Category Archives: Life

Love and Grief

On Thursday, it was our fourth wedding anniversary, a day to look back at the day our journey of married life began. I flicked through photographs, remembering the joy; the funny stories (as I left the hotel for the church my shoe got stuck in a grate and I had to be rescued by a rather bewildered maintenance man!) and the overwhelming sense on the day that all was right with the world.

Phillip & Rachael Newham Wedding-345

On Thursday, it was also the day I attended the funeral of my Grandfather-in-Law (is that a thing? I’m not sure, but let’s go with it). It was a sad, hope-filled day to remember a man who you couldn’t speak about without speaking about his faith, the two so intertwined.

It was a reminder to me how closely grief and love sit together.

One cannot be had without the other; we only grieve when we lose things or people we once loved. Perhaps that is part of what it means when it talks about death being beaten?  That not only will there one day be no more death or crying or tears, but that here and now loss is not felt without love.

On a calendar in my Grandfather-in-law’s house, there was a verse given for each day, and on Thursday the day of his funeral the verse was this:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”

His life and death proclaimed this; and 1 Corinthians 15 was read at his funeral service along with the words which have featured in countless hymns:

“Where, O death, is your victory?

Where, O death, is your sting?

I’ve been wondering recently what that means in the here and now. Because I lost my own beloved Grandpa a couple of weeks ago and I don’t feel like there was victory, I don’t feel like death has lost its’ sting when he was so cruelly eaten away by dementia.

Death was not part of God’s original perfect creation. It is the consequence of our fallen world, and so it doesn’t always feel like it is beaten, that we are victorious.

And over the past few days I’ve been wondering if, this side of heaven, the victory we have in Christ over death is found in the love that is shown as we grieve.

Because I believe that we can and should grieve our losses. Even with the knowledge Jesus had, he still wept at the death of Lazarus – it was a sign of His love for his friend. It says in 1 Thessalonians that we should not grieve without hope, it doesn’t prohibit grieving, rather that our grief can be marked with hope.

Beth Slevecoe writes in her beautiful book “Broken Hallelujahs”:

“Grieving always involves love. We can’t grieve until we are able to recognise our love for what is lost.”

Death is not the end, it has been defeated and one day it will be banished.

But in this now-and-not-yet land, when death does still sting; it is still swallowed up in the victory Christ established over the grave. His victory is our hope and the love of God that drove Him to the cross is the balm that comforts death’s sting.

In this fallen world waiting for a new heaven and new earth, we can’t experience love without  grief to go with it – because human love has an end in death – but God’s great love is eternal.

God’s love and light were not extinguished on the cross because God’s love and light are the very things that lifted the man Jesus from his grave.

This is the balm for death’s sting, and the victory that swallows death.

 

 

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Treasure in the Dark?

Since the arrival of my son, I’ve seen more hours of darkness than usual, and it got me thinking about whether darkness is all bad. There is something about those silent hours in the dead of night that have a kind of peace to them (except when the baby is screaming!)

So often, darkness is demonised, and yet we need it. We need the darkness of night as much as we need the light of day and many beautiful things have their beginnings in the darkness. As Barbara Taylor Brown writes in her excellent book “Learning to Walk in the Dark”

“New life starts in the dark whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb.”

It seems obvious when you think about it, Jesus wasn’t resurrected in the sunshine, but in the darkness of the tomb, flowers need the darkness of the ground to bloom, babies need the comforting darkness of the womb to grow before they face the light of the world.

Darkness wasn’t created, it’s an absence not a presence – but God didn’t eliminate it from the creation He called ‘good’. Perhaps it’s because, as Psalm 139 recounts, “Even the darkness is not dark to You, And the night is as bright as the day Darkness and light are alike to You.”

So I wonder if it’s time to rethink darkness, to the wonder and potential that it holds. The late poet Mary Oliver understood a little of this I think when she wrote the words:

“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”

What can we learn in the darkness, that we couldn’t learn in the light?

In the darkest days of depression, I learned to lean on God in ways I never would have done without it and I’m reminded of the things that are revealed in the darkness throughout the Bible.

