Wrestling with God

Wrestling with God

One of the devotionals that I regularly use during my daily time with God is the First 5 app  from Proverbs 31 Ministries. This app is free to download and is compatible with iOS and Android. The First 5 app provides written Bible teaching Monday through Friday, with a teaching video every Saturday that includes a summary of the learning from the previous week.


A few weeks ago the weekend teaching was based on 2 Corinthians 12: 8-12 and was presented by Lysa TerKeurst, who is president of Proverbs 31 Ministries. Her message was entitled Perseverance through Pain. Earlier this year Lysa had a significant health scare which resulted in her undergoing surgery to remove half her colon. The results could have been devastating, but she has made an excellent recovery. At the time Lysa wrote on her public Facebook page:

I have no words. Except “thank you.” Thank You, God. Thank you friends who prayed me through this. Thank you to this surgeon who finally figured out why I was in excruciating pain for days and days in that hospital bed.
Thank you that I still get to do life.

In her weekend teaching Lysa referred to her recent illness and recovery and talked about finding joy during difficult times and about the gift of experiencing God’s grace despite the pain. However Lysa is very clear that she doesn’t want to offer ‘easy answers’ to those who have prayed for healing for themselves or their loved ones and instead of God saying ‘yes’ He has apparently said ‘no’. Lysa talked about the death of her sister as a result of ‘a medical tragedy’. She said that after her sister died, she very much did not want people to offer her ‘easy answers’ as to why this tragedy had happened, because she needed space to ‘wrestle well’ with God.

Lysa’s phrase about wrestling well with God really resonated with me. I’ve written here before about wrestling with God. I don’t feel that I ever ‘lost’ my faith during Leah’s illness and death, however I have ‘wrestled with God’ over it all and I continue to do so as I seek to reconcile the events that have taken place, with what I believe to be true about God and about life. Tragedy and suffering definitely alter the lens through which everything is viewed.

Last weekend my husband and I watched the film Shadowlands, which is based on the romantic relationship between Oxford academic C. S. Lewis  and American poet  Joy Gresham, her death from cancer, and how this challenged Lewis’ Christian faith. We had previously watched the film when it was first released in 1993. This time round we found the film absolutely heart-breaking and we could identify with so much of it. However our recollection of watching it on the previous occasion many years ago, was of it being a ‘nice love story with beautiful scenery and a sad ending’!

There is a part towards the end of the film (at 1hr 55 min) after Joy has died when C. S. Lewis is grieving deeply and he joins his academic friends/colleagues at a social gathering. Lewis says to his friends:
I wasn’t going to come tonight but then I thought I would.”
One of his friends responds:
Life must go on.
Lewis’s answer to this comment begins with the line:
I don’t know that it must, but it certainly does.
He then entreats his friends with the words:
Don’t tell me it’s all for the best.
Undeterred by Lewis’s heartfelt plea, one of his friends (one who wears a clerical collar) begins to give him a theological explanation for what has happened. At this point, C. S. Lewis, overcome with emotion, shouts at his friends, then apologises and quickly leaves. His parting words, said under his breath are:
I just wanted company tonight.

My husband and I have no recollection of this scene from the first time that we watched Shadowlands, but needless to mention, it impacted us greatly this time around. Although I feel greatly blessed by the many people that I have in my life who understand grief and loss and who continue to provide emotional support whenever I need it, I could also relate to this scene in which C.S. Lewis just wanted his grief and loss acknowledged and didn’t want to be offered ‘easy answers’. The scene is so heartfelt and poignant.

C. S. Lewis is also an excellent example of someone who knew how to wrestle well with God. His books continue to inspire long after his death and he is often quoted by other writers and speakers.


The Beauty of Solitude

The Beauty of Solitude

I am very much a people person – I really enjoy meeting people and spending time with family and friends. However I also enjoy solitude. The topic of solitude came up in one of my devotional readings this past week and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Solitude can be defined as ‘the state or situation of being alone‘. It is very different to loneliness:

Language… has created the word “loneliness” to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word “solitude” to express the glory of being alone.Paul Johannes Tillich

The Bible commends the practice of solitude, with verses like ‘Be still and know that I am God.Psalm 46:10. It’s hard to ‘be still’ when we are surrounded by people. During His adult life on earth, Jesus set us an example by regularly taking himself away to a quiet spot to pray. Matthew 14:23, Matthew 15:29, Luke 5:16 Luke 6:12

When our children were small I used to be glad of their nap time just to get a bit of time to myself; to read, to pray and sometimes just to think a situation through. In later years when I returned to working outside the home, it became very difficult to get time alone and I found myself struggling emotionally and spiritually.

