Let yourself rest….

img_5176A couple of weeks ago a friend challenged me that I needed to learn to rest. Not just physically rest but to take some rest from all the stuff that fills my head, all the things and people I carry around up there and worry about. I don’t take challenge well, in fact I felt annoyed because I didn’t feel like I particularly needed to rest, and I told them so but they remained firm. This particular friend is always full of challenge, you seek wisdom and come away with a fair share of that wisdom but with more questions to work through and process than you had to begin with and that is just the way they intend it to be. Whilst sometimes I hate it I couldn’t be more thankful for that wisdom and challenge.

Ever since that discussion the challenge of rest has been going round my head. How do I rest? Do I rest enough? What should rest look like? How do you rest when you have so many things and people needing your time and care?

My child hates that I make our lives so busy, I am someone who needs people and activity to fill my life, in contrast she is more than happy to be at home, playing and just being in her own space. So about a week after said challenge/discussion/cross words (all on my part!) about learning to rest she asked me what the next few weeks looked like in terms of what we had on and the levels of busyness and as I went through what was a manic month she groaned and pleaded with me to stop filling up every spare minute of time.

As always when the same thing comes at me from different angles I know probably God is trying to say something to me.

I don’t think I am on my own either. I look at the majority of my friends and peers and see exhausted faces looking back at me, so many of the conversations we have are about how tired we all are. And so I have been wondering and reflecting on whether there are lessons I need to learn about how to rest well, and making intentional choices around rest.

Why do I find being busy so much easier than being quiet and still? Why is rest so difficult for me? I have realised I am not very good at resting and I think it for a number of reasons.

  • Years of living at break neck speed, in a culture that tells us we always need to be achieving otherwise we are showing weakness and failure have set patterns in my life that aren’t particularly healthy. In some twisted way I think I see a full and busy life as some sort of mark of success and achievement, that actually if I have a day ahead with nothing in it then there is something not quite right. I think we are told that we need to be working hard to achieve something, and in our spare time we need to be running marathons or climbing mountains, as well maintaining lovely homes and having an active and fulfilled social life, and somewhere in the midst of that you need to be parenting children well, and maintaining good relationships. I guess its no big surprise that we end up exhausted.
  • A much more personal reason for me is that actually resting and let time and space fill my head and heart is often a reminder of what and who is missing from my life. From the moment John died it has just been easier to fill life to the brim because it made missing him that bit easier but those habits have followed me into the future without him and I am not sure that they are particularly good habits.
  • And when it comes to resting in my head, that is a whole different ball game, and probably a lot more complicated. When said friend challenged me to set down the things I normally hold so tightly for just a week, to let God have them, well I realised that I hold so tightly because actually I struggle to trust God has them, that he is in control, that he loves the people I love much more than I do.

I am very good at reflecting but putting those thoughts into practice not so good at. On Wednesday night I was waiting to pick Lucy up from a group and a text arrived from a friend saying that she would be at mine in 20 minutes as we were meeting some other friends to go out for dinner. I responded with a swear word (a bad habit of mine!) saying I thought dinner was at 8pm and not 7.30pm, that I was a good 20 minutes away from home, that Lucy had not been fed or showered and that the babysitter was not turning up until 7.45pm, that she should go ahead without me and I would be there when I could. I ended up rocking up to the restaurant half an hour late, my food having been ordered for me, with a stress headache which meant I hardly said a word all evening.

I would love to say that such incidents are one offs but they aren’t.

I am realising that without proper rest I don’t enjoy life as much, I disengage, I am grumpy and irritable, I don’t listen as well and am just really tired a lot of the time.

I think God has been very clearly saying to me slow down, be intentional in how you spend your time. Only yesterday we were talking at work about living simpler lives, lives with more room for joy and laughter, lives with more room for generosity and that challenge came at me full force all over again.

I need time in my week in good solid blocks to take myself off and be with God, I need time to run and I need time to properly engage with people. I need to learn to say no. I need to learn to be happy with space and quiet time. I need to learn to make wiser choices. I need to learn to enjoy free days.

There are so many things I want to do, dreams I want to pursue, relationships I want to invest in but it has been a revelation to me that actually I am not going to be able to do any of those things well unless I rest, unless I stop. For me creativity is not going to flow out of stress and exhaustion. Being able to care well isn’t going to be within my capacity if I am not even caring for myself well. Good decisions and rational responses are not going to flow from my manic, crazy days.

So here’s to the challenge of rest, of learning to slow down, of not losing the things that really matter and bring us life in the sea of everything else, of precious friends who aren’t scared of standing up to us and to the wisdom of children.

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This is the one

Hey Sweetheart

So Linz turned 40 yesterday! 40! It’s starting we are beginning to reach the middle years and you you so and so are eternally 28. I think in some perverse way there would be a big part of you that would take great delight in being the one who stays young whilst the rest of us get older, rounder, greyer and more wrinkled.

