Holding Out Hope

Whether or not you’ve ever watched anything that the late Caroline Flack presented, it’s unlikely that you won’t have heard that over the weekend, Caroline died by suicide.

News of her death has filled column inches, clickbait articles and provoked debate around everything from the existence of shows such as “Love Island”, to press intrusion, the worth of mental health awareness and the need for more kindness.

Every ninety minutes someone dies by suicide. Every other hour a life is lost which leaves unimaginable pain, unanswerable questions and grief in its wake.

But in the course of everyday life, very few of us consider this, we are simply getting through our own days, so when suicide pushes itself so forcefully back into the public consciousness, we are astounded yet again by the scale and the pain of it.

The loss of someone so prominent on TV screens up and down the country brings the tragedy of suicide into our own living rooms. We are forced to conceive of that which is inconceivable. It raises age old questions:

“How could they do it?”

“Why?”

As Kay Redfield Jamieson, a psychiatrist and author writes in her book Night Falls Fast:

“Each way to suicide is its own: intensely private, unknowable, and terrible. Suicide will have seemed to its perpetrator the last and best of bad possibilities, and any attempt by the living to chart this final terrain of a life can be only a sketch, maddeningly incomplete.”

For those of us who have experienced suicidal thoughts; considered, however briefly, taking our own lives there is a sharp edge to these questions. A sharp edge to the passing judgements of strangers online which declare that suicide is “selfish” or “stupid”, because it is a very real reminder that some have been unable to stay in the world.

Suicide cannot be considered in those terms; it is unspeakable for so many, both because of the pain it leaves with those whose lives are claimed, and for those who have lived in spite of a pull toward an abrupt ending.

Suicide is not selfish, because for the most part, the people who die by suicide believe themselves to be relieving others of a great burden. Caroline herself wrote on Instagram in the months before her death that she feared “being a burden”, it can be an impossibly high barrier to reach across to ask for help.

It is not stupid; because it is often seen as the only course of action for those who have reached past their tether.

Suicide is a tragedy. Over the past thirteen years as I’ve both battled with suicidality, studied it and written about it, tragedy is the only word that even begins to do justice to the enormity and pain of it – for those who lose their lives, those who lose their loved ones and those who  live through it.

For the christian, there are more questions. Is it the unforgivable sin? Can they be saved?

And all I can do is to look to scripture, and to lean on the character of the God I have known and trusted for almost twenty-five years. The only unforgivable sin recorded in the Bible is that of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit – which is nothing to do with suicide, and the idea that those who take their own lives being unable to enter glory because of their inability to repent renders the gospel of grace obsolete. Not one of us dies having confessed and repented every sin!

But more than this; we see how God responds to those who consider suicide in the Bible and we are presented with a picture of care and grace, help and hope.

There are a number of completed suicides and considered suicides in the Bible; from King Saul falling on his sword, to Elijah begging for death on Mount Horeb, from Judas’ death to the desperate philippian jailer. In these accounts, there is no moral judgement made. There is prohibition of taking life, yes, in many places in the Bible; but the responses the scriptures record to those considering suicide speak volumes to me.

Elijah is ministered to with food, drink and rest.

The philippian jailer is drawn from harming himself – to hearing the gospel and being baptised.

These passages do not encourage suicide, but they do widen the angle of our viewing to see that when people are desperate they can be ministered to and helped. There is hope.

So that is what I think we need to do, to widen our angle of viewing to consider not just what things look like at face value, to minister to the hurting and hold out hope for those whose view is blurred by tears, until they can hope for themselves once more, drawing from the infinite kindness of our God.

Breaking the Mould by Jules Middleton: Book Review

As someone still early on in the journey of motherhood and my own multi-hyphenated job title, I was intrigued to read Jules Middleton’s reflections on life as a “ministry mum” ordained with the Church of England and leading a church on the south coast.

“Breaking the Mould” is part memoir, part navigation guide for the weird and wonderful world of being a parent in a ministry context – however that looks.

Jules writes with warmth and humour, without dodging the sometimes difficult realities of parenthood and life as a minister. Although the initial premise of the book seems quite niche, I found so much wisdom and information in it that I think would be valuable to any parent whether or not you work in full time christian ministry.