Isolation is aloneness that feels forced upon you, like a punishment. Solitude is aloneness you choose and embrace. I think great things can come out of solitude, out of going to a place where all is quiet except the beating of your heart.Jeanne Marie Laskas

Eventually a few years ago, after a particularly stressful time in my life, I came to the conclusion that ‘being sleep deprived was preferable to being God deprived’ and I made a decision to start getting up earlier in the morning, before anybody else was awake, in order to enjoy complete peace and quiet and to be guaranteed some time alone with God. It was one of the best decisions that I’ve ever made.


I often think back (with some amusement) to an incident that happened many years ago when I was young and single: my friend Julie and I were away somewhere overnight and we needed to get back on the road early the next morning. At bedtime I asked Julie what time she was setting the alarm clock for but I was very taken aback by her reply: she calmly explained that she needed to get up quite early in order to have time to read and pray before we set off for the day. I firmly told Julie that I needed my sleep and that she could call me shortly before it was time to leave. When I woke up the next morning Julie was already fully dressed and she was sitting quietly with her Bible and her copy of Operation World. I guess it took me another 20 years to learn from her example – maybe I’m a slow learner?!

In Bristol Children’s Hospital Leah could choose what time her day began. Unlike me, Leah wasn’t a morning person, so she usually didn’t start her day until 10.00 am. I generally started mine at 8.00 am, which gave me two hours to read, pray, shower, dress, eat breakfast and gather my thoughts, before Leah woke and needed me. That little piece of ‘solitude’ helped me to survive in what was a very stressful situation.

I remember being in the transplant unit  with Leah and feeling terribly traumatised by how ill Leah was and by everything that was happening around us. I read up online about the effects of trauma and I discovered that there was such a thing as ‘post-traumatic growth’. There and then I prayed and asked God that no matter what happened in Leah’s situation, that He would help Leah and I to trust Him every step of the way and that the eventual outcome would be ‘post-traumatic growth’ and not ‘post-traumatic stress’.

I don’t find life easy by any stretch of the imagination, but getting up early most mornings to enjoy a little solitude, to read my Bible and pray and gather my thoughts, helps me to face the day. I believe that this practice has helped towards building resilience into my life.

In his sermon entitled Take a Break from the Chaos David Mathis tells us:

You need a break from the chaos, from the noise and the crowds, more than you may think at first. You need the spiritual disciplines of silence and solitude.

This sermon is well worth reading, or for more in depth reading on the topic you can download a free PDF  of David Mathis’ book Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus Through the Spiritual DisciplinesI haven’t read the whole book, I’ve dipped in and out of it. I especially enjoyed the chapter entitled ‘The Clock’ which discusses ‘time management’ from a Christian perspective and his epilogue which is entitled ‘Communing with Christ on a Crazy Day‘, because there are some days when I find myself wishing that I had never got out of bed! In closing I will share a quote from this book that resonated with me:

We might get alone and be quiet to hear our own internal voice, the murmurs of our soul that are easily drowned out in noise and crowds. But the most important voice to hear in the silence is God’s.

David Mathis

Sometimes there is no other way

Sometimes there is no other way


Sometimes I don’t blog because I’m generally busy getting on with life and I either don’t have much to say or I don’t have the time to say it! Other times I don’t blog because I’m feeling very sad and I’m tired of writing sad posts. Then I think; what the heck – this is my blog and I’ll cry if I want to – people can choose not to read it if they don’t like it.

This past summer was mostly good. The day of the A and AS level exam results in August was both happy and sad. Our son did fantastically well but I was also acutely aware that Leah wasn’t here to get any exam results. I went to the school with our son to get his AS results and I congratulated Leah’s friends on their excellent A level results. I was very grateful to the one parent at the school who acknowledged my grief and loss with a hug, in the midst of receiving her son’s amazing A level results.

While our son posed for a photo for the local papers with others who had received excellent results, I sat in the car in a quiet corner of the school car park sobbing. By the time he texted looking for me to come and collect him, I had regained my composure. Results day needed to be about his success, not about my sadness.

This past week Prize Day took place in both the school that Leah attended and the school that Simon now attends. We attended Simon’s prize giving event as proud parents. However I hadn’t really thought about the possibility that some of Leah’s peers would also be there receiving their prizes before departing for university. One of these was the very girl who started Nursery School alongside Leah many years ago – they walked through the door of the Nursery class together that first morning. So much has changed since then. This triggered more difficult emotions for me, which I sought to contain.

