Category Archives: Lessons

This is the Time to Grieve Our Losses

As a christian writer, the temptation when disaster hits, is to get to the illustration.

I want to be able to write not only “hard and clear about what hurts” as Hemingway so powerfully suggests, but I also want to write about the redemption of that hurt. I want to be able to write the beginning, the middle and the end – making sure that the end has a message, that it shows that the pain endured had some meaning. Ideally, I’d like to be summed up neatly with three points (with a bonus for including alliteration!)

However, as the coronavirus has raged through the world, leaving lives and livelihoods destroyed, we cannot rush the redemption.

There are wounds to be tended, losses to grieve and rubble to be sorted through before we get to that point.

Everyone, to a greater or lesser extent is living with loss in these strange days. But our grief is not just for ourselves: but for those losing loved ones without the chance for goodbyes, those enduring illnesses alone, those shielded but separated from the world.

We are writing from the middle of the story; we don’t know when it will end or what that ending will look like – all we have is the hope that “this too shall pass”.

And in this hinterland, we are living in a Holy Saturday, not knowing when Easter will dawn, but living with the realities of darkness.

The challenge for today, is described beautifully by Beth Allen Slevecove in her book Broken Hallelujahs.

“How can I honour the reality of brokenness without losing the memory and hope of wholeness?”

Honouring brokenness is important, but done without holding the memory of God’s redemption and the hope of seeing wholeness leaves us languishing in grief without a way forward.

It is when we honour our brokenness alongside holding our hope in Jesus, that we are able to enter into lament.


And this is the time.

This is the time for grieving

For raging against the dying of the light 

This is the time for tears

Which cleanse our souls and bring release

This is the time for anger

At the injustice pulled into sharp focus

This is the time for honesty

An end to false smiles and ‘I’m fine’

This is the time for reorientation 

For hearts fixed high

And knees bent low

This is the time for lamenting

For the thousand little losses

And the hearts broken open

This is the time

Not to rush redemption

 

At Least

There are many ‘at least(s)’ flying around.
‘At least you don’t live alone’
‘At least you don’t have a pre-existing condition’
‘At least you still get paid’

Of course, all these may be true. Some of us are more privileged than others, that can be recognised without minimising struggle.

Because whether you’re self-isolating, social distancing, have a pre-existing condition, are trying to navigate wedding planning or wondering how to get a refund for the trip you’ve saved for that you don’t get to go on – it’s okay to feel disappointed, to feel sad over what might have been.

Gratitude can’t be forced onto someone – it’s an attitude of the heart orientated to the giver and sustainer of life.

Perhaps when we allow ourselves to feel the disappointment, we can move to a place of gratitude.

This too shall pass, and as the snowdrops break through the seemingly barren winter ground, let us allow God to work in us through this season, trusting that life, hope, hope and creativity will emerge.

Present Tense Testimony

I’ve been sharing my testimony since I was thirteen and I first stood in a church pulpit. On that blisteringly hot day in July 2003, I spoke about the God I serve and the calling I felt. Since then, I’ve been sharing my story in blog posts, seminars, sermons and talks. It’s something I feel relatively confident in doing, I am well rehearsed in what I feel comfortable sharing and making sure that I can point away from myself to the God of my story in the course of sharing.

But as I was reading Stephanie Tait’s “The View From Rock Bottom”, one phrase leapt from the page.

“present tense testimony”

More often than not, the testimonies we share are in the past tense. They speak of things overcome, of the miraculous and the way live has changed for the better.

I can speak of a significant recovery, that I live a life I love, that I have not harmed myself in over a decade.

But that would not tell the whole story.

My present tense testimony is more complicated, more unfinished and less tidy.

My present tense testimony demonstrates no less of the glory of God and His grace.

My present tense testimony is that I still struggle; that I live with mental illness but that through grace, community and rest I live a life I love.

Patrick Regan brilliantly describes it as “healing in the slow lane” in his book, Honesty Over Silence.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that we all bear our pain for the world to see every day, we don’t need to bear our open wounds – but we need to be honest that we are wounded.

It doesn’t look as shiny, but it is miraculous nonetheless, because there were days when I couldn’t lift my eyes to even consider a future and now I am living each day. Stumbling, yes; with help, most definitely – but more importantly with the knowledge of grace and God’s care in the day-to-day boring stuff.

It is, I think, the difference that the late Rachel Held Evans and my friend Tanya Marlow speak of so eloquently. Rachel wrote:

“But there is a difference between curing and healing, and I believe the church is called to the slow and difficult work of healing. We are called to enter into one another’s pain, anoint it as holy, and stick around no matter the outcome.”

This is what a present tense testimony offers; that even when the pains of life persist so do we and so, more beautifully, does God.

God’s work is both the lighting flash and the slow burning flame.

What glory in the mundane might our present tense testimonies reveal?

Motherhood: The Brutality and the Beauty

The pain.

The first look.

The exhaustion.

The first smile.

The relentlessness.

The revelation.

The brutality.

The beauty.

The mystery.

Ten months in, motherhood remains a mystery.

It’s a thousand mundane moments punctured with moments so full of wonder that they steal your breath away.

As much as I expected a lot of it; the tiredness, the love, the mum guilt. I could not have conceived of the way my emotions swing from exasperation to joy and back again within the space of five minutes; or how I can be desperate for space one minute to desperate for him to wake up so I get to give him a cuddle the next.

Rollercoaster doesn’t cut it.

But gratitude and grace do.

Gratitude for the baby I prayed for.

Grace for the difficult days when the baby screams and I don’t know why.

Gratitude for health, when I feared my son’s tiny lungs would forever struggle.