I particularly valued the nuggets of biblical reflection and wisdom interweaved throughout; Jules’ reflections on the (in)famous passage of Jeremiah 29, so often pasted onto posters and fridge magnets was refreshing and encouraging. She writes:

“The word for God for the exiles is to embrace where God had put them…to essentially bloom where they are planted – to embrace where they are put; to settle, to build, to forge ties and pray for the area.”

In my own hinterland as stay at home Mum/author/speaker/charity founder, the book was one which inspired me to work in and with what I have at the moment in terms of time and circumstance. I was reminded once again that God doesn’t wait to call us and use us when it’s most convenient (in fact, He usually does the opposite), but that’s what allows us to keep relying on His grace and timing.

Jules’ thinking around the Sabbath rest were also hugely helpful; it’s something I’ve struggled with, to carve out time for a Sabbath when you don’t actually get a day off from parenthood! Again, the reflections in the book don’t ignore the difficult reality, cliched answers are avoided and intensely practical suggestions for recognising the deep spirituality in everyday life are worth their weight in gold.

Whether you’re a stay at home Mum, work full time, study full time or a mixture all of your own, I highly recommend “Breaking the Mould” – especially if you’re relatively new to the wonderful world of the ministry mum life.

You can buy Breaking the Mould from your local Christian bookshop or on Amazon.*

 

*Affiliate link

Cold Cups of Tea and Hiding in the Loo – An Honest Conversation About Motherhood

Before you become a Mum, you’re told lots of things:

“Don’t rock the baby to sleep – it’s a rod for your own back”

“Never let your baby use a dummy”

“Breastfeeding is the most natural thing ever – it’s a breeze!”

“You’ll never sleep again”

But no matter how much advice (helpful or otherwise), no matter how many books you read or how many children you’re around, you can’t really prepare yourself for it. (That’s another thing you hear, isn’t it!?)

One of the best pieces of advice I was given, was to be honest about the reality of motherhood – the dizzying highs and the desperate lows and it’s advice echoed in Annie’s book. She writes:

“When we choose vulnerability, connection can happen i the messiness of everyday life.”

So, inspired by this and taking my own advice, here are my honest confessions about motherhood, a year in.

  1. Personally I’m finding parenting a toddler harder than having a newborn. (This one depends completely on your child – some breeze through babyhood, others are beset with colic and constipation – my son was what some might call an “easy baby”, but the same cannot be said for toddlerdom.)
  2. There have been times when I’ve missed my old life, particularly the freedom I had to work when I wanted and take every opportunity going.
  3. Making sure I take a book wherever I go is great for those car naps I don’t want to waste!
  4. I fall too easily into the trap of the “who’s more tired game?”
  5. Teething is a sure sign of the Fall and I’ve sometimes counted the minutes until I can administer the next dose of Calpol.
  6. Sometimes I regret making my son give up his dummy at six months old.
  7. On difficult days, nap times are my favourite time of the day.
  8. I quite enjoy daytime TV as company as a backdrop to pottering and parenting.
  9. I love going to work.
  10. Being a Mum is the most ridiculous, difficult, hope-filled, despair-making, contradictory, frustrating, heart breaking and joyful thing I’ve ever done.

“Cold Cups of Tea and Hiding in the Loo” is available to buy now from Amazon* and christian book shops. *Affiliate link Head over to my Instagram and Facebook to get the chance to win a free copy!

I also heartily encourage you to head over to Annie’s blog Honest Conversation – it’s great.

Advent Reflections – Birthing

I’ve never told my birth story publicly. It was far from the candle filled water birth I’d imagined – in fact it was the total opposite of what I’d hoped. Three types of induction, hooked up to monitors, pethidine and an epidural before my newborn was whisked away for observations and antibiotics.

Within hours, I knew that these words from Sarah Bessey were true.

“Birth is never not a miracle…It’s never not the best and most at the same time.”

I’ve been wondering what Mary’s birth was like.

We know there was no pain relief, that there was no shiny hospital or consultants on call.

But was it long? Did she wonder if she could do it? Did she beg and plead for it to be over?

