Casting Crowns – Thrive

Casting Crowns – Thrive

This morning I was listening to LifeFm Radio (shining the Light over Cork) via their App, when I heard a really catchy song by Casting Crowns – one that I hadn’t heard before.

I immediately thought of how Leah would have loved this song and of how this song would be blasting out from her bedroom if she was still with us – she liked her music LOUD.

Casting Crowns was one of the bands that Leah regularly listened to via Spotify. When Leah was dying in ICU for two and a half weeks, her Spotify playlist played all day long. The words of these songs comforted our hearts.

Spotify

On the 16th January 2014, it was Leah’s own choice of music that ushered her soul into her Heavenly Father’s presence.

Hearing that song this morning caused me to stop and wonder “What kind of music is Leah listening to now? What kind of songs is she singing?

I don’t know the answer to this question. However, in the Bible, in Revelation 5:9 there is reference to a ‘new song’ being sung in heaven, so maybe the music there is far more wonderful than anything that we’ve ever heard on earth.

There is great comfort in what the Bible tells us about heaven in Revelation 21:3-4

Revelation 213-4

So what was the lively, catchy song that I heard on LifeFm Radio this morning?

It’s a song called THRIVE and it was inspired by Psalm 1:

Here in this worn and weary land
Where many a dream has died

Like a tree planted by the water
We never will run dry

So living water flowing through
God we thirst for more of You
Fill our hearts and flood our souls
With one desire

Just to know You and
To make You known
We lift Your name on High
Shine like the sun make darkness run and hide
We know we were made for so much more
Than ordinary lives
It’s time for us to more than just survive
We were made to thrive

Into Your word we’re digging deep
To know our Father’s heart

Into the world we’re reaching out
To show them who You are

So living water flowing through
God we thirst for more of You
Fill our hearts and flood our souls
With one desire

Just to know You and
To make You known
We lift Your name on High
Shine like the sun make darkness run and hide
We know we were made for so much more
Than ordinary lives
It’s time for us to more than just survive
We were made to thrive

Joy Unspeakable, Faith Unsinkable, Love Unstoppable, Anything is possible
Joy Unspeakable, Faith Unsinkable, Love Unstoppable, Anything is possible
Joy Unspeakable, Faith Unsinkable, Love Unstoppable, Anything is possible
Joy Unspeakable, Faith Unsinkable, Love Unstoppable, Anything is possible

Just to know You and
To make You known
We lift Your name on High
Shine like the sun make darkness run and hide
We know we were made for so much more
Than ordinary lives
It’s time for us to more than just survive
We were made to thrive

Hey!

We were made to Thrive

The Butterfly

The Butterfly

Some weeks I feel strong, brave, as If I am healing and It really is possible to live again after burying one’s child.

Other weeks, the scab on the wound of my grief gets knocked off and there I am, once again bleeding and grief-stricken.

So what happened this week to knock the scab off?

It wasn’t the dreaded school uniform shopping – having the help of my eldest daughter took the sting out of that task.

No, it was the AS Level exam results on Thursday that has left the wound of my grief once again raw and bleeding.

As my friends and work colleagues celebrated the success of their sons and daughters’ exam results, our family were once again reminded of our loss.

Usually, if I have a good cry before leaving for work in the morning, or even while driving to work, I can hold it together all day, but not on Thursday. I alternated between congratulating friends on their sons and daughters exam results and seeking refuge in the toilets at work, when it all became just too much.

I find that it takes time for the wound to scab over again. I remain fragile and tearful, unnerved by how quickly I can unravel.

Leah December 2013

Then today I discovered this photo of Leah taken in our Living Room in December 2013, just a few short weeks before she died. She was absolutely fascinated with this small tortoiseshell butterfly that was somehow surviving the winter. These butterflies normally hibernate from late September until the following Spring.

This butterfly was a lot like Leah in her illness – beautiful, gentle, but oh so fragile and struggling to survive. The butterfly lived for a couple more weeks, but sadly, like Leah, it eventually died.