We didn’t have occasion to attend Prize Giving at the High School this year, but a kind friend gave me her copy of the programme. In the Prize Day programmes for both schools there is a section that lists which universities this year’s A level students have moved on to. I scrutinised this section in both programmes, but naturally Leah’s name isn’t mentioned. This time three years ago while in hospital in Bristol, Leah talked to me of her future career plans, but that clearly was not meant to be. Leah’s name is mentioned in another part of the programme though, where she continues to make us proud. I was so pleased to read the names of this years’ recipients of the award created in her memory:


I try hard to live in the present, to count my blessings, to be grateful for what I have, to focus my thoughts on the good things in my life and the people that I love, but despite it all, grief and loss at times becomes overwhelming. Sometimes no matter how hard I pray and look to God for the strength to go on, no matter how much I read my Bible or how many Bible teaching podcasts I listen to, the sadness just doesn’t go away and those tears have to be shed – there is no other way.


Child Cancer Awareness Month 2016

Child Cancer Awareness Month 2016

Be Aware

I have been acutely aware since waking up this morning that today is the 1st of September – the start of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. I wish that I wasn’t Child Cancer Aware – not to the extent that I am now anyway. I wish that I could just roll back my life to a time four years ago when (despite my nursing qualifications) my knowledge of childhood cancer was almost non existent. Yes of course it’s important to be Childhood Cancer Aware but I wish that this was mere ‘head knowledge’ and not ‘heart knowledge’.

My ‘awareness’ of childhood cancer causes me to feel deep sadness and fight back tears every. single. day. The least wee thing can trigger this – a product display in the grocery store, a casual comment from a friend or work colleague, a memory that suddenly pops into my head.

This time three years ago Leah and I were in Bristol Children’s Hospital. The previous week Leah had been transferred out of her isolation cubicle on the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit to a beautiful ensuite room on their amazing purpose built Adolescent Unit. We had also been told the most fantastic news ever, which was that Leah’s bone marrow transplant had been successful and that she was fully engrafted. We were ecstatic. It was now going to be onwards and upwards, or so we thought.

Leah was allowed off the ward for short periods of time, so on the 2nd of September we very cheekily had a sneaky trip to the local Costa – this was strictly forbidden as Leah’s immune system was still very fragile.

Leah at Costa

Sadly our euphoria was short lived, as over the following weeks and months, side effect after side effect from the harsh treatments that she had experienced began to ravage Leah’s body, until finally – five months post transplant – these side effects also claimed her life. The cure proved as destructive as the disease.

Devastatingly, this is the reality of childhood cancer.


The 2014 Calendar

The 2014 Calendar

In October 2013 when Leah and I were packing to leave Bristol, one of the families that we had become close to gifted us a 2014 calendar containing beautiful colour pictures of Bristol. During our fourteen weeks there, I had fallen in love with Bristol – well, as much of it as I had seen anyway. I really appreciated this thoughtful gift, as well as their friendship.

Bristol Calendar

A place of honour was found on the walls of our new home for this picturesque calendar. However, January 2014, the first month in that calendar, sadly brought with it the death of our beautiful daughter Leah.

Leah in a hat 2012

We never discovered what beautiful scenes of Bristol were displayed alongside the other months, because to this day that calendar remains open on January 2014, still hanging on our wall, frozen in time.

January 2014

To my knowledge this was not a conscious decision on anybody’s part, nor do I recall us ever discussing this as a family. It just is. Other calendars get turned over monthly and removed at the end of the year. When the time is right this calendar will come down too, just not yet.

Next month I will fly to Bristol with the one who hasn’t returned there since donating his bone marrow in the hope of saving his sister’s life.

Leahs study area
Leah’s study area

We are going there for the University  Open Day as he has expressed an interest in studying there next year. I’m quite familiar with the university quarter of Bristol: Sam’s House where Leah and I stayed when she wasn’t in hospital is adjacent to some of the university buildings. While Leah was busy studying for her GCSE’s at the study area that she had set up in our bedroom, I used to occupy myself with going for walks around the local area.

Although my children are grieving, their lives are going on and moving forward and that is just how it should be. Leah would never have wanted it any other way. Our eldest moved to live and work in England last week. We miss her but I’m just so proud of her. The day that she left N. Ireland I received lots of supportive messages from friends, which I really appreciated. One of the most encouraging messages that I received was this one:

Well done that, in spite of all your family have been through, you have raised a girl with an adventurous, independent spirit which you are nurturing. There will always be a part of her that will never leave home. Bon voyage.


