Book Review: Even in Our Darkness

Book Review: Even in Our Darkness

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From the moment that I started reading this book, I couldn’t put it down. I read the first half last night, until sleep finally overtook me. I read the second half this morning when I woke up. I informed my husband “I will just read one chapter, then I will have breakfast.” My husband however knew me well enough not to expect me downstairs until the book was finished. As soon as I’d finished the book and had breakfast, I went at the housework like the Duracell Bunny, trying to make up for lost time!

I had read a review of this book a few months ago here. The fact that’s it’s recommended by Ann Voskamp, Matt Chandler, Dr John Townsend and R. T. Kendall along with Sam Storms’ very positive review convinced me that I needed to place this book on pre-order with Amazon, as it had not yet been published in the UK at that time.

Even in Our Darkness ~ A Story of Beauty in a Broken Life  is essentially the life story of Jack Deere. Jack grew up in Texas in a very dysfunctional family, the oldest of four children. His mum was volatile and at times beats him mercilessly. His dad was his childhood hero, but died by suicide in the family home when Jack was twelve years old. Jack then became a “wild child”.

At the age of seventeen, Jack became a Christian and his life changed dramatically. On the outside he lived an exemplary Christian life and was a role model for other young people. In private he continued to battle his besetting sins.

Jack has a brilliant mind and is a gifted communicator and within a few years he secured a prestigious teaching post at Dallas Theological Seminary, while also pastoring a church. He married a woman that he loved deeply and they had three children.

Jack subsequently was asked to leave Dallas Theological Seminary due to his association with  John Wimber and the Vineyard Movement. Jack wrote several popular books and thousands came to hear him speak. Jack and his wife ministered side by side and witnessed miraculous healings. Sadly, their younger son Scott was a troubled young man, who died by suicide in the family home Christmas 2000.

All Jack’s wife ever wanted out of life was to be a wife and mother, her son’s death pushed her over the edge. She went into a downward spiral of addiction and substance abuse. She interpreted Jack’s attempts to help her as him trying to “control” her. She accused him of being abusive towards her and left.

To find out how the story ends you will have to read the book. There are so many threads running through this story that I found it riveting on many different levels. There are currently 97 reviews for this book on Amazon.com and 83 of these are five star reviews. I haven’t read all the reviews, but from what I’ve read it seems that each reader interprets this book through the lens of what is relevant to them personally.

Naturally I read the book through my lens of being a bereaved parent. These are a few of the thoughts that came to me while reading this book: It is possible to experience trauma in life and subsequently become a Christian and believe “Everything is okay now, all that stuff that happened in the past doesn’t affect me anymore.” Everything does indeed appear to be okay until tragedy strikes, then you find yourself teetering on the edge of sanity and wondering if the version of Christianity that you’ve known up until now really is sufficient for such a time as this.

Hopefully however, as you walk through your own personal valley of the shadow of death, you will discover the theology of suffering and feel the nearness of the God who sticks closer than a brother, just as Jack Deere and many others have done. I will conclude with a quote from the penultimate chapter of the book:

The people who recover from the wreckage of their trauma are the people who can write a new story for their lives where their pain betters them. ~ Jack Deere 

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He Knows the Way that I take

He Knows the Way that I take

 

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As this is a holiday weekend here I’ve had more spare time than usual, so today I decided to take myself to the local woods  for a walk. As soon as I arrived there, I realised that it was during this very week in 2013 that I had walked there with a friend while Leah and Nic had their photoshoot done. Alison Hill did an amazing job of those photos and Leah loved them.

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I was so emotionally fragile at that time (shortly after Leah had been diagnosed) and a walk in the woods with a friend was just what I needed. As all of these memories came flooding back I was glad that the woods were very quiet today. I needed to be alone with my thoughts. As I walked along I enjoyed taking photos of anything that caught my eye:

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When I came to my favourite bench, I sat for a while and studied the photos that I had taken. Most of them were of the path. I reflected on this for a while, then I used my phone to look up Bible verses that mention the word ‘path’. I was somewhat surprised to discover that the word path is used quite often in the Bible. Here are some of the verses I found:

You make known to me the path of life;

   you will fill me with joy in your presence,

   with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Psalm 16:11 NIV

 

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.