It was a brilliant party but you don’t need me to tell you that – it’s Linz you know that it would always be a big celebration. There are not many moments these days where I really miss you or really long for you, don’t get me wrong I miss you all the time, you are so much part of me and who I am, you are such an integral part of the framework of my thinking and my being – I am not very good at articulating it but you will always be in the very fabric of who I am but life has moved on, so much has changed, things are busy and so there are few moments when I am hit with a strong need for you – but last night was one of those times. Not in a sad way just in a way that you felt close. Last night I remembered again how much I liked you. I am not one of those people that senses the presence of lost loved ones but last night you felt so close.

You were in every song, I could just imagine you on that dance floor – Stone Roses, Oasis they were all there – but again you know that. These were your people and I was very definitely the odd one out in terms of music tastes. You were in the pictures all over the walls. But most importantly you were in our hearts. We remembered Linz’s 30th celebrations, I was pregnant and too sick to go and you had come in in the early hours, a little worse for wear and I had given you some earache and you asked me not to be cross because you had had such a brilliant night dancing with your best friends. One of my last memories. We talked about how you are always with us, how we think of you often, of how much we loved you, of how you were “our John”. Know how much Chris misses you – we just held each other for a long time last night no words were needed we just knew.

Last night was not only a celebration of a wonderful, beautiful, crazy girl turning 40 it was a celebration of friendship, of memories, of life – so there was laughter, so much dancing and singing and you should have been right there with us, I will always feel a bit cross about that but you were very much there in our hearts.

So this morning I am sat here with Stone Roses on full blast, pretty teary but thankful, thankful that we got to have the times we had with you, thankful for the memories, thankful that we all shared a love than means in some ways it will always hurt a little bit but which means that it was big enough to still miss. You were such a good one, Chris said to me last night that you were different, that you didn’t give a fig about money or status, you loved me and you loved other people and that was what guided you and that in that was someone so special. He was right.

Last night my heart needed to be reminded of the past, it needed to be reminded that you had loved me and of all the fun we had. So this morning is one of those mornings where I wish that heaven had visiting hours, and instead I am indulging myself in writing to you – I remember mum saying when she had stuff she really wanted to tell her Dad after he had gone she told God and asked him to tell him – so today I am asking God to tell you thank you, thank you for taking such good care of my heart, for loving it so well, and reminding me when my heart is feeling a little vulnerable and battered that you had thought it precious and always been so careful with it. Thank you too for all these years on still being able to make me smile, what I wouldn’t give for the chance to see you on that dance floor one last time.

Love you x

For you have redeemed me, you have called me by name

So its very late at night and really I should be sleeping, but my head and my heart feels so full of the last few days that I know I needed to start writing to process it all.

On Saturday a precious friend married her lovely man. It was a remarkable day in so many ways, mainly because they are a pretty remarkable couple – it was full of fun, laughter, love, lots of music and a shed load of rain. Think fields and tepees, rain, rain and more rain, and a whole lot of mud. I spent a large percentage of the day wet and cold which is not something I normally love but it didn’t matter. My heart was left overwhelmed and not just because it was a great day but because of the stories that led to that day and what that day was a culmination of.

I have known my friend for over 15 years, she is part of my “framily”, of the precious community of people who are my people. She is quirky, and all things lovely, my child like all children think she is amazing for many reasons including her creative abilities to think of the most random games which she tirelessly and patiently plays with them over and over again. Her lovely man I have known since he came into her life about 3 years ago and he has blessed our “framily” so immensely in that time.

It would have been easy to sit there on Saturday and be swept along in all the love and warm feelings of the day, to think it was all about the happiness and the joy, and that was totally what Saturday was all about, but it would have been easy to forget the paths that got these two precious people to that day, paths which have been tough and painful at so many times over the years. Theirs are stories which include loss, tragedy, waiting a flipping long time, loneliness, and dark days.

There are so many things that I could list about why Saturday was an amazing day, but the one think that stands out above it all, the thing that has blown me away and left me unable to sleep (not that it takes a lot) is what a story of redemption it is.

Now they aren’t my stories to tell in detail but I sat in that church on Saturday remembering so many tough times for my friend, so many times of waiting and wondering where God was in it all and here we were celebrating God bringing two people together, two people who could not be more suited to each other, two people who have had to overcome so much and face their fears and take big leaps of faith. They acknowledged on Saturday, all the way through the day, that it was a day of redemption, of God’s turning around of situations, of God’s second chances, of God making tough places beautiful again.

I loved looking around on Saturday and seeing such an eclectic and crazy bunch of people, people this couple have walked life with, people who stood at what was a pretty epic and amazing open mike of words, singing and laughter, telling the stories of these two from their perspective, of people testifying of the redemption they could see in their lives.

