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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.”


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Best Books of 2018

As 2018 ends, I’ve linked* some of the books I’ve read in the last twelve months and included the standout quotes from each book which have stayed with me, challenged me and shaped my own thinking and writing.

Luminous Dark – Alain Emerson

“The wounded places in our hearts, the silent caverns of our souls, the dark tunnels of our minds, are the hiding place of God.”

I read this book near the beginning of the year as I was trying to come to terms with miscarrying our first baby, and the idea that it was in the darkness – not despite of it – that God could be found was a great comfort to me.

Everything Happens for a Reason (And Other Lies I’ve Loved) – Kate Bowler

“Everyone is trying to Easter the crap out of my lent”

This book is worth reading for this one sentence – but it’s amazing throughout. How often do we rush people’s grief and lament because we want to get to their victory story?

The Girl Deconstruction Project – Rachel Gardner

“Our bodies matter because they are the place where are able to experience God.”

I read this book whilst I was pregnant and it made sense of my changing feelings about my body, it’s goodness and it’s purpose.

The Prodigal Prophet – Timothy Keller

“Jonah wants a God of his own making, a God who simply smites the bad people, for instance, the wicked Ninevites and blesses the good people, for instance, Jonah and his countrymen. When the real God—not Jonah’s counterfeit—keeps showing up, Jonah is thrown into fury or despair.”

I re-read the story of Jonah as a part of my church doing the Bible Course and I was captivated by it in a way I’d never been before. The discomfort of our desire for justice against God’s lavish mercy challenged me to be less judgemental and more merciful.

Catching Contentment – Liz Carter

“Contentment is based not on our wholeness, but on God’s holiness.”

There were many things about Liz’s book that I loved, but these words summed it up for me. The idea that contentment really isn’t about me was one which has stayed with me.

The Language of Tears – David Runcorn

“Resilience is a gift learned in the wrestling and struggling with life. It is forged through our fiercest and most vulnerable tears.”

I’ve always been fascinated by tears; namely because I’ve cried many of them and this little book was a brilliant look at the science and theology of them. It shows resilience as something more hard-fought and less shiny that I’d thought it was previously.


*I’ve used Amazon affiliate links in this post, so if you click through my links I get a small percentage of the sale; if you’d rather not, then feel free to just open a new tab to purchase them 🙂

The Girl De-Construction Project

Recently I was honoured that my friend Rachel Gardner chose to include an excerpt of my writing in her new book “The Girl Deconstruction Project“. Here it is in full.


Recalling Your Tears

Recalling your tears; there is not condemnation, but compassion. 

The one whose feet were washed in perfume and tears, wept his own tears;

for His friend, His city, for what was to come. 

 Tears are a language beyond words and in our fallen world, they are a language of love.

They are not be be dismissed as a weakness or an irrelevance – because you are not weak or irrelevant. 

There is not a single tear that falls down your face or in your mind that goes unnoticed. 

Tears that flow from anxious minds, aching minds, exhausted minds. 

Tears aren’t to be dismissed as a weakness or an irrelevance. 

The Psalmist speaks of our tears recorded, not forgotten. 

And yet they are not the end. 

When one day every tear is wiped away and the sorrow and the pain are a distant memory on heavens shores, you will be remembered. 

Whether your tears flow in the quiet moments of pause, the ache of unfulfilled perfection or the fear of tomorrow, they do not go unnoticed. 

And in the tears of Jesus Christ, we see the promise of something new. 

Tears are not the end of the story, because through Mary Magdalene’s tears, the risen Jesus was first glimpsed. 

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 

God gave us tears to grieve in this fallen world; but He offers not just comfort, but hope for a better tomorrow in this world and the next. 

Joy comes in the morning and signals His presence, not pains absence. 

His grace took His Son to the cross, and it promises to lead us home. 

The journey home is paved with the promise that God doesn’t abandon us to fear, powerlessness and fractured minds. 

Through the wisdom of God we are not left alone to face our fears, but armed with His word to test every thought that passes through our minds. 

Through the power of God we are not left weak – because His power is made perfect in our weakness as it reveals more of Him. 

Through the love of God we are strengthened, for whatever anguish we suffer we are assured that through Jesus our depths are never further than His love for us. 

Through the healing of God our wounds are given balm; through the touch of the physicians’ hand or medications flow we can know that our minds are not abandoned to the darkness. 

When the answers to our prayers feel lost in the mystery of God. 

When we are desperate for answers and all we can hear is silence –  we are not abandoned to the darkness. 

We cannot abandon those in the darkness. 

We recall the tears from the darkness and point to what we hope in. 

That the God for whom stars were an afterthought will lead us home and our questions will be answered at the sight of his glorious grace. 

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.

 

Back to Basics

One of the casualties of being a theologian and well, me, is that I have a slight tendency to over think things.

And as I’ve walked through the strange path of grief, I’ve over thought everything – and none more so than my faith.

Everything I believed came under the microscope – I’d worked out my theology of suffering – or so I thought, but all of a sudden the old answers didn’t seem to touch the sides.

The hope and redemption that a future story might bring felt futile.

I was tying myself in knots as I attempted to unravel years of theology based on the power of redemption.

Don’t get my wrong – redemption is powerful – but somewhere along the way I’d begun to trust more in the power of redemption than the power of the redeemer.

And so I went back to basics, to the roots of my faith dug in my earliest years.

The night I became a christian, we sang a song called ‘Safe in the Father’s Hands’ and its first verse goes like this:

Safe in the Father’s hands
We are safe in the Father’s hands
Though there may be things
We don’t understand
We’re safe in the Father’s hands

I had trusted in the safety of the Father’s arms since I was five years old and it was one of the reasons I had said yes to Him over and again in the years that have passed since then.

As the long forgotten words settled in my mind, I realised that I cannot dismiss twenty-seven years where I’ve trusted in the safety of the Fathers loving hands.

To trust God, was to trust in His inescapable, unquenchable love for me.

And so I found myself answering the question that Jesus posed to Simon Peter one morning after a boat trip:

“Do you love me?”

The question made me realise that it was what I had forgotten over the past months; the love I have for God and the love God has for me.

It went back to the very first hour I believed and although there have been many questions over the years about His plans, His will, I have never questioned His love for me.

And that hasn’t changed. I remain believing in the words of Paul in Romans 8:38-39.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,k neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Nothing can separate us from the love of God; and to love God is the first and greatest commandment.

It is the first thing I believed, it is the belief that has carried me thus far and it is the belief that will carry me through the rest of my days.

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/

Born of Mary

For Christ is born of Mary
And gathered all above
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love
O morning stars together
Proclaim the holy birth
And praises sing to God the King
And Peace to all on earth

For Christ is born of Mary.

The Son of God, coming to earth as a human baby to grow in Mary’s womb.

We get too used to the idea I think.

We forget the wonder of it, the impossibility of it; the fear and confusion Mary must have  faced.

The angel’s earth shattering pronouncement that this virgin teenager was going to carry the Son of God was not met in the way we’d expect.

I imagine I’d have far more questions; in all probability I might have refused.

And yet Mary’s response in Luke’s gospel is:

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”

She defines herself, not as we so often do by her family, her status her relationships, but as the Lord’s servant.

Her identity as the Lord’s servant governs her response; and Jesus’ identity as the Servant King governed His earthly life.

Our identity governs our responses.

So the question: Where is your identity?