Jonah in the darkness in the belly of the whale, David in the cave at Adullam – God transforms people in their darkness.

And I wonder what treasure can be found in whatever darkness you face? (Isaiah 43:5)

 

A New Story

Our births were both induced.

Our births both spanned three days.

We were both tested in a Special Care Baby Unit.

We both had antibiotics and stayed in hospital for a while after birth.

Our stories are similar, but they are not the same.

There are undoubtedly parallels, and it’s hard not to compare the way I came into the world with the way my son came into the world twenty eight years later.

The events of the first month of my life have, in many ways, set the course for the years which followed. The multiple antibiotics affected my immune system, being woken every few hours for medication affected my sleep, the worry and uncertainty marked my family.

But that first month has not defined my life – and my son’s first days will not define his. I feared so much that his first chest infection would mean that he would always be unwell and prone to catching every infection he is exposed to – but then I was reminded that his life is not my story – he’s got a brand new one.

The life God has given to him is his own – his story only just beginning. It will have its own joys and challenges, it’s my prayer that he will know his heavenly Father and know that he is loved by us.

All too often, I’ve allowed the worst bits of my life to be defining features, but as I look at my son, I see that the best bits can be defining too. I’d forgotten that we have a God of creation, as well as a God of redemption. He gives a brand new life to each and every person.

As Don Herold so wonderfully put it:

“Babies are such a nice way to start people.”


Remembering Scripture

I write this, not from the kitchen sink a la “I Capture the Castle”, but underneath a baby who has  finally decided to succumb to sleep.

He’s two weeks old and I’ve never felt more inspired and yet unable to write.

Babies do strange things to your brain.

It was a difficult start for us as a family; a long labour followed by a chest infection for the baby and soaring blood pressure for me meant a week long stay in hospital and now we’ve finally had a whole week at home, Phil’s gone back to work and we are trying to find a new normal.

And amidst the madness, I’ve relied on memorised chunks of scripture like never before. It’s not something I’ve ever done to be honest; recited scripture, I’ve always preferred to read it. But in the semi darkness of the a hospital ward at three in the morning, I leant on the words that I’d memorised by accident.

Psalm 40 (or an approximation of it) circled around my mind for hours on end and I chewed upon each verse, drawing something that looked like strength from its contents.

“I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry.
 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
    and put their trust in him.”

I didn’t wait very patiently to be discharged from hospital – quite the opposite in fact – but I felt tangibly that God was hearing my cries and that He would put a new song in my mouth.

I’m beyond grateful for the scriptures my mind stored away for a rainy night and for a God who speaks through ancient words remembered in the dark of night.

And in this new phase of life; when time is both short and plentiful, I want to commit to memorising passages, not only so that I can call on them in times of need, but so that I can soak them up and experience more of the God of scripture that I may be transformed by Him.

As Eugene Peterson wrote so beautifully:

“Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son.”

Pregnancy After Loss

It’s taken me a long time to write this; I found out I was pregnant back in March and I’ve wanted to write about it ever since we announced that we were having a baby.

So what’s stopped me?

Pregnancy after loss is an incredibly complicated time; for me, it can be described primarily as a loss of innocence.

The first time, the idea of anything going wrong was something vague, something that happened to other people.

This time, miscarriage has been at the forefront of my mind most days, particularly before the first scan.

The fear has been omnipresent.

And yet, so has faith.

Fear and faith have sat side by side, in an uncomfortable alliance.

They have not negated one another, as I might have expected, but I’ve lived in between the tension of the two.

I have had faith that God does and will work, that He is love, that He is trustworthy.

And I have feared the loss that I’d only just begun to get my head and heart around when I fell pregnant again.

I have written very little; in part, I think that’s because so far, pregnancy has been good to me. I’ve felt almost guilty that I’ve (so far) escaped the worst and in part because I’ve not wanted to sound like I’m boasting in any way.

I also haven’t written because losing our baby in December changed the whole way I relate to God, it pulled away my certainties. Shortly afterwards, I lost my voice after a virus and all of a sudden I couldn’t use my voice to sing and lament, I found myself silenced in worship.

And in my silence, I began to listen. Sometimes there has been comfortable silence, but at other times I was able to reflect on scripture in ways I have never done before.