It is such a powerful story and one I am so grateful to have been able to watch.

“Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43 vs.1).

I have said this before and I have no doubt I will say it again but I love the way that when God is trying to tell me something, challenge me or remind me of something he shows me in so many different ways. So last week I got the privilege of playing a tiny part in another amazing story of redemption, another story of loss and tragedy, of unresolved pain and grief, which after 30 years God is healing up, where I can see freedom, forgiveness and God’s power shining through in amazing ways. Again it blew me away because actually there is nothing more amazing than seeing God show up and turn situations around – it is an inexplicable feeling which words can’t do justice to.

Then in the last few weeks I have had to put together a piece of writing for a potential project, something which has bought all my fears and self doubt to the surface. It is a project which may come to nothing and if it doesn’t then that is fine because actually there has been real power in the preparation, in the process – as I have written the words of the last ten years of my life I can see God at work all the way through the story, I have seen come off the pages the truth and reality that although it has been so incredibly painful at times, and although it feels like God has taken so long to put me back together, with me feeling so forgotten at times, he has been there all along bringing me back to life, slowly (well at least in my timescales) but surely, small steps but in a deep way, so many lessons learnt, so many riches in the midst of it. Mine is a story of redemption, of God turning around, of rebuilding, of restoring. I asked one of my best friends to read what I had written because I needed some reassurance, a friend who has walked more closely with me than any other, and part of her response was to remind me of bits of the stories I had forgotten, to point me more clearly to the ways God has bought healing and freedom. Again I was left a little overwhelmed at his goodness.

I have been reminded again that nothing is impossible, that however hard the situation it doesn’t have to be the end of the story, that with God there is always a way out. ALWAYS. There are always second chances. ALWAYS. That beauty can always come from the pain. ALWAYS. It never normally looks like we think it should do, it is not normally in our timescales and generally it will not be all easy roads to get there but there is always hope. ALWAYS.

As I looked around on Saturday and as I have reflected since it wasn’t just the story of redemption that blew me away but it was the lessons learnt in the midst of the wait, it was the compassion birthed as a result of the pain, it was the relationships forged and deepened because of the tough times. I looked at my friends coming together, knowing that because of what bought them to that point it will shape who and what they do going forward, there is such love and compassion because of what has happened in their lives and I know that they will not allow that pain to be wasted because I know that they will invest into many people’s lives things they can only invest because of what they have had to walk.

My heart also came away full because I get to do life with people who are real and vulnerable – we have walked the hard roads together, we have held each other up, we have listened to each other, we have cried together, we know each other’s stories, we are inextricably part of each other’s stories and I love that so much. And because of that we get to celebrate the good stuff together and those celebrations are so much the sweeter because of it.

That wedding on Saturday is not the end of the story – these stories have lots more pages to be lived and redemption will be an on-going process for them and for us all, but there is nothing I would rather put my hope in that redemption and the one who gives it to us with such grace and love because hand on heart there is nothing that makes me feel more alive.

Our father in heaven……

 

I wonder if I say the word prayer what it means to you. Is it something you ever do or ever even think about? Is it something that simply happens when something big happens and when life feels desperate?

I may not be great at much in this Christian lark, I wrestle, I struggle, I doubt, I don’t know my bible as well as I should but the one thing I always come back to, the one thing I love and the one thing that without doubt always roots me, brings me peace and brings perspective is prayer.

I am no expert at prayer. There have been reams written on the subject over the years and I am sure there will be reams more written before the end, all by people much clever than I am. I am no great theologian in any sense of the word – I am all about the heart, all about the feelings and emotions but what I do know is that prayer links me back home and it changes situations.

I could write a very long list of all the prayers I have seen answered over the years, some small, others big and pretty amazing, and plenty in the middle. At the same time there are many prayers I haven’t seen answered. I don’t know why God answers some prayers and not others, I don’t get why sometimes it’s a yes and sometimes it feels like there is silence or a very definite NO! God is God, his ways are bigger and better than mine, sometimes my heart’s desires, the things I am praying for are clearly not in line with what God wants, sometimes they are simply not good for me or for others and sometimes there just seems to be no rhyme or reason.

