A Little Whisper of God to my Soul

A Little Whisper of God to my Soul

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I’ve been very tearful these past few days. I think that this has been triggered by my birthday – family events are invariably a time when the ’empty chair’ is at its most conspicuous. Thankfully I now have a few days off work where I can just relax, read, eat and sleep – and catch up on some housework. I haven’t been sleeping well recently, so catching up on sleep is definitely high on my list.

A few months ago a website called HOPE SHACK (Finding Hope in the midst of Life’s Struggles) contacted me to say that they would like to feature excerpts from my blog on their website. I willingly agreed to this. I visited their website today and saw that they had featured excerpts from my blog on the 26th May – the very day of my birthday – that’s a lovely encouragement for me. It’s like a little whisper from God to my soul that says “I have not forgotten you.

N Guthrie Quote

I especially love the fact that the song they chose to feature alongside these excerpts is “How He loves us“. This is one of the many songs that Leah and I used to enjoy listening to together. However Leah and I couldn’t agree on whether we liked it best sung by a female voice or by a male voice, so I remember us sitting in the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit in Bristol, first listening to a version by Kim Walker-Smith and then one by David Crowder and debating (in a good-natured way) over which one sounded better! I favoured the David Crowder version:

“How He Loves”
(originally by John Mark McMillan)

He is jealous for me,
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden,
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realize just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.

And oh, how He loves us, oh,
Oh, how He loves us,
How He loves us all

He is jealous for me,
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden,
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realise just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.

And oh, how He loves us, oh,
Oh, how He loves us,
How He loves us all

Yeah, He loves us,
Oh, how He loves us,
Oh, how He loves us,
Oh, how He loves.

And we are His portion and He is our prize,
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes,
If his grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.
And Heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss,
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest,
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets,
When I think about the way…

That He loves us,
Oh, how He loves us,
Oh, how He loves us,
Oh, how He loves.
Yeah, He loves us,
Oh, how He loves us,
Oh, how He loves us,
Oh, how He loves.

Yeah, He loves us,
Oh, how He loves us…
Oh, how He loves us…
Oh, how He loves us.

My One Word 2016

My One Word 2016

Genesis 41:1When two full years had passed….”

Joseph had been betrayed by his own family, wrongly accused by his employers, then let down by his fellow prisoners…….and two full years had now passed, during which time Joseph continued to be wrongfully imprisoned. Yet, the surrounding verses in the book of Genesis make it clear that Joseph continued to live an honest, upright life and never wavered in his trust in God.

The story of Joseph has always inspired me, (I wrote previously about Joseph here), but today the verse ‘two full years’ caught my attention. I have never before noticed that there was a two year gap between when Joseph’s ‘friend’ the chief cupbearer, was released from prison and the time when he remembered Joseph’s kindness to him and spoke up on his behalf so that Joseph also was released from prison.

I knew that there was a time lapse, I just didn’t realise that it was as long as two years. It must have felt like a very long time to Joseph, stuck in prison with no letters from home (they thought that he was dead), no emails, no texts, nothing. How hard it must have been for Joseph to keep his faith and trust in God and to continue to believe in God’s plan for his life, but apparently he did.

This week marks two years since we said goodbye to our beloved Leah. There has hardly been a day over this past two years that I haven’t cried and mourned as I yearn for Leah’s presence in our lives. I have struggled at times to believe in God’s plan for my life. The emotional pain has frequently felt overwhelming.

Around this time last year I wrote about the My One Word challenge and said that I had chosen the word HOPE:

I think that HOPE has been a fitting word for 2015. I think that I as a person and that we as a family have made progress in the areas that I had hoped for. Over this past Christmas and New Year, we have had some lovely times together with the people that we love, always being mindful of Leah’s absence and the legacy of her beautiful life.

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We ‘celebrated’ Leah’s 18th birthday on New Year’s Eve, by lighting eighteen pink heart shaped candles and getting together with friends and family. We planned to light the candles at her grave, but a very strong wind ensured that didn’t happen, so we lit them at our house instead.

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For Leah’s anniversary this coming weekend we are hosting Sunday lunch for our large extended family at our house – approximately 45 people. The last time that we hosted a get together for our extended family was for Leah’s baptism. Leah absolutely loved these large family get togethers, so this feels like the right way in which to remember her.

My one word for 2016?