Psalm 119:105 NIV

 

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV

 

Earlier today I had also read this excerpt from Streams in the Desert which mentions paths:

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After coming home from my walk I looked in my diary to see exactly when I had taken Leah for her photoshoot and what I had written about the event – I had certainly been in a very distressed state that day due to all that was happening. As I glanced over some of my journal entries, my attention was suddenly caught by something I had written on the 5th January 2014 while I was sitting with Leah in the ICU in Belfast City Hospital. Leah’s diagnosis had recently changed from PCP pneumonia to probable pneumonitis. On the 4th January, one of the consultants had taken me aside and had spelled out in words of one syllable what the implications of this new diagnosis were i.e. that Leah was very unlikely to survive. I was still praying and believing for Leah to be healed but as I wrestled with God regarding all that was happening, I had transcribed some words of an old hymn into my journal:

Yea, choose the path for me, although I may not see,

The reason Thou dost will to lead me so.

I know the toilsome way will lead to realms of day,

Where I shall dwell with Thee, O mighty Saviour.

 

There is that ‘path’ word again, all of this serves to reinforce for me the truth of Job 23:10; “He knows the way that I take” and He is with me every step of the way.

 

What Song Are You Grateful For?

What Song Are You Grateful For?

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Occasionally I use Journaling prompts that I have downloaded and stuck into a notebook that I keep for this purpose. Today when I opened my notebook to do some journaling the prompt for today was “What song are you grateful for?

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However, instead of thinking of just one song I thought of many songs. Praise and worship music was a vital part of Leah’s illness journey for both her and I. Many times when we were lost for words, we listened to praise and worship music and we found that peace that passes all understanding.

I remember the first time that Leah developed neutropenic sepsis  and I had to rush her to our local hospital. I was really scared, I think Leah and her boyfriend were frightened too. None of us spoke during the twenty minute journey to the hospital but we were comforted as we listened to the words of the praise and worship songs that Leah played on the CD player in the car.

During Leah’s illness journey and in the aftermath of her death I often felt so broken that I was unable to concentrate to pray coherently or to read my Bible. Praise and worship music became my means of communicating with God. My soul was stilled in His presence as I listened to our favourite songs.

After Leah died I put together an extensive playlist that I listened to almost continuously. I kept headphones beside the bed so that I could listen to these songs during the night without disturbing my husband. I played them in the car whilst driving and on any other occasion when I was alone. Some of these songs were ones that Leah and I had both loved, others were songs that friends had suggested to me to after had Leah died, the words of which really ministered to me.

I’ve changed phones a couple of times since then and was having difficulty accessing my original 2014 playlist, so I have recently recreated it on YouTube. There have of course been lots more playlists created since then, but on certain occasions such as Leah’s anniversary I like to reconnect with those songs that meant so much to me during her illness and immediately afterwards, when I felt so broken. Maybe this playlist of songs will minister to the heart of somebody who reads this post:

Grief Changes Everything

Grief Changes Everything

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It’s almost four years now since Leah died and I still struggle with going on a shopping trip  on my own. Whenever possible I shop online or wait until one of my children (or my husband) is available to accompany me. However there are some occasions when I do have to go shopping alone. I try to keep these shopping trips as brief as possible.

In years gone by I loved shopping and my shopping trips often lasted for several hours, but it is definitely now something that I do very much out of necessity rather than for pleasure. Today was one of those days when I headed out alone to get a few bits and pieces. Life has been busier than usual lately, so my youngest and I haven’t had time recently to go on one of our regular joint shopping trips.

As soon as I entered Foyleside Shopping Centre I was immediately drawn to the beautiful sound of children singing. I instinctively moved in the direction of this sound until a choir of Primary School children sweetly singing Christmas songs came into my line of vision. This young choir was surrounded by other shoppers who had stopped to listen and by adoring parents capturing the moment on camera.

In an instant I was transported back to when I was that proud parent and Leah was a young girl in her Primary School choir. Leah loved to sing. Tears blurred my vision as my heart ached with longing to once again hear the sweet voice that every Christmas echoed throughout our house with the words of one of Leah’s favourite Christmas songs:

IT’S SOMEBODY’S BIRTHDAY

by Ian White

Crackers and turkeys and pudding and cream,
Toys in the window that I’ve never seen.
This is the Christmas that everyone sees,
But Christmas means more to me.

Chorus
It’s somebody’s birthday I won’t forget,
As I open the things that I get.
I’ll remember the inn and the stable so bare,
And Jesus who once lay there.
~
Everyone’s out shopping late every night,
For candles and presents and Christmas tree lights
This is the Christmas that everyone sees,
But Christmas means more to me.
~
Christmas morning, the start of the day,
There’s presents to open and new games to play.
This is the Christmas that everyone sees,
But Christmas means more to me.

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My visit to Foyleside was brought to a swift ending – thirty minutes after I had parked my car I was back in it and driving away. Grief changes everything.

