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.


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)

Pip n Jay Church

Pip n Jay Church

Before Leah & I left N.I. to go to Bristol, a friend contacted me to say that her son was at university in Bristol and he could put us in contact with a good church there. I was delighted to hear this as it was really important to Leah and I to have spiritual support locally during our time in Bristol.

I gave my friend’s son an outline of the kind of church where I would feel comfortable and he put me in contact with K from Pip n Jay Church. K was ideal as she worked part time with the church and part time in Bristol Children’s Hospital.

At our first outpatient appointment in Bristol, K strolled into the consultants room – while we were with Dr C – to make our acquaintance. I thought how different this was from N.I. where everything seems so formal and NO-BODY would ever wander uninvited into a consultants office – I thought it was lovely actually.

During Leah’s five weeks in the bone marrow transplant unit K couldn’t visit her, as visiting was very restricted. However the days that K was working in the hospital she arranged to drop off sandwiches for me and anything else that either of us needed. Once Leah and I moved to the Adolescent Ward K used to come visit us, which we really appreciated. On one of the occasions when Leah’s boyfriend Nic was arriving, K offered to drive us to the airport to collect him.


Leah travelled in the car with us. Although she wasn’t allowed out of the car at the airport, it was an enormous treat for Leah just to have a car journey and to actually see around her. Other than when arriving in Bristol and leaving, that was the only time in 14 weeks that Leah got to see around Bristol – she loved seeing the suspension bridge and she longed to visit the zoo, as she had seen it signposted.

The day we travelled to the airport K was just back from ‘Momentum’ in Somerset, where Rend Collective – Leah’s favourite group – were the resident band. K told us that Rend had launched a new song and she played it for us on her iPhone – it was called “My Lighthouse”. Leah and I instantly loved the song and listened to it a lot after that. It was subsequently played at Leah’s funeral.

On the Sunday mornings that Leah was well enough for me to leave her, I went to church at Pip n Jay. Either K or another church member always came and collected me. The church building is very old and traditional, but the church services are quite modern with a lively style of worship – reminded me of when Leah and I used to visit Coleraine Vineyard Church at home during the summer. I was made so very welcome at Pip n Jay, members of the congregation always assured me of how much they were praying for Leah and I. I felt so at home there and I always felt blessed and encouraged when I went.


When I got back from church Leah often asked me what songs we sang and what I had learned from the sermon. Sunday 11th AUGUST 2013 Greg preached on the topic “Praying when God is silent.‘ He quoted from C.S. Lewis “The Problem of Pain”

“Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be—or so it feels—welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away.”

That’s where I was that morning, but I couldn’t voice that, however God knew exactly what I needed to hear that Sunday morning and every Sunday that I made it to Pip n Jay. Greg went on to share helpfully from the Scriptures about how God’s silence purifies us in so many ways and produces humility and perseverance. He encouraged us to read Psalm 22 which predicts Jesus’ suffering and death. Greg said that ultimately God’s silence points us to the cross where Jesus was temporarily separated from his Heavenly Father while taking the punishment for our sins.

Mark 15:34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?)” NIV

I probably haven’t explained Greg’s sermon very well but all I know is that God met with me through it and in a sense said to me “It’s ok Vicky, I know where you’re at and I’m with you in all of this.

Leah kept saying that she wanted to come to church with me before we left Bristol. I told her that this wouldn’t be possible as she was severely immuno compromised and couldn’t mix with people. However Leah was insistent that she wanted to go to PipnJay just once. So I discussed this with K and we figured out how to facilitate Leah while minimising her exposure to risk.

On our last Sunday before leaving Bristol, Leah & I went to the Sunday morning service, equipped with alcohol gel to clean her hands every time she touched something. No hugging or handshakes allowed. Leah and I sat separately from the rest of the congregation. It’s a big old church building and there’s parts that aren’t used. Leah was so delighted to visit this congregation that had been loving us and supporting us for the duration of our stay, especially as she knew that once she got back home, attending church would be out of the question for months.


I took this photo that morning at PipnJay. Leah was on mega doses of steroids at the time so she has puffy “hamster cheeks”! She had been extremely unwell in the weeks preceding this. I don’t usually publish photos taken October 2013 as Leah always said that was the worst month of the entire 12 months of her illness. I actually find it difficult to even look at photos of Leah taken in October 2013, knowing what she endured that month.
The Sunday that Leah was with me was the 20th October 2013. Tim was preaching from Matthew chapter 5 and he also quoted from C.S. Lewis from the book ‘Mere Christianity’

“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”

Early on in Leah’s illness, when I saw how amazingly well she coped with everything, I said to my father-in-law “You know Billy, I don’t think Leah was made for this world.” Needless to mention, he started crying when I said this! In reality, I think that God was working in Leah’s life to prepare her for all that lay ahead.

I remember that morning at church in October we sang “In Christ Alone” by Stuart Townend. Within three months it was sung at Leah’s funeral. The words are powerful.

No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand:
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.”