CHOOSE

Choose this day whom you will serve……but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.” Victor E. Frankl (1905-1997,  Holocaust survivor)

Leah taught me an acronym for HOPE:

Hold
On
Pain
Ends

So I thought I would make an acronym for CHOOSE:

Certain
Hope
One-Hundred-Per-Cent
Okay
Support
Encouraged

I’m CERTAIN that whatever 2016 holds, that God will be with me, giving me grace and strength. Matthew 28:20

We do not grieve as those who have no HOPE. 1 Thessalonians 4:13

When I’m fully committed to something, I try to give it my ONE-HUNDRED-PER-CENT. Colossians 3:23

It’s OKAY to have bad days and to feel like giving up sometimes. Matthew 11:28

Without the SUPPORT of family and friends, I would never have made it this far. Philippians 1:3

Despite all the sadness and the heartbreak, I feel ENCOURAGED that God isn’t finished with me yet! Proverbs 3:5-6

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Sisters

Sisters

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Today is our eldest daughter’s 21st birthday. Our much loved, longed for, prayed for, beautiful, eldest child.

For weeks now I’ve been thinking about and planning for, the family get togethers we will be having to celebrate this milestone – when her University exams are finally out of the way.

I fished out Rachel’s baby book this morning, to get some photos of her as a baby, to make up a “Happy Birthday collage” – as one does.

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I opened the first page, expecting just to see photos of Rachel, but amidst the first photos of Rachel as a baby, I was also bombarded with photos of two smiling little girls with captions like “sisters”.

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Rachel was three and a half years old when Leah was born. She loved her new sister from day one and never showed any signs of jealousy or resentment.

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Seeing these photos this morning, caught me completely off guard, and triggered such a huge wave of grief, that my breakfast threatened to make a reappearance.

Every family event is bitter sweet.

From Leah's Facebook page. The caption reads "I love having my sister home for the weekend."
From Leah’s Facebook page.
The caption reads “I love having my sister home for the weekend.”

I wondered what I had been thinking of, when I had made plans to work today, but Wednesday is my busy clinic day and I almost never take it off. I also don’t like having too much time to think. I just wasn’t sure how I was going to regain my composure.

Thankfully, I rarely – if ever – look as if I’ve been crying, so once I reached the Health Centre car park, I blew my nose and was very glad, as I have been on many other occassions, of that “busy clinic morning”.

I’ve talked before about the song “Somewhere Only We Know” here and here.

I walked across an empty land
I knew the pathway like the back of my hand
I felt the earth beneath my feet
Sat by the river and it made me complete

Oh simple thing where have you gone?
I’m getting old and I need something to rely on
So tell me when you’re gonna let me in
I’m getting tired and I need somewhere to begin

I came across a fallen tree
I felt the branches of it looking at me
Is this the place we used to love?
Is this the place that I’ve been dreaming of?

Oh simple thing where have you gone?
I’m getting old and I need something to rely on
So tell me when you’re gonna let me in
I’m getting tired and I need somewhere to begin

And if you have a minute why don’t we go
Talk about it somewhere only we know?
This could be the end of everything
So why don’t we go
Somewhere only we know?

Somewhere only we know?

Grief triggers” are in many ways a case of “somewhere only we know“.

What triggers my grief won’t necessarily trigger your grief and vice versa.

I hadn’t anticipated this wave of grief. So, not only do we not know what will trigger somebody else’s grief, we often don’t even know what will trigger our own grief.

Such a steep learning curve.

The 16th Birthday

The 16th Birthday

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Today I’m out with Simon and his friends, celebrating the fact that he will be 16 tomorrow.

Sixteen – the birthday that Leah never got to celebrate because she was so ill.

She had no candles, no cake, we didn’t even sing happy birthday, she was just too sick.

We told her that we’d wait and have a big celebration when she got home.

I think that the angels in heaven must have had a party with her instead, because when we finally brought Leah home, it was to “wake” her body.

All of Leah’s unopened birthday presents were hastily stashed in a cupboard, along with her recently unwrapped Christmas presents.

Ever since Simon was in the final stages of Primary School, how he chooses to celebrate his birthday hasn’t changed.

I load up our big blue Citroen Synergie with him and his friends. We head first to the cinema, then to McDonalds.

I enjoy having a car full of young people – it reminds me of how life used to be.

Actually, when Simon was even younger, I used this same 7 seater car to collect his friends and take them to a soft play area for his birthday.

What I find really hard to believe, is that when I first started doing this, the British Army was still in Northern Ireland.

That feels like another life now, but I clearly remember going to the army living quarters in Ballykelly, to collect two of Simon’s young friends.