(I’m guessing she didn’t cry “it’s like the cruciatus curse!” like I did at some point between my waters breaking and being given pethidine.)

The thing is, whichever way we look at it, birthing is painful.

The seed breaking through the ground to the light.

The baby breaking through to begin life in the outside world.

The butterfly breaks through its cocoon to fly.

The stars break through night’s sky.

We can’t separate birthing from breaking.

But that also means we can’t separate breaking from beauty.

The pain of birth certainly felt like a breaking, if nothing else it was a breaking of my old life, but the new life was and is undoubtedly beautiful.

All too often, we hold back from the birthing because we fear the breaking. We fear breaking ourselves open to allow God to do a deeper work, we fear breaking open new possibilities in case we fail.

But there is good news. It is called the gospel, after all.

Jesus went first, He was birthed and he broke through every barrier between us and God.

Alia Joy writes in her book “Glorious Weakness”

“It was always the plan that in the midst of the catastrophic brokenness in this world, grace would surprise us all.”

As Christmas approaches, let the birth of hope in Jesus surprise us with its grace and allow it to fill our brokenness.

Advent Reflections – Journeying

Throughout the Bible, God’s people are on the move, and God seems to do much of His work in people through their journeys.

Abraham’s journey to Canaan.

The Israelites protracted journey to the Promised Land.

Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem in the months before Jesus’ birth.

We can but imagine the maelstrom of emotions evoked during this journey; the uncertainty, the more than likely physical aches and pains of Mary, the anticipation, the worry perhaps – about having your first baby far from home?

I can remember, all too clearly, the relatively short journey to the nice clean and safe hospital to have my own son just a year ago, knowing my life would never be the same again, stepping into the unknown and trusting that my feet found some solid ground.

There’s something about journeys that disrupt us, perhaps it’s that they signal change (something I’m not a great fan of), and throughout history, God disrupts His people. He sends them to new places, on new adventures and asks us to take each step away from certainty and toward Him. Perhaps the reason He speaks so loudly to us on journeys is because we are already distracted from day to day life.

I remember studying Abram’s call during some of my first lectures at LST – how he had been called away from everything he’d known to enter a promise unseen – and I felt stirred by it, a similarity, even though my journey was only 30 miles down the motorway and nowhere near as drastic as Abram’s life-changing journey! But I had left behind the life I had known and stepping into something new where each step was one of faith.

It’s that journey that I remind myself of now, when I’m fearful of the next steps, or the next journey; because at the time it was the scariest thing I’d ever done and yet it was one of great joy.

We each go on countless journeys throughout our lives; some are inconsequential (such as the one my husband has gone on to get bin bags from co-op as I write), others are earth shattering and life changing, like the journey to Bethlehem or my own through university.

One of my favourite journeys recounted in scripture is one Jesus takes the morning of His resurrection, when he takes a walk with a man named Cleopas and his friend who are lamenting the loss of the one ‘they had hoped’ for and hoped in. It’s a sliver of a story which reminds us that the journey matters – that through Jesus – God walks with us on our journeys and reveals Himself in the tenderest of places, in the tenderest of ways. For it was not through lighting flash and growling thunder that Jesus revealed His identity on the journey, it was not even as he recounted His own story through the scriptures, but as He ate with them and broke their bread with His own scarred hands.

Advent retells Jesus’ journey to be with us, one not done in majestic fashion, but one that began in the womb of a teenager and ended on a sinner’s cross.

They journey of Advent is nearing its close for this year; soon the darkness of these weeks will be pierced by the unquenchable light of the God who came wrapped in a mother’s womb to save in the most unexpected of ways. Jesus’ journey to be with us is the greatest comfort in the darkness and ignited the flame of hope forevermore – it is what keeps me walking this strange journey of surrender and freedom.

Malcolm Guite’s beautiful poem O Emmanuel captures something of the mystery of Jesus’ journey to us as our hope.

“Be folded with us into time and place,

Unfold for us the mystery of grace

And make a womb of all this wounded world.”

 

 

 

Advent Reflections Week Two – Accepting

When I decided to use the carmelite themes to reflect this advent, it was this word accepting that captivated and confused me in equal measure.