Being Part of the Family of God

Being Part of the Family of God

I’m on holidays in Edinburgh this weekend. I’ve never been to Edinburgh before. When I’m at home in N. Ireland I attend a relatively traditional church, so when I’m away from home I enjoy visiting churches with a more contemporary style, especially ones with a multicultural congregation. We are all going to be together in heaven, so we may as well start getting used to each other down here.

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language,standing before the throne and before the Lamb.

Revelation 7:9

While looking for a church to attend this weekend I initially used Google search and Google maps, then I visited the websites of the various churches that my search had elicited. Ideally I wanted one not much further than about three miles from where I’m staying, so that eliminated several churches that looked really good. Other churches were eliminated from my search for various other reasons. I discovered that there are many churches to choose from in Edinburgh so I prayed and asked God to help me choose the right church. I eventually picked Destiny Church  in Leith.


As I approached the Destiny Church building this morning, dressed very casually, I saw two men in very smart suits and ties, both carrying Bibles, walking in the same direction. I immediately worried that I had misunderstood the dress code for Destiny Church, but these two men walked on by and entered the “Free Church” down the road. I would hate to look conspicuous by getting the “dress code” wrong – it has happened to me before!

On my arrival at ‘Destiny’ I was warmly welcomed and offered a cup of tea, coffee or herbal tea. I asked for a cup of cold water which was quickly provided. As soon as the ‘Welcome Team’ realised that I was from N. Ireland they introduced me to their pastor – Sammy. Within minutes of meeting him I discovered that his brother is somebody I know, as he is the pastor of a church in my hometown that I have visited several times, so I felt right at home.

During the service I sat beside a lovely woman from Singapore, now living in Spain, who regularly visits the UK. A casual onlooker would have thought we were long-lost friends just reunited! After the service when we had to say good-bye we hugged each other warmly.


The style of worship was contemporary and led by a multicultural group of young people. Some of the songs were new to me and the words were lovely, other songs were ‘golden oldies’, like “Blessed Assurance” by Fanny Crosby, one of my favourite hymn writers:

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine;

Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!

Heir of salvation, purchase of God,

Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.


This is my story, this is my song,

Praising my Savior all the day long.

This is my story, this is my song,

Praising my Savior all the day long.


Perfect submission, perfect delight,

Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;

Angels descending, bring from above

Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.


Perfect submission, all is at rest,

I in my Savior am happy and blest;

Watching and waiting, looking above,

Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.

I rarely make it through a Sunday service without tears and this was no exception. Singing verse two of that hymn led me to think of Leah, now with the Angels, singing God’s praises.

The Bible teaching was brought to us by Pastor Pete and was based on John 5: 16-47. He applied the Word both to the believer and the seeker. He also quoted from C.S. Lewis     during his sermon. I really like C.S. Lewis and it never ceases to amaze me how many people quote from him!

Towards the end of his sermon Pastor Pete read this lovely poem by Myra Brooks Welch to illustrate the difference that Jesus can make in us when we surrender our lives to Him:

The Touch of the Master’s Hand

‘Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer

      Thought it scarcely worth his while

To waste much time on the old violin,

      But held it up with a smile.

“What am I bidden, good folks,” he cried,

    “Who’ll start the bidding for me?”

“A dollar, a dollar. Then two! Only two?

      Two dollars, and who’ll make it three?”
“Three dollars, once; three dollars, twice;

      Going for three…” But no,

From the room, far back, a grey-haired man

      Came forward and picked up the bow;

Then wiping the dust from the old violin,

      And tightening the loosened strings,

He played a melody pure and sweet,

      As a caroling angel sings.
The music ceased, and the auctioneer,

      With a voice that was quiet and low,

Said: “What am I bid for the old violin?”

      And he held it up with the bow.

“A thousand dollars, and who’ll make it two?

      Two thousand! And who’ll make it three?

Three thousand, once; three thousand, twice,

    And going and gone,” said he.
The people cheered, but some of them cried,

    “We do not quite understand.

What changed its worth?” Swift came the reply:

    “The touch of the Master’s hand.”

And many a man with life out of tune,

      And battered and scarred with sin,

Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd

      Much like the old violin.
A “mess of pottage,” a glass of wine,

    A game — and he travels on.

He is “going” once, and “going” twice,

    He’s “going” and almost “gone.”

But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd

    Never can quite understand

The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought

    By the touch of the Master’s hand.

After the service there was plenty of time to mingle and chat. Before I left Pastor Sammy took the time to pray with me. I felt blessed and encouraged. How lovely it is to be a part of the family of God – to enter a building as a total stranger and to quickly feel so welcome and ‘at home’.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household. 