Grace for the long nights of teething, croup and colds.

Gratitude for the life I live, the God I serve and the family and friends who provide company, support and sanity after sleepless nights.

Gratitude for all that has passed – the beauty and the brutality. Grace for all that is to come.

 

 

 

After Awareness

There are, it seems, awareness days for everything under the sun.  A quick google revealed that this month alone there is a World Sepsis Day, a Pension Awareness Day, International Talk Like a Pirate Day and a National Doodle Day.

Everything has it’s day; and don’t get me wrong, it’s wonderful that lesser known or stigmatised conditions are being recognised (although I’m not particularly sure that doodling really needs awareness!).

Indeed, we make an effort at ThinkTwice to get involved with days like World Suicide Prevention Day and Mental Health Awareness Week, but we also talk about suicide and mental health the rest of the year too!

And that’s the challenge; do awareness days and weeks actually raise awareness and build understanding? Because they only really work if the awareness leads to understanding.

I think in Britain most of us are now aware that mental health conditions exist and that they’re common. But I wonder if our understanding of mental health condition, of the way they tear through lives and the damage they leave in their wake is really understood.

Mental illnesses are often chronic, and their effects are felt not only by the one with the diagnosis; but by family, friends and colleagues. Our understanding of mental illness has to include understanding how far reaching their impact.

So this year, instead of marking every awareness day in the calendar (although, if you do manage that you probably deserve some kind of reward!) but pick one or two and commit to developing your understanding now you’ve got some awareness.

 

5 years…

I was going through some old papers today- random excerpts of writing, letters and some notes from the counselling I had when I  was eighteen. I was, in truth, very poorly. I wasn’t really convinced that this life thing would be something I could do – I didn’t think it would ever be worth the pain I was feeling, worth hanging onto the little bit of hope I had left. The counsellor asked me to write down what I would like my life to look like in 5 years. I wrote the following:

“I would like to be an LST graduate. Maybe engaged, or at least in a long term relationship. I want what I have been through to be a memory, not a reality. I want to sing and counsel and lead services, using what I have been through to make a difference in people’s lives. I don’t want to be drawn to self-destruction because I actually want to value my life and my body. Maybe some scars will have faded…?”

It’s easy to forget, you see. We forget how far we’ve come, when we’re only focussing on how far we have left to go. I had no idea, when I was writing those words five years ago, that these things would actually happen – it was a distant dream, a mere whisper of hope.

As hope began to shout louder, I began to listen to it for perhaps the first time. I began to think I might, just might, have a shot at this funny life thing. I took a few risks – some which paid off, others not so much. At some point over the last five years, I began to love the life I lead and the calling I have.

I don’t want this post to come across all smug and schmaltzy, telling you all how wonderful I am and how wonderful my life is – there are still challenges and there will continue to be until I breathe my last. But it’s a life I am fierce about living. I want to ‘do life’ in the best way I can, in a way which honours God above all else. I fail, most days, we all do. If the last five years has taught me something, it’s that you just have to keep going, even when it’s dark and the end is nowhere in sight. Not ‘keep going’ as in burning yourself out, but putting one foot in front of the other, however slow and stumbling, however often you need to rest, just keep going.

As I was writing, I remembered a verse from a long forgotten Robert Frost poem I studied for GCSE which seems to sum it up. However tired I am, however tired of the journey you may be, we’ve got lives to lead and work to be done so that we can say we’ve used all we were given, and lived every year.

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep.

And miles to go before I sleep.

And miles to go before I sleep.”

Trap or Treasure?

Ever since I can remember, I have felt “called” into a specifically “christian” ministry. I toyed with the idea of being a singer and actress for a while, quickly dismissed the idea of teaching primary school children, rejected the idea of nurse because it involved science etc etc.

All the ideas I considered were never really more than that. Just ideas. Because from the age of five – I’ve known that I have a job to do. I had no idea, of course, of shape and name at that age. But I wanted to be a missionary, a preacher, wanted to work for the Church which I loved so much.

Indeed, the calling got me through my GCSEs and A-Levels. When I wanted so badly to throw in the towel, the knowledge that I needed qualifications to get into LST meant that I carried on.

It has been a massive encouragement and blessing to me, to have an inkling of where I’m headed. God has been incredibly gracious in prodding and calling me on in the right direction, in promising me a future when I was lost in the past. I have treasured my calling.

And yet.

Recently it has begun to feel like a trap.

Because this is hard. This life, is hard.

It takes so much energy, to be the person I feel called to be, to lay my story out for people to poke, prod and question.

And sometimes, I wish for a different life. I wonder if a different life would be less painful. Less all-consuming. Less of a sacrifice?

Because what if I walked an easier road? A comfortable job that didn’t involve the questions?

What if I could feel, for once, like a twenty-two year old instead of a forty-two old?

Perhaps these feelings are some kind of long forgotten and neglected rebellion?

Perhaps, it’s just been a long week.

But the difficulties of this life, this one where I’m called to bare my soul and speak of my vulnerability, this one which uses the pain instead of burying it – it is, after all, the path I chose.

For all my sense of calling, I chose to say ‘yes’. I chose to write and speak about those things which most scarred my soul.

I choose the light instead of giving into the lure of the darkness.

It is a choice I would make again. And again.

And so I guess, this is the price I pay. It is not, in perspective, a very high price. I gave up my “right” to give up on life. I gave up my “right” to give up on God.

I have been through too much to give up now.

I need reminding of that, today of all days. I can see it as a burden, a trap.

Or I can be reminded of the grace it took to get me to today.

 

So I choose to be reminded of grace – to see the gift, instead of the trap.

 

It isn’t easy.

 

I trust that it is worth it.