Speak of Suicide and Speak Hope #WSPD2019

“You aren’t going to do anything silly, are you?”

“Can you promise you won’t do anything stupid?”

A member of staff at my secondary school asked me these questions countless times during my sixth form years.

They weren’t talking about me bunking off lessons, getting into trouble or talking back; they were talking about suicide and self-harm.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for young people – it’s not silly or stupid – it’s despair.

And when those thoughts and feelings were branded stupid and silly – I heard that I myself was stupid and silly.

The language we use when we’re talking about suicide matters.

Phrases such as “committed suicide” hark back to when suicide was a criminal offence; whilst those like I was faced with fail to recognise the distress and torment that self-harm and suicidal thoughts wreak through someone’s mind and life.

It was over a decade ago, and I hope and pray that no-one struggling with thoughts of suicide and self-harm is met with such language, because the fight for life from those depths is hard enough as it is, without the stigma that can stalk it.

Every year, when the 10th September arrives I’m filled with a mixture of the heaviest grief and a flaming hope that thing can change.

Because my experiences with suicide when I was younger, even though I survived them, have marked my heart. And those marks on my heart fan the flame of hope – because I believe that light does win – that suicide is preventable.

I can speak of hope alongside speaking of suicide because I live with suicide as a part of my story and hope as my daily reality.

If there is someone in your life who is struggling, let your words spark hope rather than cause spirals of despair.

Think about the language you’re using, listen to their story before you rush in with answers and imagine with them what the future can look like and hold their hand as you point to it.

The people who made the most difference in my life during those darkest of times, were the ones who believed in a future for me that I could not conceive of. They were persistent in their belief that hope was real, that there was a life for me to live and yet they allowed me to voice the hardest of words.

It is no exaggeration to say that I would not be here without them and the hope they pointed to.

The hope they pointed to was not an abstract “things will get better”, but rooted the One who walked to His own death for our sakes.

That Jesus’ took on our despair and sin, died on the cross and walked out of the grave with His scars remaining, that’s the hope I looked to through my tears.

It’s the hope I live for today.

That we are saved by a Creator God who willingly gave Himself for us, to endure the worst of humanity so that we may experience the glorious closeness of Him.

That we can speak of hope, on a day which highlights despair, is the work of the One who marked the night’s sky with stars and the Saviour’s hands with scars.

 

 

 

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Where is the Wonder?


“Wonder blasts the soul – that is, the spiritual – and the skeleton, the body – the material. Wonder interprets life through the eyes of eternity while enjoying the moment, but never lets the moment’s revision exhaust the eternal.” 
Ravi Zacharias

There is no doubt about it, going on holiday with a baby is less relaxing. It was enormous fun and refreshing in the way a change of scenery (and that fact that we outnumbered the baby 3:1)  but I probably came home tireder than when I went (due to sharing a room with said teething baby who appreciated sharing a room with us as much as we did!)

I kind of expected this, but what I didn’t expect was to come home energised by something else.

Wonder. 

It’s perhaps something we miss a lot in the everyday humdrum of life. Perhaps we don’t feel there is a lot of wonder to behold in our own lives; the grind of the 9-5, relentlessness of caring for a relative or struggling with chronic illness. I know it’s hard to find wonder after a day of changing nappies, comforting a teething baby and trying to slot work in and around somewhat unpredictable naps.

But whilst I might struggle to see wonder in the world, my son certainly doesn’t.

Each time he experiences something new, the expression on his face shows us his wonder at the world.

When he first saw the wide expanse of the sea, his mouth dropped open.

When he first felt sea water between his toes, his smile widened into a grin and his infectious laugh broke forth like the waves.

Every time he sees a window or mirror in which he can glimpse his own reflection, he is captivated by it.

And the excitement the discovery of his own shadow produced was quite something!

For him, wonder is to be found every day – but as grown-ups we’re lucky to find wonder every month!

And yet there is still so much wonder to be had in the every day, in the ordinary – because all the world and all the people in it are creations of the God of all wonders.

The gospels record people’s reactions of wonder at Jesus’ miracles; from him calming the storm to raising Jarius’ daughter from the dead, but it is not only miracles that are the wondrous work of God.

It’s easy to feel wonder when God does some out of the ordinary; more of a challenge to find wonder in the work of the Creator every day.

Wonder in the intricate workings of the human body which keeps our hearts beating, wonder in the family we have, wonder in the foods we can consume.