Ephesians 2:19 (NIV)

Our Day Trip to Rathlin Island

Our Day Trip to Rathlin Island


People say that Ireland is a beautiful country and if you could rely on the weather you would never holiday anywhere else. I agree entirely.

Our eldest has been trying to get us on a family trip to Rathlin Island  for the last couple of years, but any time that we planned to go the weather forecast dissuaded us. Rathlin Island lies just six miles north of the seaside town of Ballycastle in Co Antrim. It is also only fourteen miles from the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland.

Finally this past weekend we agreed on a date, checked and rechecked the forecast, packed the obligatory picnic and off we headed. We phoned that morning to book places on the ferry and to check the parking arrangements in Ballycastle. We were assured that there was plenty of free parking nearby, although finding an actual parking space when we got there proved a little challenging.


The ferry that took us over was quite comfortable and provided shelter from the elements. We enjoyed sitting together out on deck and admiring the panoramic views across the Sea of Moyle.


Although I was raised in Cork City, which is at the opposite end of Ireland, I’m familiar with some of the folklore associated with this area, especially the sad tale of the Children of Lir. Indeed I can still recite part of Thomas Moore’s Song for Fionnuala  which I learned at school:

Silent, oh Moyle, be the roar of thy water,

Break not, ye breezes, your chain of repose,

While, murmuring mournfully, Lir’s lonely daughter

Tells to the night-star her tale of woes.

When shall the swan, her death-note singing,

Sleep, with wings in darkness furl’d?

When will heav’n, its sweet bell ringing,

Call my spirit from this stormy world?

On our arrival at this beautiful Island, I was surprised to see how many people use cars to get about. Lots of people were using bicycles too, these are available for hire on the Island. There is a bus service on the Island also. This is the only inhabited island off the north coast of Ireland. It is an unusually shaped isle – eight miles long and less than a mile wide. The resident population of the Island averages approximately 140 and growing. We had already decided that we were going to walk – at a leisurely pace – for our sightseeing visit.


Our first stop was the beach – the blend of white and grey stones is very eye catching. Ireland is normally referred to as having ‘forty shades of green’ but this was more like ‘forty shades of white’. This is apparently due to a mixture of limestone and basalt.


Our son amused himself intermittently by using the Pokémon Go app on his phone. He was amazed at how many PokeStops there are on this tiny island.


Our youngest daughter is very interested in photography. There was much that caught her eye and inspired her to capture it on camera, as we walked around the island.


After our picnic lunch at Mill Bay we headed on the Rathlin Trail round past the lakes to the Rue lighthouse. It warmed my heart to see our children enjoying each other’s company, away from the stresses and strains of everyday life.


We stopped periodically to appreciate the amazing views.


Eventually all the walking became too much for the youngest member of our family and she staged a sit down protest. She had to have a little rest before she was able for more trekking.


For me the highlight of our trip was when we arrived at Ushet Port and saw dozens of seals basking on the rocks. They seemed to really enjoy having an audience. We were careful not to go too close though, so as not to disturb them.


It was only a short walk from there to the Rue Lighthouse, one of three lighthouses on the Island. This instantly brought to mind the lyrics of one of Leah’s favourite songs, My Lighthouse by Rend Collective:

In my wrestling and in my doubts

In my failures You won’t walk out

Your great love will lead me through

You are the peace in my troubled sea,

oh oh
 You are the peace in my troubled sea

In the silence, You won’t let go

In the questions, Your truth will hold

Your great love will lead me through

You are the peace in my troubled sea,

oh oh
You are the peace in my troubled sea

My Lighthouse, my lighthouse

Shining in the darkness, I will follow You

My Lighthouse, my lighthouse (oh oh)

I will trust the promise,
You will carry me safe to shore

Safe to shore (Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh)

Safe to shore (Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh)
Safe to shore


We strolled back at a leisurely pace, stopping regularly to enjoy the beautiful scenery. We also called into the Boathouse Visitor Information Centre, where we received a very warm welcome.


One of the many things that I reflected upon as we walked along were the Katie Morag Stories by Mairi Hedderwick, which I spent many hours reading to the children when they were young. Rathlin Island is quite like how I imagined the fictional island of Struay to be from reading these beautiful books to the children.


The ferry that took us back to Ballycastle was a slower and more basic version of the boat that we had travelled across in earlier. This ride was definitely bumpier and we were very glad of our hooded jackets as they provided us with some protection from the salty waves that periodically crashed over the side!


Getting a full nights sleep on a regular basis has proved challenging since Leah died, but that night after our family day trip to Rathlin Island I got eight hours of restful unbroken sleep and I awoke the next morning feeling very refreshed.