Category Archives: Life

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?

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The Way of the Waves

There are things you begin to notice.

Your voice quietens, just a little.

Noise seems louder, scratching at your eardrums.

You’re more easily irritated, patience worn thin.

You are tired, the tiredness spreads through your body like slowly freezing water. It is cold, painful and slows your thoughts and movement.

The feelings are dully familiar, and yet they catch you by surprise because the reprieve has been so long, so welcome.

Thoughts and feelings you have written about many times in the past tense have crept back into your present and they are as fresh and frightening as they were the first time.

Depression is an unwelcome returning guest. And yet you welcome you must, for fighting delay and worsens the inevitable tide which may or may not knock you off your feet.

You know how it goes, it’s a tide you’ve chased many times before and yet it feels new.

The newness is the baby, your delight, who gives no heed to your falling mood or slowing movements. He still needs to be fed, entertained, cherished.


Being a Mum made me reach out sooner than I might have done in the past; because there is not just me and my husband to consider, but a tiny boy who depends on us for everything (whether or not he cares to agree with this.)

And so I fell into my community, I allowed them to care for my family. We accepted help from all sides and I tried to push away the guilt and shame.

I realised, this time, that pride had crept in over the months and years of relative wellness. I speak of struggle in the past tense, I am a “new me” now.

Somewhere along the way, I had forgotten that I still need the grace I encourage others to share.

That I experience more freedom is no small amount of work – but it is also the way of the waves – that they have been ridden and not overwhelmed me.

So I write because I believe in honesty, in fighting the stigma (even if today it exists only in my own mind) and in a God who does His most beautiful work in our weakness.

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

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.

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.