And even in the darkest of times, I’m reminded again that wonder can be found when we look to Jesus. Jesus who left the wonder of heaven for our sakes.

As C.S Lewis writes in the first installment of the Chronicles of Narnia:

“Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great front feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself. “My son, my son,” said Aslan. “I know. Grief is great. Only you and I in this land know that yet. Let us be good to one another.”

When we don’t feel able to look at the world with childlike wonder – we can look to the one of all wonder and hope and rest assured that wonder can be found in Him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Need to Talk About Race – Book Review

If I was pushed to describe this book in two words it would be uncomfortable and hopeful and the challenge of the book can be summed up by the words of Augustine which are quoted:

“Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are anger and courage. Anger that things are the way they are, and courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”

I felt uncomfortable as I read, mainly because my own conscience was pricked. I have been guilty of believing that as a mixed race woman, I wasn’t complicit in racism, but what Ben does so beautifully in this book is confront false beliefs whilst pointing to the way forward full of hope. The way forward is based not on tokenism or shows of diversity; but the kind of radical inclusion that Jesus demonstrated throughout his ministry.

This has to begin with a recognition of how the church has been complicit not only in historic racism, but in perpetuating oppression; through whitewashing of biblical characters (spoiler – Jesus was middle eastern and therefore not white!) and conforming christianity to white culture, rather than allowing it to be a diverse, inclusive movement.

He also highlights and explains the difficulties many black christians face within white majority or white led churches:

“The paradox for some black people is this: loving Jesus and understanding his amazing grace is one thing; loving the church, with its complicated racial history can be problematic.”

How can church be a safe place when it’s been so complicit in causing pain?

The best parts of “We Need to Talk About Race” are those which present how we can best serve those in minority communities – from ensuring that our leadership reflects our desire for inclusiveness (rather than having a token minority to salve our consciences), to not expecting people to leave their own cultures at the door and conform to how ‘we’ do church.

As the church, we must challenge racism in our pews and communities, because if we remain silent, we are perpetuating injustice that has been present for hundreds of years.

We have a lot of work to do, and Ben’s book is a brilliant starting point and manifesto should be on your summer reading list.

We Need To Talk About Race is published on the 18th July.

 

 

The Man I Pray You’ll Be – Reflections on Martin Saunders’ “The Man You’re Made to Be”

I’m trying to imagine the world that my son will be living in by the time he’s old enough to read a book like “The Man You’re Made to Be”. It’s probably very different to the one he’s been born in. I hope that Brexit is no longer in the news in 2024! 

I often wonder who my little boy will grow up to be; I can already see that he is funny and cheeky and often hungry, but I hope many things for him, many of which are reflected in Martin’s brilliant book. 

I hope that he grows to put his hope and trust in the Lord; that he will put God first even when times are difficult. I pray that he knows he is loved; by God, by his Dad and I, by our wider family and friends. 

When I was pregnant, the thing I prayed for the most is that he will be kind. We are so often told that we can and should be anything, and I don’t mind what career path (or paths) he chooses, but I pray that he will be known for his kindness. The Bible talks many times about God’s hesed, His loving kindness and I pray that as he grows to know God, he grows in kindness. 

I hope that by the time he’s grown, there will be no stigma around mental illness (and that I will then have found a new job to do if that is the case!) I hope that he knows there is nothing shameful about expressions of emotion; of tears and frustration and shouts of joy, but that these emotions can be expressed healthily or unhealthily – with any luck we’ll model some of the healthy expressions, but I know that if he looks to Jesus he will find a clear picture of how we can cope with our feelings. As Martin writes:

“In a culture of bottled up male emotions, Jesus is a breath of fresh air: a blue print for a healthier kind of masculinity.”

I hope that my little boy will know how incredible our bodies are and that will inform how he treats his own body and how he treats everyone else. That he will use what power he has to encourage and build people up, rather than tear them down. 

I would love him to know the joy of books and reading, his Dad would probably like him to love cycling (I’m ambivalent about that one!) 

I hope that he has friends who bring out the best of one another; that they will go on adventures together, have fun and be able to rely upon one another in harder times. 

And I’d like to echo the final words of Martin’s:

“I pray that you will be able to draw your identity as a man not from past experiences, genetics or decisions you’ve made, but from the unswerving know­ ledge that you were handmade by a God who says to you, day after day, and minute after minute of your life: I love you man.”

