these days especially by people who were part of his life and whilst it was lovely it made me think what could have been and what might life have looked liked. That and the processing of my mother being hospitalised in intensive care and receiving one of those phone calls you never want to receive telling you to come quick (fortunately this time all ended well).

In my head I know God loves me but in my heart I am not so sure right now. I know that I have a call to the broken and hurting to love them but I personally feel a little forgotten and a little abandoned – again a sentence full of contradictions but grief often doesn’t make much sense.

Alongside all of those struggles this last 6 months have been incredible on so many levels, experiencing some amazing experiences – skydiving, career changes, travel, running a race – they have been life giving, exciting and I have loved every moment – well maybe not that final hill of the 10km!

Life is flipping weird, I feel I have lots of questions again, – the amazing sits along side the struggles but I am not giving up – tonight I have sat writing a bucket list, from big things to little things – I want to go and dance in the rain, I am going to get that tattoo, I was to stargaze, I want to turn up at an airport and get on a plane to wherever, I want to sing more, to make a difference to people’s lives, to skydive again, to write more.

So whatever your battles, your struggles let stand together and not give up- lets keep loving, and as one friend recently said to me keep sucking the marrow out of life.

Do I only matter because of what I do?

The other week I was at a party and was introduced to someone I had never met before – I immediately saw their eyes go to the rings I wear on my right hand and they commented that obviously I was married and so was my husband at the party – they certainly didn’t get the response they were expecting. Now some would say I should have taken my wedding rings off years ago but I have never quite been able to bring myself to do it partly because I like my rings and they were made from a ring I had inherited from my grandmother and partly because I also like the fact that they symbolise a really important part of my past.

It got me to think about how we classify people in our minds and make judgments so quickly about people without really knowing very much about them, based upon external factors.

I am sure that person’s question was completely innocent and asked with the best of intentions but it made me think about the questions I ask people and my motivations and thinking behind those questions. Obviously it is important to ask such questions in order to get to know a person, and to express interest in someone and their life shows them you care but how do I use the information I am given – if someone says they are married do I automatically think about them differently than if they say they are a single person, or divorced or widowed – I think if I am honest sometimes I do and then I rationalise that response and always come to the same conclusion that I am being completely ridiculous and such a response is all about my insecurity. I massively struggle with feeling like a failure because I am widowed, that I am not as worthy or have not made it like all the happily married couples I am surrounded by, because I do not have anyone in my life or dare I say it, because in my harder moments, I feel like I am not as important to God – again that is a total heart response, a lie, because as my head tells me that is a totally irrational thing to think, but the world, the church, society tells us that marriage/relationships/true love is above everything else and it very wrongly plants those seeds that if you are not in that place you lack something, you are not as important or valuable.

Maybe for you it isn’t about marital status but rather work – maybe you are a stay at home mum and have at times been made to feel not as worthy as the mum who has a career or maybe, like me, you work full time and feel the guilt of not being there to pick your kids up or go on school trips. Or maybe it is parentage, looks/weight, cultures, a person’s history, the size of houses or cars or holidays or maybe it is education or lack of it. I think deep down we can probably all identify with those types of judgments about others and ourselves. Often they feel too ugly to admit but I think they are probably in all of us to some extent or other.

A few days after the party incident I read an article entitled “Do I only matter because of what I do?” In the article the writer talks about going on a retreat where at the start of the retreat they strip you of your mobile telephone, you are not allowed to tell people your surname or what you do for a living, i.e. all the things we use to impress other people. He reflected upon how difficult he found it at first but as the retreat went on he found himself going deeper with these strangers than he ever normally did with people. He went on to say how much better our world would be if we as humans did not feel the need to throw our ace cards out as soon as we meet people – our careers, our accomplishments, who we know and our marital status but rather look to who people actually are as people.

Similarly a teacher friend of mine was saying the other month how he was really glad he taught in a secondary school where they wear a uniform as he prefers that the kids all look the same as rather than make judgments about them based on the clothes they wear he is truly able to see them as a person with their strengths and weakness, likes and dislikes, that their personalities and characters can come through. He felt that it made him a better teacher.

How often have I found my identity in my job, or my education, or in where I grew up or in the people I know? I am ashamed to say far too often. Is my head turned by a fancy career, or an impressive business achievement or an attractive face or personality or a nice car or house? Again probably far too often.

Last week a colleague was talking about how we respond to people – do we respond to them in the framework of our own values, culture and experiences or treat them as a child of God and respond to them as God would do. Do we treat ourselves as children of God or do we judge ourselves by human standards? It really, really challenged me. It made me realise that along the way my values/mindsets had become skewed.

Whilst I totally believe God has a plan for our lives, that he blesses us with good things, and that he uses us in the jobs/situations/relationships we are in they are not the priority for him – he does not love us anymore if we are a High Court Judge or a brain surgeon than if we were homeless and hungry with not a penny to our name, if we are big or small, loud and outgoing or quiet and shy, black or white, gay or straight. He sees our hearts, he loves our characters, he loves it when we are kind and generous, when we forgive, and overcome, when we love as he loves us – he sees the things that matter.

My experience is that God always uses the other stuff – the relationships, the job stuff, the material to shape my character. I am loving being in my new job but there is a wrestle going on inside of me about my law career – I know I am in the right place but for so long, as sad as this sounds, a big part of my identity has been tied up in the law, and so there is a part of me that is grieving that whilst at the same time knowing that probably God is doing a work in me through all of this, a work in my character and in my attitudes, as many people have told me re-shaping my identity.

As I have been thinking about all of this I have been thinking about my John. I have written about this before but on paper John was not what I would have gone for, in fact we were extreme opposites , and my guess is had he still been here we would never have been rich or super successful, these were not things that motivated John in any way, shape or form – John was the most unmotivated by money/status/success of any person I have ever met. God has a sense of humour because actually John was just what I needed, the opposite to all the stuff I would battle with and for. John would go in search of the underdog, he was kind, he was about as good and real as you could hope to be – he was forgiving, patient, gentle (I never heard him raise his voice, and he refused to argue – very infuriating to a feeler like me), generous and joyful. I am so glad God allowed me to see past all the other stuff as I had the privilege of 3 and ½ years with the most amazing man and I get to love and parent his child.

I want to learn again to be a child of God, to love myself as God loves me and to see myself as God sees me – to know although so much of the time I see widowhood, a career left behind, many mistakes and struggles, he sees me as his precious daughter, and he loves me despite and because of those things. I want to respond to people as God does – I don’t want to judge by the other stuff but I want to love people unconditionally whatever their circumstances, because of their hearts and because they are the most precious thing to God. I know it is those places that there is freedom, true love and real satisfaction.