What I do know is this:

  • If I go too long without hiding myself away, in my own quiet space, to talk to God, to listen to him and to just be with him I feel it. I feel the struggle getting stronger, I don’t feel quite so peaceful and I certainly get more anxious and lose perspective a lot more easily. I need to be with him. I need to give it all to him, to tell him all about it. I need to hear what his heart is saying, what he wants me to hear and to do. Sometimes I need to wrestle and cry, sometimes I need to say thank you because my heart feels full, sometimes I know I just need to tell him I have messed up and to say sorry – at other times it is a mixture of all of those things and much more.
  • I may not get the answers to my prayers I want or think I need instantly or at all but I know that prayer changes my spirit. It gives me a peace and perspective that reassures my heart again, it lifts my soul heavenwards, helps me fix my eyes on Jesus and whispers to me again that whatever is going on, whatever is happening it is going to be ok, because God knows and he has got it. It reminds me that God is bigger than it all. Like many people I woke up early on the morning after the EU Referendum and checked the news – within 15 minutes we were having a discussion on our Family WhatsApp and I felt dread fill my heart, I felt scared for the future and depressed about what was to come. It was a feeling I couldn’t shake and the more I read and watched and listened to and the more conversations I had the greater the anxiety grew. I knew I needed to just be with God, to hear what he was saying, not the world, not even the people around me who I love and trust but him. His ways are bigger than ours. He is bigger than this situation. Once I talked to him and let those truths settle in my heart I had my perspective back and knew whatever came it would be ok because he was in control.
  • Prayer changes things. One of my favourite stories of God’s faithfulness at the moment is that of one of my best friend’s. My friend and her husband have a son, who will soon be 7. An amazing, full of life and life giving little boy. But my friend’s family did not feel complete, her strongest longing was for another child but it wasn’t happening. There were miscarriages and many years of simply nothing. So many prayers were prayed, all around the world. This precious friend has only been in my life for the last few years but she is one of those rare finds of a friend that has your heart from the beginning, and from early on she shared her story with me of longing and hoping for that second child. I felt like I went into battle praying for that child and prayed many prayers in the silence of my room as well as praying over and over with my friend. I know I wasn’t alone in that battle that many others battled in prayer for them too. Trusting God, claiming that child, asking him in his goodness to provide. At the beginning of this year my friend laid down the dream of having another child and accepted she would simply only ever have one child. It was an incredibly painful process – she sold or gave away all her baby equipment and asked God to show her what he had for her instead. She had rightly let it go because she felt like she had come to the end of the line with it but something in me kept asking and kept fighting believing nothing was impossible for God. Then 2 months later in the middle of the working day I got a message from my friend which was a picture of a positive pregnancy test with the text “When God has a sense of humour………………” – my first response was “but you’ve sold all your baby stuff” and then I cried tears of pure joy.  God had answered all those years of prayers and that little one will be here come the autumn.
  • Prayer changes things, prayer works, prayer is powerful. I say that knowing there are possibly people reading this who have prayed and prayed for similar situations and the outcome has not been such a celebration. I know those situations are painful, so painful that your heart breaks over and over again. I prayed and prayed those 4 hours John was lying on a hospital bed desperately ill but God didn’t save him in the ways I wanted and the consequences of those unanswered prayers were life shattering and life changing. Likewise I prayed for 3 years that my Dad would be healed, that the cancer would be gone from his body but he wasn’t healed. I don’t know why in those cases those prayers didn’t get answered. There is a tension, a tension that is very hard to explain but I have seen too many situations changed, people’s lives transformed and healings come through prayer to ever stop. I am learning very slowly to trust, to trust that God knows best and that if I put a situation in his hands and ask him to work and take control he will, trusting that whatever outcome he brings he is in it and knowing that in the process he will change me and bring me closer to him.
  • Nothing is too big or too messy for God, nothing is too bad or too difficult for him. He can turn any situation around, he can bring beauty and hope and healing out of the most broken of situations and lives but it all starts with prayer. It starts in making yourself vulnerable before him, by being honest and real. He is not looking for fancy, clever, articulate sentences – he wants to hear your heart. I have spent so many hours in prayer crying, shouting, and questioning. God is big enough to take it all, he just wants us to come to him, to give it to him in whatever state it comes.
  • Prayer builds community, as you pray with people it builds trust and vulnerability and something so beautiful can come from that. I love being in communities where we pray together. It is often during those times were special things happens, both seen and unseen, where relationships are forged and deepened, where family is built. Sometimes prayer is the only thing I can offer – when situations feel impossible and hard – sometimes all I can is “I am praying for you” but in those moments we feel less alone, we know someone else is standing with us, that we aren’t in it alone, that someone is showing and claiming faith and life and truth on our behalf and what a different that makes in the natural and the supernatural.

So I will probably never be that great at this journey, I have no doubt I will make many more mistakes before I am done, but I know that I will never stop praying, never stop putting my hand in the hand of the one who has it all and always will.

 

 

 

 

It takes a village

WARNING: this may include an element of smug mumminess – it is not normally something I feel that comfortable in engaging in so forgive me – it hopefully has some level of creative (?!?) purpose.