Martin Saunders is the Deputy CEO of Youthscape and you can buy his book from the Youthscape store exclusively for one week before general publication!

Motherhood and Mental Illness

They are the strangest and most uncomfortable bedfellows. For some; motherhood heralds the beginning of mental health struggles, for some an improvement and for others motherhood entangles itself in a pre-existing mental health condition.

For me, my mental health was the best it’s been since I was thirteen. Pregnancy seemed to soothe the anxious waters of my mind and, despite a traumatic birth and my son arriving with a chest infection, the calm and contentment continued.

Motherhood is everything I hoped, quite a bit like I expected but more demanding than I could have imagined. My son has so far been what some might call “an easy baby”; we escaped the newborn phase without colic and he generally eats, poops and sleeps as one might expect.

What I’ve discovered however, is that an “easy” baby doesn’t mean that parenting is easy!

There are shades of difficulty; I for example was an objectively difficult baby for my poor parents (I didn’t sleep through the night until I was nine), others seem to breeze through babyhood as if they got an instruction manual in utero. Most are somewhere toward the middle of the spectrum, but wherever on that spectrum you find yourself in, there is the uncertainty, less sleep, recovery from a child’s arrival (however that happens) and general “winging it”!

For my little family, learning to navigate parenthood alongside pre-existing depression and anxiety has been the steepest of learning curves. For whilst I’ve been better than I can remember over the past year, I constantly feel as if I’m walking a tightrope. I want to be the best Mum I can be – but I don’t want to get unwell.

The things I have done for the last decade to manage my conditions are exponentially harder with a baby. You can’t be a freelance Mum, for starters! Whilst I would usually protect my sleep at all costs to prevent my mind going into free fall, it’s almost impossible to ensure a solid nine hours a night every night, but I am beginning to navigate this new normal.

And my new normal wouldn’t be possible without my village – not my actual village, although I do live in one, – but the people who step in and step up.

A few weeks back, I found myself stumbling (I’m mixing my metaphors quite spectacularly, aren’t I?!) I started to sleep less, laying awake for hours after getting up to do a night feed. My mind began to spin with anxiety and I felt shame shroud me like a dementor’s cloak.

And then the tears started to fall.

This is a well worn path for, a scarily predictable descent into what we euphemism as “a dip”.

Usually, I would hide; cry and sleep for a couple of days and re-emerge slowly into the world when I felt stronger.

Instead, I had a six month old baby who needed me to feed, play and care for him.

The curious thing is, that this responsibility made the situation simultaneously harder and easier.

Harder because when I could barely think straight, I had to think on behalf of a helpless baby. But it also made me take care of myself and take action in a way I don’t think I’ve been able to before. I rang my husband, we arranged for my best friend to take my son for a day long play date so I could get some rest, and I took a break from trying to be both full time Mum and full time freelancer, working out a new rhythm that wouldn’t completely exhaust me.

Motherhood and mental illness are the strangest and most uncomfortable bedfellows, but they can and do co-exist.

The bright side, if there is one, is that it has already taught me that taking care of myself is not an optional extra of parenthood – but vital. It doesn’t mean candles and massages (although I do quite like the both) but getting enough rest, food, exercise and fresh air. It means allowing people to help out without feeling guilty and being honest about how I’m coping.

For some, mental illness is a far more disruptive and difficult bedfellow, but taking care and being taken care of are universal needs- even for those without any mental health conditions!

 

 

Kindness, Actually.

“In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” Jennifer Dukes Lee

When I was pregnant with my son, I prayed many things over him – but one thing came to mind every time.

Kindness.

In a world where we are pushed to be more, do more, see more; my prayer was and continues to be that he will be kind.

We can’t all be academics, sporty, good looking or accomplished; but we all have an opportunity to be kind.

It is the moments of kindness which stick most clearly in my memory; I don’t necessarily remember presents I’ve been bought (though I do love a present!) but I remember people’s kindnesses towards me.

I remember the man who helped me get the buggy down the stairs the first time I got the tube with the baby.

I remember the friend who dropped everything to come over and lighten my load when I was struggling.

I remember the coffee my husband brings me in the morning.

And the kindnesses we share are but a reflection of the King of kindness.

God’s kindness, His hesed (literally translated as lovingkindness) is at the heart of who He is and everything He does.

Our hope is anchored in God’s loving kindness towards us, even in the darkest of times.