For me at least, it conjures the concept of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ famous five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and at last, acceptance. It’s the pinnacle stage in this model; whereby someone can see some kind of resolution to the pain of grief.

It’s place as the second week of advent then, feels almost jarring.

And yet, as I delved into the ancient stories again, both the gospel narratives and the story of the carmelites, I began to see it a little differently, because the carmelites had been crusaders who’d gone to fight but ended up so transformed that they stayed to pray and build a community in the holy land.

It reminded me how often in the scriptures God shows up in the most unexpected ways, calling unexpected people to do unexpected things.

A virgin conceiving.

A barren woman falling pregnant whilst her husband falls silent.

When we agree to follow the way of Jesus, we agree to the unexpected.

And sometimes the unexpected way we are called to hurts.

It’s all too easy to miss the trouble woven through the nativity.

Luke 1:29 tells us that Mary was “greatly troubled” by the angel’s greeting; Joseph and the shepherds are greeted with the words “do not be afraid.”

God does not hide from us that the walk ahead with Him is not easy.

As Timothy Keller writes in his book “Hidden Christmas”:

“The manger at Christmas means that, if you live like Jesus, there won’t be room for you in a lot of inns.”

Accepting the gospel truth and the invitation of God is not the easy – but God gifts us what we need to accept His invitation.

Perhaps Zechariah needed his silence to accept what lay ahead of him and Elizabeth.

I expect that both Mary and Elizabeth needed the time they shared together, to accept the extraordinary pregnancies and prepare them for the extraordinary lives their sons would lead.

Mary does not just accept the call grudgingly, however. She doesn’t say “All right then, if you must” – she sings a mighty song of praise.

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my Spirit rejoices in God my Saviour”

Whatever we have to accept in the course of our christian lives; Mary offers us a dazzling response to echo which is not based on our own strength but on our glorious Saviour.

 

 

 

Advent Reflections Week One – Waiting

This year for advent, I’m going to reflect each week on the Carmelite themes of Advent; waiting, accepting, journeying and birthing. Having read about them in author Sarah Bessey’s advent reflections, it struck me that they sound to me like stages of grief and lament and so I want to explore. Our emotional lives don’t necessarily follow the feelings of seasons – but God remains in them and with us in each season as we wait, as we accept, as we journey and as we birth.


Last year, the 1st December marked the end of waiting for us. It was our son’s homecoming day  after his first week of life was spent cannulated and treated for a chest infection.

The week before had been full of painful waiting; the promise of home dangled in front of us like a vista, but it kept being pushed back. When we were told we could finally leave; we felt the giddy excitement our son would late exhibit every time his daddy walks through the door!

The waiting was, I think, all the more painful because we didn’t know how long the wait would be. It was altogether different from the waiting of pregnancy which had consumed the months before; whilst we didn’t know a specific date, we knew that by Christmas 2018 our baby boy would be in the world.

Throughout the Old Testament, God’s people are a waiting people. They are waiting for the Promised Land, freedom from slavery, to find their way home from exile – and above all – they were waiting for a Messiah, the one who would save them.

Today we wait for the final return of Jesus, the end of mourning, crying and pain. Each day, however, is full of waiting. Whether it be in the queue at the corner shop, for call from the doctor or loved one to return home, we have no choice but to wait.

We do have a choice how we wait.

Waiting without hope can consume us, twisting our desires into idols and longing into bitterness.

Waiting with hope can see God transform us in the waiting – because God is with us in the waiting.

These words of the 12th century carol ‘O Come O Come Emmanuel’ seem to capture something of the agony of waiting and the hope of what is to come. It reminds us the God who is with us, who ‘moved into the neighbourhood’ does not leave us to languish in our despair, but comes to us and sets eternity in our hearts.

“O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.”

In the waiting time, when our ‘until’ feels endless and our loneliness exiles us from ourselves, our communities and our God, Advent reminds us that our wait is not wasted when we fix our eyes on the God who broke through time and space to be Immanuel.

It’s so tempting to rush through Advent, to miss it amidst the glitter of Christmas trees and carol singing – but this year – I invite you to wait in it and watch for how God might reveal Himself in the unexpected and the lowly just as He did 2000 years ago.