It’s that time of year again – the summer holidays are finally in sight and I for one can’t wait. I feel so tired that this afternoon I have had to crawl into my bed and have a little afternoon nap. So roll on 7 weeks of not having to make pack lunches (I can’t even put into words how much I hate making pack lunches!!!!!), not racing out the door each morning checking the right clothes are being worn and that right equipment is packed or the right letter has been signed, 7 weeks of not having to ferry from drama to music to swimming to parties. Yes I will still have to get myself to work but that break from all the rest of it feels like a little piece of heaven, a little piece of selfish heaven.

And with this time of year comes the annual school report – my child is no genius, she is very normal, she struggles with some stuff and shines more in other areas but it bought me to tears. It talked about a polite and delightful little girl, a little girl who was always willing to help, always willing to try new things and always gave everything her best. Obviously you want your child to do well and go out and find their way in the world but to some extent the academic stuff is secondary to me – I want to see kindness, generosity, compassion, a spirit of adventure.

If I am being honest there was a moment of pride in myself – single parenting is incredibly hard at times, its incredibly lonely and it can be scary – you feel solely responsible for the way this human being turns out, there is no-one to share that responsibility, no-one to share the amazing bits or the really tough heart breaking bits. So reading that report made me thankful that despite everything that has happened we are doing ok.

I very quickly got over myself though and started to reflect on the fact that getting Lucy to this point, getting her to year 10 of life in a fairly good state wasn’t down to just me.

I remembered that old African proverb that it takes a village to raise a child and my heart became full as I thought of the village that had helped me raise my child, for all those people that can take some of the credit.

For her GJ who continually goes above and beyond, who makes numerous sacrifices and who quite frankly neither of us would function very well without. For her other grandparents, here and no longer here, who love her so well. For an uncle who has loved her so beautifully from day one, who makes her feel safe and makes her laugh and a beloved aunt who she knows adores her. For her wider family who encourage her, invest time in her, listen to her.

For her “best adult friend” who has been such a steadfast presence in her life, who has always made her feel special and has been so generous in her time and love. For a whole community who have been her family, her places of belonging, who have provided “siblings”, who have helped her create so many happy memories. For her teachers, an amazing teaching assistant who was a gift in a tough year and will always have a special place in our heart. For her babysitters who have not simply come and put her straight to bed so they could get on with their own thing but who have got down on the floor with her, and played with and talked to her and read to her.

For all those who have prayed for us from day one, and have been so faithful in those prayers, people we know and love well, and those we don’t know at all.

And above all for a heavenly father who has poured out his grace time and time again, over and over – my child has witnessed more of my tears than I would have cared for her to see, she has seen me battle and wrestle more than I would have liked, she has seen more loss, illness and grief than most of her peers but I thank God that in his grace he has protected her, he has used those things to shape her in good ways, and that despite my failings, and there have been many, she is a good and happy kid.

This is not something that I talk about too much because on the whole I have found peace with it but there is a sadness at the children I never got to have, those I didn’t get to love and parent. I would never have chosen to have an only child. However I am so thankful that I didn’t get to love just one child I get to love a whole host of gorgeous kids, who I have loved since the minute they arrived, who I have loved watching grow, who I have prayed for over and over, who have made me laugh and cry, and who I can’t wait to watch become amazing adults. For all those conversations I have had with their parents, about their struggles, their achievements, their character, their friendships. I have loved being part of the village that has helped and will continue to help raise them – because what a privilege that is.

This parenting lark is amazing, it’s a wonderful gift, and I am so so thankful I got the chance to do it but I defy anyone to say it is easy, there are moments that lift your heart as high as it can go but there are plenty of moments that break your hearts into pieces, where the tears flow, or the frustration takes you to breaking point (for me it is usually maths homework) but I am so thankful for that village that I get to do it with. I am thankful for that village because in all honesty it would probably be unbearable without them but I am thankful for them because my child’s life is so much richer because of it. Yes she needs me, I am her number one and I am the centre of her life but I can’t give her everything she needs, and the people that make up her village bring her life, and colour, and experience – different things than I can offer her.

So lets be part of the villages of the children around us, invest and love those children, support and care for their parents, pray for those families because there are very few greater privileges.

Things I wish I had told you

So the other day Simon text me to say he was listening to “Nowhere Man” by the Beatles and thinking of you – you see you are never far from our thoughts. I think I think about you at least 10 times a day, sometimes it is something that reminds me of you, other times it is something I want to tell you and the rest of the time it is simply because you are part of who I am and so therefore never far away.

I can’t believe that in a few days time it will be three years since I last saw you – I remember in those last weeks sitting talking with you and thinking that very soon you were no longer going to be there to do that with but not really being able to get my head round that thought because you had always been there and so I couldn’t understand my world without you in it.

But that day came sooner than we realised – once you had decided it was time to go home you didn’t stick around. One day you were sat in your chair talking to me, the next you were lying in your bed, struggling to talk or breath and it was clear the end was near. I was too scared that day, I was scared of what I knew was coming and so I didn’t say what I wanted to say to you – I knew you knew it but still I wish I had said it. I wish I had climbed onto that bed and lain next to you and told you thank you, thank you for loving me and for always believing in me.