One was part of a Hong Kong regiment and the other was part of a regiment from Fiji. They were such beautifully mannered young boys.

I would never want to go back to the days of regular bomb scares, tight security and having our streets patrolled by soldiers, but I liked the ethnic diversity that these families brought to the school.

Isn’t it amazing all of the changes that we experience in our lifetime?

Some changes we embrace and welcome, other changes are ones that we find painful and sad, but life never remains static.

I’m glad that we have a God who is always there for us and who never changes:

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God is Bigger than the Boogie Man

God is Bigger than the Boogie Man

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These were taken CHRISTMAS 2011. Sadly I don't seem to have taken ANY photos CHRISTMAS 2012 - between me having the flu and the cat killing the hamster, it was all a bit stressful.
These were taken CHRISTMAS 2011. Sadly I don’t seem to have ANY photos taken CHRISTMAS 2012 – between me having the flu and the cat killing the hamster, it was all a bit stressful.

One of the many differences since Leah died is the quietness.

The house feels quiet, the car feels quiet and we are quiet, often lost in our thoughts and in our memories.

In September 2012, Rachel, the eldest of our four children, left home to go to university.

Then in November 2012 I started a new job.

December 2012 Leah had her first blood test.

In July 2013 Leah and I went to Bristol Children’s Hospital and we were away from home for 16 weeks.

December 2013 Leah was admitted to ICU and in January 2014 she died.

It feels as if just yesterday we had a noisy house and car full of children, but today there is just quietness.

Leah was the only one of our four children who ALWAYS played her music too loud and this used to drive me crazy.

In the car she used headphones, but even then she had her music turned up so loud that it still irritated me. I lectured her endlessly about the potential damage to her hearing.

Sometimes I would play my music through the car stereo to drown out what leaked from her earphones. Then she would turn hers up even louder, as she said that my music was drowning hers – parents of teenagers, you know how it is!

Now it all just seems too quiet.

Was it really so long ago that I was driving our 7 seater car with our kids and their cousins jumping about and belting out the Veggietales song “God is bigger than the Boogie Man”?

Sometimes it feels like only yesterday.

Leah’s birthday in ICU

Leah’s birthday in ICU

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This was Leah with her Dad on her 16th birthday on the 31st December 2013.

There was no party, no cake, we didn’t even sing “Happy Birthday”.

Leah was exhausted from the effort of trying to breathe. She struggled to even keep her eyes open.

I kissed her and told her how precious she was and how much we all loved her. I said that we’d have a big party when she got home.

This is what I wrote on our Facebook blog @ 8am that morning:

“Leah’s oxygen levels & breathing remained stable over night. They are alternating 1hr of the face mask CPAP with 3hrs using the nasal prongs. Leah prefers the nasal prongs. We both got a few hours sleep. Thanks for all your prayers & supportive messages. Visiting is of course restricted in ICU & many of you live far away but modern technology brings your loving support directly into Leah’s room.”

Lots of people sent birthday wishes by text, facebook, card or email. All of these were read out to Leah.

On Thursday 2nd January ’14 Leah went on a ventilator. By Friday this had helped her body so much that she was awake and keen to communicate.

Photography was strictly forbidden in ICU but like many young (and not so young) people, Leah loved taking selfies.

On the morning of the 3rd January, when Leah was using her iPad, she pulled my head down beside hers and ‘click’ – there it was, we’d broken one of the rules of ICU.

It was usually quite difficult for Leah to type, as the medication that she was on blurred her vision.

Not on this occasion – Leah uploaded the photo to Facebook and typed out:
Didn’t exactly plan my sweet 16 birthday or the New Year to be like this but thanks to everyone whose been praying. I love you mummy ❤ 🙂

Such precious beautiful words.

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A Longing Fulfilled

A Longing Fulfilled

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick,

but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”

Proverbs 13:12 NIV

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Leah

Seventeen years ago on the 31st December 1997 at approximately 8.30am Leah Alanna Whyte was born in Altnagelvin Hospital, weighing 9lbs 3oz. Her sister Rachel, was three and a half years old.

We hadn’t chosen for the gap to be this big. Leah was conceived while we were having investigations for secondary infertility.

Leah was what the Bible calls “a longing fulfilled“.

If she had been a boy she would have been named Samuel, after the Old Testament story of Hannah, who had longed and prayed for a baby.

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Leah

I have always adored babies. As a child growing up I imagined that I would be married by the age of twenty five and then I would have six children. When they had grown up, I imagined that I would become a foster parent, to ensure that my house was always filled with children.