As I wrote in my last blog, I felt the call of the those truths which drew me to faith in the first place.

Now, as I enter the second half of pregnancy the hope and the fear are growing still – but what is growing more than I’d imagined is my faith – whatever happens going forward, I’m trusting that God is moving and God is present in the darkness, but also in the light.

 

Yes and Amen

“All your promises are yes and amen”

It’s the refrain of a popular worship song, and I can’t get that line out of my head.

Because for me at least, it has raised some unbearable questions.

What happens when life feels as if we have no promises? When it feels like our promises have been broken?

It’s struck me over the past couple of weeks that I (and I suspect many others) have forgotten that God’s promises are not our wishes.

I wish my grandparents didn’t have dementia.

I wish we hadn’t lost our baby.

But God hasn’t promised us a life without pain in this world – and there lies the problem.

We remember the hook of the song and songs like it; that His promises are yes and amen, but it’s all too easy to gloss over the verses.

The verses remind us that the promises of God are rooted in His character.

We are promised the Father of kindness, Giver of mercy, Beautiful saviour, Blessed redeemer.

These are our promises – not that life will be easy or pain won’t interrupt our lives – but that our God is greater.

Scripture doesn’t promise anyone an easy life – but it promises God’s presence.

Just one of the verses that promises this is found in Deuteronomy 31:6.

“It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”

The promise is that God will never leave us, never abandon us.

And to that, it’s yes and amen.

 

 

The Strangest Grief

As the snow fell thick and fast, excited squeals could be heard from small children discovering the world covered in white, but my husband and I sat together on the sofa, tears falling unchecked down our faces.

Just two days before we had been excitedly planning for the baby we’d just discovered I was carrying. It was a longed for pregnancy, and we were over the moon. We knew that miscarriage was something that happened, but our excitement wasn’t particularly marred by any fear, we were going to be parents and we happily sat together and planned how we would rearrange our flat to accommodate a new arrival.

When I awoke on the Saturday morning after a blissfully long sleep I wasn’t, at first, particularly worried about the spotting, I knew that it was normal in early pregnancy but I rang my Mum and we called NHS 111 just as a precaution.

As the morning went on however, and the pain started and fear bloomed.

All we could do was wait; it was a Saturday and it was snowing so there would be no resolution, no answers until Monday at the earliest.

As the pain and bleeding continued I clung to the most fragile of hopes that this little baby (the size of a chocolate chip the app told us) would survive.

It wasn’t fair.

And the uncertainty was agony.

As time went on I knew in my head that I was probably losing the baby, but I refused to believe it; there was hope.

My husband and I huddled together and watched countless episodes of our favourite sitcom, pleading with God. All we could do was wait for Monday.

As the weekend passed our prayers changed as our hope flickered falteringly, I just wanted to know what was happening. Our changed prayers were answered; no wait for an appointment, a scan that same day.

And yet in the small cramped room of the Early Pregnancy Unit, the screen showed starkly that our baby was gone.

The sound that came from me was guttural, the empty screen scored into my minds eye.

In the month that has followed, it has been the strangest grief. Christmas came and the message of the baby who came to save felt sharp on my bruised heart. That I could get pregnant was, at the time little comfort. I didn’t care about the possibility of a future baby – I wanted the baby that was lost to us.

Friends and family rallied around us in the most wonderful of ways; providing love, food and company.

After an early miscarriage there is no burial, there is no one to miss as such; it’s the loss of potential, the loss of what could have been. I can’t help but count the weeks that I would have been happily anticipating and tracking on apps and in journals.

I can’t help but rage at God – because the Bible talks of God knowing us before our birth, choosing us and crafting us in our mother’s wombs – and the questions this raises are unbearable.

If God knew my baby – what does that mean for them? They were known by God – but why did they never see life on earth?

I can’t answer these questions; but I can put them to God.

I’m learning to talk to God in a new way, lamenting the loss of what could have been and trying to trust in the sometimes invisible, incomprehensible plan of God.

For more information and support I recommend The Miscarriage Association, https://www.sayinggoodbye.org and http://saltwaterandhoney.org/