You weren’t perfect, in fact at times you were a total bugger – you could be stubborn and difficult – so many times you drove me to distraction but I wouldn’t have swopped you because I guess for all the times you drove me mad I drove you more mad, for all the times you were difficult I was more difficult. And for all the rubbish times, and there were some, there were so many good times and you gave me and taught me so much.

So now that the dust has settled, and I have healed up I want to tell you what I wish I had told you that day. I want to say thank you for always listening to me, for always understanding and never judging – I miss you most when it comes to making decisions, after John it was you and now you aren’t here either, the silver lining being that I am learning more and more to make those decisions with my heavenly father but nonetheless I miss you. I wonder what you would make of my career change, whether you would be in the camp that thinks I have totally lost the plot or whether you would think it was a good thing. It has been so good for me, and so I hope you would be in the latter camp, but I am not so sure. How I wish I could tell you all about it!

Thank you for always being on my side – when I think of you one of my strongest memories was of your arm never leaving me on the day of John’s funeral and from that moment onwards you fought for me, you told me it was crap and in saying that made me feel understood and safe. I know how hard it was for you to watch me in pain and how much pain that caused you but it showed me how much you loved me, even though the words never came easy for you, and in a funny sort of way I will always be grateful for that.

Thank you for never pushing us, for letting us be who we were and never putting pressure on us – for gently and quietly always being behind us, encouraging us and letting us find our own way.

Thank you for loving my child so much – how proud you would be of who she is becoming and how much fun you would have had with her. She has taken your chair at the table when no-one else could sit in it. And oh my goodness how you would have fallen in love with your new little one – she has bought so much joy in her short 5 months, joy that has been so desperately needed, and if she is a ginger (there are early signs) I think the blame will be firmly falling at your feet!

Thank you teaching me the importance of being kind to people – so many people since you have been gone have talked about what a kind and giving man you were. You were a good man.

Thank you for working so hard to provide for us – there are not many who work harder and who sacrificed so much for their families.

Thank you for sharing my dark sense of humour – there aren’t many people around who get that but you always did and always laughed with me!

Thank you for being brave – you battled so hard and so courageously. You never showed us you were afraid, which I am sure you were, but in that you gave us such a gift. I think part of that courage came from knowing where you were going and your certainty in that and I will forever be thankful for that because it made letting you go easier.

I would have told you, that as I knew would be the case, even before you had gone, there would be such specific things that make you feel near – for Simon it may be Beatles songs for me it is the Carpenters. It is the smell of cigars in your car. A pinstripe suit. A Chelsea boot. Seafood. So many memories.

But most of all I would have said thank you for being my Daddy, how grateful I was for you and how much I love you x

P.S. I got a tattoo – but it is too late for you disinherit me!!!

Who is fighting for you?

IMG_4021A few weeks ago a friend played a song which included the line “ Praise the one who fights for me and shields my soul eternally” – I was so struck by those words that I haven’t been able to quite shake them off and they have been going round my head on loop.

It is probably just me being a bit late to the party but I had never really thought about the fact God fought for me. I know God loves me, that he longs to know me, to be my number one, that he longs to bless me and that he is my protector, my redeemer, my saviour but that he goes into battle for me well that has blown my mind a little.

Fast forward a few weeks on and I hit a situation which hurt my heart and I couldn’t quite place where God was in it all – a situation where I really needed to know God was protecting my heart. One of my best friends in the midst of it sent me a text to say she was praying over me a verse from Exodus (14 vs 14) which says “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” I had never heard that verse before but was immediately taken back to the words of the song.

It started an internal wrestle with God which found me on a weekend run asking God over and over whether he was in fact fighting for me – 3 or 4km of me saying “are you really fighting for me in all of this” over and over and then I just felt in my spirit God say to me “I have fought for you from the first breath you took and I will fight for you until your final breath, many battles that you will never see or never fully comprehend – I have this and I am fighting for you.”

The next day I was flicking through Instagram and again that same verse in bold letters popped up “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

Only yesterday with a few hours to spare in London before my train home I went to Evensong at Westminster Abbey – in the midst of the seriousness and old fashioned language the words “I will fighteth for you” jumped right off the page.

I love the fact that God is so patient with me, that when my humanness and my weakness means I struggle to accept a truth he keeps telling me over and over again. The truth that the one who holds the whole universe in his hands fights for little old me! That whatever situation I find myself in he is right there with me, on my side, he has my back and I don’t have to fight or battle because he is doing it for me and his fight is so much better than mine. All I need to do is be still – to be honest that is so much more of a battle for me than letting him do the fighting. I just have to be still, to surrender it to him and to wait and watch.