Hmmmm………..somewhere along the way, reality set in.

For starters, by the time I was twenty five, I was conspicuously single. I had just come out of a three and a half year relationship with the man I had thought I was going to marry. My dreams lay in tatters on the floor.

It is good to have plans.

It is good to dream dreams.

However the Bible says

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart,
but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19:21 NIV

Many years on, I hope that I’m learning to be more like Mary, the Mother of Jesus, when she said:

“Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” Luke 1:38 NKJV

Having one child did not lessen my desire for another baby. If anything it intensified it – now I really knew how wonderful it was to be a parent.

I was so excited about being the mother of two children. When we used to pack the car for our regular trips to stay with my mother in Co. Meath, she used to tell me on the phone “I can’t wait to see your girls.

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Rachel and Leah, June 1998

I used to savour that word “girls” – how I loved the fact that it was plural. I used to gaze in wonder at the two child seats in the back of our car and I felt as if my heart was going to burst with joy.

Six months later I was happily pregnant with baby number three – Simon.

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A few years later along came a very pleasant surprise – Miriam.

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Miriam

When Chris De Burgh’s daughter Rosanna was born he wrote this beautiful song about her.

It sums up how I felt this day seventeen years ago and indeed how I feel about each one of my “babies”.

“For Rosanna”

This is for Rosanna, sweet girl of mine,
A song for the baby who changed my life,
I’ll never forget when I saw you first,
I thought that my heart would burst,
With the love that I have;

As I watch you sleeping in here tonight,
And I hear your breathing so soft and light,
I cannot believe all the things that I feel,
When I hold you next to me,
It’s the love that I have;

Oh how my heart it is shining,
Oh how my heart it is shining,
Oh how this heart is shining through,
With the love that I have;

And as you are growing from baby to child,
I share the wonders that are in your eyes,
And I am amazed at the way you change,
All according to the plan,
And the love that I have;

And when you are older you will go away,
You’ll see injustice and you’ll see pain,
But never forget that I’m always there,
Like a shadow by your side,
With the love that I have;

Oh my love, you have your mother’s eyes,
And when I see you laugh, you have your mother’s smile,
And you are mine all of my life,
You are mine, all of my love,
You are mine, blood of my blood,
You are mine;

Oh how my heart it is shining,
Oh how my heart it is shining,
Oh how my heart it is shining through,
With the love that I have.

Shopping has become so emotional

Shopping has become so emotional

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This coming Sunday Horace, Rachel, Miriam and I are going to the N.I. Children’s Hospice for a pre-Christmas bereavement support day. It will be our first time to step inside the Children’s Hospice since Leah died there. The memorial service that we attended earlier this year did not actually take place in the Children’s Hospice, it was in a venue nearby.

The care provided by the Children’s Hospice does not stop once a child or young person dies. Their wonderful outreach nurse has visited us on a regular basis this past year and I’ve had several tearful telephone conversations with their lovely Social Worker.

She phoned me today and when she realised that I was in Tesco’s she was going to phone back. However I asked her to keep talking, as I was already in tears and I had been struggling to make it to the checkout with my groceries. By the time we had finished talking I was more composed and able to go and pay for my groceries.

I find shopping one of the single most difficult tasks since Leah died. Leah adored shopping and loved accompanying me on shopping trips. She regularly helped me choose my clothes. When Leah became ill and couldn’t come clothes shopping with me I took photos of the items that I was thinking of buying and she told me which items she thought were the nicest.

Grocery shopping is the worst – I usually end up in tears at some point and some weeks I don’t even manage to get groceries at all. It’s so hard to remember NOT to buy Leah’s favourite foods.

I love a bargain and the promotional displays still catch me off guard. I will reach for an item on special offer and put it in my trolley, only to realise with a jolt that the reason I am buying it is because Leah loved it. Then I rack my brain trying to remember if somebody else in the house likes the same item. Then slowly and sadly I replace it on the shelf and try to continue shopping, but it’s hard to read your shopping list when your vision is blurred with tears.

This time of year of course is harder still, with one less child to buy Christmas presents for. Leah’s birthday is on New Year’s Eve too so I have to keep reminding myself NOT to shop for her birthday either.

I used to say that Leah had a bit of “middle child syndrome” and that she needed to get twice as much as the others just to believe that she was getting the same amount. So if they had two birthday parties then she somehow got three parties. If they had two birthday cakes then she somehow or other got three – not all on the same day, of course.