Lessons from a Sticky Plaster

Lessons from a Sticky Plaster

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Today I opened one of the notebooks that I used for note taking during Leah’s many hospital appointments in 2013. Immediately my eyes were drawn to a sticky plaster carefully folded into a heart shape.

I instantly remembered where it came from – it was Friday 14th June 2013 and the five of us (our eldest was away working in the USA) were on our first visit to Bristol Children’s Hospital. As on every one of Leah’s hospital visits, she had blood taken that day. This was the first time that Leah had genetic testing done and the subsequent results were very significant. We also gave our consent that day for some of Leah’s blood to be frozen and kept at the hospital for future research.

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After the nurse on Oncology Day Beds had taken blood from Leah she placed this cute sticky plaster with animals on Leah’s arm. Leah loved animals and she was very keen to visit Bristol Zoo or even make a return visit to Belfast Zoo – an ambition that was never realised sadly. Leah’s consultant in Belfast City Hospital informed her in mid December 2013 that her immune system could now cope with a trip to the Zoo. However with all the busyness of Christmas we did not have time to plan this before she died four weeks later – we always thought that there would be more time.

A few hours later this little plaster came off and Leah folded it neatly into a heart shape and presented it to me with one of her little smiles. I tucked it inside my notebook and there it sat until now. Another of Leah’s little ‘love notes’!

This also reminds me of God’s many ‘love notes’ to us. One of our favourite passages of Scripture to read during Leah’s illness was the last part of Romans Chapter 8. Leah and I drew great comfort from the fact that neither disease, nor chemotherapy, nor even death itself, would ever, could ever, separate us from the love of God that is ours in Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:38-39
“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Broken yet Blessed

Broken yet Blessed

Esther's Tree

This morning as I sat having my Devotional Time, I looked up and there across the room I saw it – the beautiful miniature Christmas Tree that Esther Scobie had made us for what would be Leah’s last Christmas. My youngest had decorated the room after I went to bed last night! Little did any of us know in December 2013 that it would also be Esther’s last Christmas.

Tears spilled down my cheeks as I remembered the many thoughtful cards and notes that I received from Esther over the years, but especially during Leah’s illness. It is so hard to say goodbye to the special people in our lives.

Yet how blessed I am to have known Esther and how blessed I am by the many other beautiful people that God has brought into my life – some for a short season and some for the long haul.

Philippians 1:3
“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you”

Another First

Another First

Since downloading a step counter onto my phone a few weeks ago I’ve become a lot more aware of how active I am (or otherwise) on different days throughout the week. Comparing my ‘steps’ with other family members also allows for a little ‘competitive edge’!

So this evening, after a rather sedentary weekend, I headed out to walk the three mile ‘square’ around where we live. Within minutes I realised that this was the first time since before Leah became ill in 2013 that I had headed out on my own to walk the roads around where we live.

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When my mother died in 2008 in her eighties, I was quite aware of the many ‘firsts’ in that first year after she died. The second year after mum died was definitely a lot easier than the first. Losing a child has been very different; even three and a half years later it feels like there are still so many ‘firsts’ that I have to face, because to have faced them before now would have been too painful. I used to enjoy cycling the country roads where we live during the summer, both alone and with the children, but I have never been back on my bike since Leah died. That’s just one of several activities that I once enjoyed, but that I now avoid doing. Sometimes it’s easier to stay in the ‘safe zone’ than to do things or go places that are likely to trigger a grief reaction.

About half a mile into my walk I came to the field with the donkeys. A friendly donkey walked right over to the ditch where I was standing – just like the donkeys always used to do when I stopped there with Leah and her siblings.

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This seemingly innocuous act caught me completely off guard – for a split second I was back in 2012 and everything was like it used to be – going for walks with the children and stopping to engage with friendly donkeys. Then a flood of emotion hit me along with the realisation of how much has changed since I last stood there looking at a donkey. I found it very difficult trying to process it all. I was glad of the quietness of the evening as I wrestled with my emotions and the tears fell freely.

About a mile or so further on, I encountered some sheep. They weren’t as friendly as the donkey, but some of them stopped to look at me.

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As I thought about these sheep, I reflected on these words from Psalm 23  which is a psalm that I especially like:

The Lord is my Shepherd,

I shall not want,

Sometimes, when I’m very stressed, I repeat these words inside my head to remind and reassure myself that God is my Shepherd and that He has promised to take care of me. At times I recall how Leah used to sing the Stuart Townend version of this psalm  with the Girl’s Brigade choir and how her face used to radiate joy when she was singing. Listening to the words of this song brings me comfort too.