And as my heart found that peace that he was fighting for me it renewed my fight for people I love who I know need to know he is fighting for them too.

I don’t know what you are battling, big or small, but I know there is one that wants to fight that battle for you, to give you that hope and reassurance knowing he is in control of it and he has the future. All you need do is be still x

Traces & Shadows

So I am totally stealing this line of thought from other people but I am pretty sure they won’t mind –it is one of the bonuses of being surrounded by wise people on a daily basis.

Back in February I received a work email which was all about the traces we leave in people’s lives and the fact that “every contact leaves a trace”. It was encouraging us to think about what traces we leave in the lives of those we meet, bad and good. The email ended asking us to pray that God would help us leave traces of grace, traces of hope, traces of life, and traces of Jesus. That email spoke right to my heart, I loved what it was saying and it challenged me so much that it has stayed with me pretty strongly ever since.

Then in the last few days I have heard Psalm 91 read on two separate occasions.

“He who lives in the safe place of the Most High will be in the shadow of the All-powerful. I will say to the Lord “You are my safe and strong place, my God in whom I trust.”” Psalm 91 vs. 1 & 2

On the first occasion I listened as the person reading it gave his take on it and talked about how so often we cast shadows over people and people cast them over us but actually the only safe shadow to be under, the only shadow that matters, was the shadow of the almighty God. I loved that and again it reminded me of the email and the traces we leave in people’s lives. The idea that actually I have the power to leave shadows over people by my words and my actions or lack of them and that people have that same power over me, if I let them, which let’s be honest most of us do because we are human and we want affirmation, encouragement and acceptance.

It also reminded me of a vicar who used to say a lot that often we will never know during our lifetimes the impact we have had on people’s lives, for the good and the bad!

These ideas totally feed into my heart; they bring me alive and excite me. I think probably because I love people – I have a long list of favourite people (with a few firmly rooted in the top spots) – I love being with people, I love meeting new people, I love talking to people, I love doing life with people. When people talk about what your dreams and passions are I struggle to think beyond people and relationships.

I love the power and the challenge there is in the ideas of the traces and the shadows and how it feeds into every one of our relationships, whether they be the closest ones or passing.

I am sure we can all think of lots of people that have left positive traces, big and small, in our lives. There are the obvious ones – spouses, parents, siblings, children, family, friends, colleagues – I am so thankful that I have been blessed with all those relationships and that all of those people have invested so much into my journey. As much as I love those obvious impacts I love the smaller, more random interactions with strangers in shops, with waitresses or randoms on the street – I love the feeling I am left with when I have a conversation with someone I don’t know or when someone gives me a big smile, how it can make your day so much brighter. I have become much braver at saying things to strangers, at telling them they look good, or that their child is gorgeous or encouraging them if they look like they are struggling.

I have noticed that runners are generally very good at this – for the most part I am usually struggling to breath, a deep red colour and in no place to want to smile and engage but without fail I will pass a number of other runners who will give me a big smile and say hello. On Saturday morning I went out for a run and I passed a particularly perky runner who gave me the biggest smile, said hi and even gave me a wave – part of me wanted to laugh at her perkiness, in contrast to the fact I had just pulled myself out of bed, was no doubt looking pretty rough and was definitely not wanting to engage with any other human let alone a stranger but actually that little wave made me smile and made my heart smile and buoyed me up for the rest of my run.

I am also a big believer in telling people where they have impacted my life, where they have helped me or encouraged me or made me feel loved and special because I think it then becomes a two way thing – it gives them that encouragement and love right back. I think we need to get so much better at doing it. I remember after John died a friend saying if only we could have thanksgiving services for people whilst they are alive – now I am not sure I would go that far but I remember thinking, and again when my Dad died, I wonder what they would think if they could see all the people who had turned out to remember them, or hear all the stories and read the letters with people’s memories of them and the impact they had had on so many people’s lives.

One such letter will stay with me for the rest of my life – my Dad ran his own business and was incredibly committed to his clients. He loved work and he loved helping people through that work. After he died mum received a letter from one of his clients, who we had never heard of, telling a story of how on one occasion he had gone to Dad’s office to take some papers. His sibling had recently died and he was feeling pretty fragile and vulnerable, and had broken down in tears. Dad had taken him into his office, shut the door and let him cry and talk – this man was just saying how much that kindness had meant to him. Dad probably didn’t give much thought to it but that man had remembered the time and kindness Dad had shown him many years down the line.

So whilst I am not necessarily advocating thanksgiving services for the living I am most definitely an advocate of telling people that we love them and what we love about them, for thanking them for what they have done for us and who they are to us.