We always have a big family get together on New Year’s Day, so every year we took a birthday cake to that and when Leah was younger she thought it was a big birthday party just for her. Leah felt a bit “deprived” having her birthday so close to Christmas so she used to get some extra wee treats to make it up to her.

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Maybe you think that doing all my shopping online would be easier – for some people that would be a solution. Not for me, because with God’s strength I want to face the pain and work my way through it, not run from it.

No matter how hard it is to keep going, I believe that God is with me and that He will bring me through.

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The Birthday Cake

The Birthday Cake

Miriam, my youngest, will be 11 tomorrow.

She pleaded with me all week to bake her a rectangular sponge cake, cover it in chocolate butter icing and cut it into 25 pieces for her to share with her friends in school today.

I tried to negotiate various alternatives to this but she wouldn’t budge.

In recent years Leah did most of the baking in this house.

This very week last year, she and I were busy at Sam’s House in Bristol baking farewell gifts for the staff in Oncology Day Beds. For Leah’s Fifteens recipe click here.

On Friday 25th October ’13 we went to the hospital laden with home made sweetie goodies, for Leah’s last ever visit to Bristol Children’s Hospital.

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Once Leah died, the baking cupboard became like a no-go area for me – it was just too painful.

It is so, so difficult for the remaining children when their sibling dies.

They have to deal with their own grief and loss, as well as the effect that this is having on their parents and on the entire family unit.

Nothing is normal any more.

Miriam’s teacher told me the sweetest thing recently.

The pupils were asked to do a written piece about their ‘hero‘.

All the other pupils wrote about famous people like pop stars and film stars.

Miriam wrote about Leah and said that she is her hero, for the amazing way in which she had dealt with her illness.

Thinking about this makes me cry, but it also blesses my heart so much to know that Miriam is proud of Leah.

I feel so proud of both of them.

Miriam has always been absolutely adored by her two older sisters.

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Leah playing horsey with Miriam.
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Rachel and Miriam in 2013

Although it took me most of yesterday, in fits and starts, I’m really pleased to say that a very happy young girl is away to school today with homemade birthday cake for all her friends.

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Tonight Miriam will have two friends over for her birthday sleepover.

This evening I’m taking them to a “pool disco” for their age group at our local Leisure Centre.

Miriam’s Auntie A. made her a gorgeous birthday cake for us to have here at the house.

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Leah’s Birthday Barbecue

Leah’s Birthday Barbecue

Our Leah has a really good friend called Leah R and this year for her 14th birthday she decided to have a big barbecue and invite lots of people.
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She wanted the barbecue to be a celebration of our Leah’s life and she asked everyone to make a donation instead of bringing a birthday present. The money donated will be divided between three charities: Clic Sargent The Anthony Nolan Trust and the N.I. Children’s Hospice. She printed this account and handed it around at the barbecue:

 
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Thankfully we were blessed with good weather. People young and not so young started arriving at her family home shortly after 4pm and most were left by 11pm. There was a steady trickle of people coming and going all evening and food, both savoury and sweet, was in abundance. There were many helpers, including the lovely Ferguson sisters and smiley Ben from New Zealand. There was a bouncy castle and sumo wrestler suits.

 
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The young people played football and there was face-painting. Later in the evening the young ones toasted marshmallows and sang worship songs around the fire.

 
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Some of us older ones got a bit chilly so we went inside and enjoyed good conversation and caught up with old friends as well as making new ones. Cups of tea and coffee were being continuously handed out while homemade cakes were passed around too.

Leah R’s parents, Owen and Lesley, constantly circulated, welcoming guests as they arrived, ensuring everyone got enough to eat and drink and that no one was left out. Approximately 120 people attended and over a thousand pounds was raised, to be divided between the three charities.

There were thank yous for everybody as they left –

 
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When my husband and I were leaving we were given these beautiful flowers.

 
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One of my Bible readings for today was
Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. . . . And they cried out in fear.”
Matthew 14:25-26 nkjv

It then goes on to say how the disciples were in the midst of a storm and because Jesus came to them in a way they weren’t expecting they almost didn’t recognise Him.

Grief is a storm too and sometimes the waves threaten to overwhelm me and I wonder if it really is possible to go on. I risk making the same mistake as those disciples, by not noticing how in the midst of my grief God has sent so many beautiful people to show His love to us as a family.

God’s lights in my dark night are so numerous and each one is exceedingly precious – how would we ever have survived this far without the loving support of the people He has placed in our lives?