In the many psalms and passages of lament in the Bible; when people are crying out their most desperate petitions of pain to God, it is God’s kindness which marks the turning point to praise – because it’s what the promises of God rest upon and the praises to God rise from.

It’s the tenderness of Jesus as He wept, the care of the Father as He provided for the Israelites in exile and the presence of the Holy Spirit who translates our groans into prayers.

The most famous verse in the book of Lamentations 3.22 is the one which speaks of God’s kindness in the midst of prayers of agony.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;therefore I will wait for him.”

Our laments rely on the kindness of God – and they are not disappointed.

Michael Card writes in his book “Inexpressible” which studies the word hesed through the Bible:

“He demonstrates his incomparable strength by means of his infinite kindness.”

God’s infinite kindness isn’t separate from his power and might – it’s the vehicle of it.

And it’s our role to be His vehicles of hesed on earth.

To show loving kindness to our families, our friends, our neighbours and our strangers.

Maternity Leave Lessons

Last Monday my five months of maternity leave ended. Before I left work, I was dreading it. I left my first baby (ThinkTwice) in other people’s hands for the first time ever and although I trust the hands I left it in, I was worried about what would happen whilst I was away. Was I going to forget how to do my job? Was I going to hate being at stay at home mum? Would I be bored? Would I want to go back to work?

And now I’m back,  working in a strange hinterland. I am a stay at home Mum but also a freelance writer, trainer and charity founder. I get the best of both worlds because I get to do the job I love and be with my son lots; and the worst of both worlds, because I’m trying to do two jobs at the same time!

But back to the lessons I’ve learnt over the past five months:

  1. Rest. It’s taken me twenty-eight years to begin to get my head around this one, but looking after a small person has taught me that I’m much better at doing life when I listen to my body and mind and get some rest. I’ve tried my hardest to rest or sleep when my son sleeps (and whilst that’s a little harder now I’m working) I’m hoping that I can continue to remember that I don’t need to try and be superwoman. Self care isn’t about candles and bullet journals; it’s about doing the things you need to do in order to function.
  2. The Village. There is a reason why people bang on about it taking a village to raise a child – because it’s true. Babies are demanding creatures and having people around you to cuddle your baby, make you laugh or cry to is invaluable. Our village have been incredible; I don’t think we cooked a single meal for the first month of our son’s life and since then people have been amazing at checking in, spending time with us and on a couple of occasions, looking after our baby so my husband and I could go out and remember who we were before we became Mummy and Daddy. Not forgetting the amazing world of baby groups where I’ve made new friends after fearing that I didn’t know how to anymore. Parent or not, we were made to live in community and whether it be your work colleagues, friends or actual neighbours, I’m learning not to be afraid of asking for help and giving it back!
  3. Trust. I like to read things to help me understand the world and my place in it, I like to read things to see that I’m not alone and so it came as no surprise that I devoured blogs and books on parenting and babies. And whilst some of the information I’ve gleaned has been incredibly helpful; it’s also taught me that I can actually trust my own instincts. I don’t think I ever truly trusted myself before; perhaps it’s a fallout from the decade living in self-destruct, but I do know deep down what my body needs and I’m also learning to know what my baby needs.
  4. Wonder. There is nothing like being with a baby to teach you about wonder. Whether it’s his own face (my son is particularly fond of his!), watching the wind blow through trees or slapping his hands on a coffee table (apparently can provide minutes of fun – until he hit the table too hard and made himself cry!), being able to watch the amazement on my little boy’s face as he discovers the world has reminded me just what an incredible world we live in and how beautifully crafted our bodies are.
  5. Thankfulness and Difficulty are not mutually exclusive. When you have longed for a baby, when you are acutely aware of those who are desperate to be in the position you find yourself in as a new parent, it can be hard to find the balance between expressing the gratefulness you feel as well as acknowledging that parenting is flipping hard! But good things aren’t necessarily easy things – and parenting definitely falls into that category. Sometimes, I haven’t wanted to share the parts I’ve struggled with because I never want people think I’m not grateful for my son and the gift he is, but neither do I want to present a shiny instagram version of motherhood. My middle ground balancing gratitude and grace. To be grateful for the gift that parenthood is and receive grace for the days when it feels more like a grind.

There are many other lessons I’ve learned; not least that you should always pack one more bib, nappy and feed than you think will be necessary, but these are the ones I will hold dear and probably need reminding of the most in the months to come.