I love that our lives are so interwoven with the lives of those around us, that our stories are all so interlinked but with that brings a real responsibility and challenge. As much as I can remember so many of the positives of the words spoken over me or the amazing ways people have impacted me by their actions I also know so many of the negatives, of the shadows, both big and small. I remember the negative words about my character, the people who told me I could have grieved better or the criticisms of something I had worked hard over and the people who made it clear they didn’t want to talk to me or be my friend. Those shadows that make you doubt yourself and who you are and whether you are good enough. I also know I will have cast many of those shadows over others – some knowingly others without even realising. Some will be because I get angry or I have moments of pain, anxiety or insecurity and I speak out of those places of my hurt, others will be because I am tired, hungry or not thinking properly and others will be from a place of selfishness and laziness. I am truly sorry if you are reading this and I have ever cast a shadow over you.

I want to be so much better at leaving those traces that give hope and life, that speak of love, that tell people they are loved and accepted, that inspire and encourage, that leave people feeling better about themselves – that is one of my constant prayers that God changes me so I am better at that. I guess the shadows are a part of life but I want to cause them in other people’s lives less and less and when others cast them over my life I want to rest in the knowledge that the only shadow that I need to be in is that of my heavenly father and that that shadow brings with it healing, safety and love.

 

 

When there are no answers

Do you ever doubt? Or is it just me?

Do you ever question where God is in life and how he works? Or again is it just me?

I don’t ever doubt God is real or that he is incredibly good and loving but sometimes I just don’t get the way he works and I can become like a dog with a bone, I wrestle and wrestle, until I am exhausted with wrestling, I lay it down again until something happens that means those questions come to the forefront again.

I came into this year excited about what was ahead, expectant, full of hope and faith – it felt like a new season, I had experienced God move amazingly in my life in the last few months of last year and again into this year and it felt like the past was truly the past. Then the other week, out of nowhere one of those phone calls came that left me curled up in a ball on the floor screaming “No” and “I don’t understand” over and over again. One of those phone calls that means that your family is changed forever, again.

My heart broke because even though the news on the end of that phone wasn’t a direct loss to my life it was news that has shattered the lives of two of the most important people in my life, the two people who are the closest I will ever have to sisters, and I knew the depth of their pain and what is ahead.

And so the questions and the doubts and the wrestles came flowing back and to be honest left me feeling lost, a little bit scared and very heavy hearted.

Does God have a plan for our lives? Is he there and working for our good? How does he choose when and how and when not? I have lost so much sleep over the past 10 days trying to work out the answers to these questions – even though the last 9 years should have taught me I will never have the answers. As ever there are angels there who listen and help me process, who reminded me that it is always about truth and grace, and that sometimes truth is messy but that grace is always grace. That doubt and wrestle can sit side by side with worship.

I said to my brother that his work were going to start thinking he was making up things, given the number of times he had to phone in and say there had been a death or medical emergency – to which he responded that he had only said the same thing that morning.

He then went on to say that we were going to keep choosing life.

Since that phone call I feel like I have been walking a tight rope where I literally could fall one way or the other, one being right back into the valley of death, that valley which I know God lifted me out of. I feel like there has been a battle raging inside me.

Last night as I spent time talking to God and being quiet and I felt a peace return – I felt that all God had done in the last 6 months was coming to the forefront again. I want to keep choosing life. That doesn’t meant my heart will stop hurting for those I love, I have a feeling I will be hurting for them in some shape or form for a long time to come but I want to be their hope when they can’t hope for themselves, I want to be the one who is strong for them, as so many people were strong for me, I want to be able to push them forward when they don’t have any strength left.

I don’t want to keep asking the questions, it exhausts me, it takes away my peace – I want to remember God’s faithfulness in the past, in the way he moved in John’s life, in my Dad’s life, the way he bought me through, the enormous blessings I have in my life, the way he showed up and pursued me at the end of last year when I was ready to throw the towel in and the way he breathed life back into me – that same God who was faithful in the past, is still faithful today and will be going forward.

This world and this life can be overwhelmingly hard at times but it can also be breathtakingly beautiful. I love that unexplainable feeling of seeing God at work, the excitement that it brings that is so difficult to articulate. I love the people he gives us, I love that we don’t have to do any of this on our own, so yes there are times in life where the pain is unbearable, where the loss feels too great but he puts us in families, in communities and in relationship which help us to survive, heal and thrive again. In the first few days after that phone call I wanted to hide away, to stop caring about people because actually it hurt too much and it hurt too much to see people I love hurting but the reality is my heart is already too entangled with them and so many others to simply stop loving. It is just not the way I am wired or in fact any of us are wired – we have no choice but to love people despite the potential costs.

I still don’t understand but I am putting the questions down and learning to trust that I may not know but he does, he knows the answers, the reasons but also the pain, he holds it all and us in the midst of it – I keep coming back to the fact that I can’t but he very much can.

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy – the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” Brene Brown.