It reminds me of the song lyrics that Leah quoted on her Facebook page in December 2012, a few weeks before that fateful blood test that changed all of our lives forever.

Who Am I

One Year On

One Year On

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I haven’t blogged in 10 days – probably the longest time I’ve gone without blogging in a year.

I think it’s because I don’t know how I’m feeling, now that the first anniversary of Leah’s death has been and gone.

Now that it has been one full year since I have hugged and kissed my second born, much loved child, am I actually supposed to feel a little less sad?

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Taken before the Rend Collective Concert June 2013

One year on, is my heart supposed to feel a little less broken?

Or am I supposed to have developed coping skills that enable me to bear the pain of loss without, for example, bursting into tears at the sight of Leah’s favourite foods on promotion in the supermarket?

Despite the fact that Leah has been gone for a year now, sometimes I open the drawer laden with post transplant medication in her bedroom, gaze at the contents and wonder: “Did all of this really happen?”

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Yet, at other times I feel strong. A friend whose husband had taken his own life when their children were small, used to tell me “When the worst thing that can ever happen to you has already happened, there’s nothing left to fear.”

Now I understand what she meant.

Although I’m often sad, I have a lot less fear than I once had.

If God can give me the strength to get through this, well then what is there left to fear?

This is the "Kneeling Plate" on Leah's grave with one of her favourite Bible verses.
This is the “Kneeling Plate” on Leah’s grave with one of her favourite Bible verses.

We have also been so blessed with the support of family and friends along the way.

On Friday 16th January, the actual anniversary of Leah’s death, despite ice, snow and ungritted roads, we had 24 young people (mainly Leah’s school friends) at our house, to remember Leah with us.

We laughed, cried, chatted, sang some of Leah’s favourite worship songs, watched her “I Am Second” video, looked through her memory books, ate yummy food and played party games.

This was the third Friday in January, on previous years some of these girls used to come to our house on the third Friday in January for Leah’s birthday sleepover.

As the chatter of these young people filled our house, I thought about how fitting it was to remember our spiritual, fun loving, outgoing daughter in this way.

Then on Saturday 17th, my sister, her husband and three of her four adult children came to stay. It felt good to be surrounded by the love of family.

On Sunday 18th, we got together with my husband’s entire extended family for church, and lunch afterwards in my sister-in-law/brother-in-law’s house. Leah always loved these big family get togethers and so do I.

On Monday and Tuesday of this past week, my husband and I attended a Bereavement Programme, provided by Action Cancer.

We are certainly well supported by our friends, family, church and community.

For that we are really thankful, it all helps.

We still have to live without our daughter though, we still have to face the pain.

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This song by Casting Crowns is a song that Leah and I used to listen to.

I’ve listened to it a lot since Leah died.

I find the words very comforting.

“Praise You In This Storm”

I was sure by now
God You would have reached down
And wiped our tears away
Stepped in and saved the day
But once again, I say “Amen”, and it’s still raining

As the thunder rolls
I barely hear Your whisper through the rain
“I’m with you”
And as Your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise the God who gives
And takes away

[Chorus:]
And I’ll praise You in this storm
And I will lift my hands
For You are who You are
No matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in Your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm

I remember when
I stumbled in the wind
You heard my cry to you
And you raised me up again
My strength is almost gone
How can I carry on
If I can’t find You

But as the thunder rolls
I barely hear You whisper through the rain
“I’m with you”
And as Your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise the God who gives
And takes away

[Chorus]

I lift my eyes unto the hills
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord
The Maker of Heaven and Earth

Shopping in Belfast

Shopping in Belfast

Before Leah became ill I had never driven the 140 mile round trip to Belfast. Leah’s illness obliged me to acquire that skill, but I only know one route – the one from our house to either Belfast City Hospital or the Royal.

I wanted to spend a day in Belfast with our eldest daughter before Christmas. Conveniently for me, she lives quite near Belfast City Hospital.

Yesterday was Friday, the day that Leah and I always spent at the City Hospital from we returned from Bristol until she died. I left the house at the time that Leah and I always left and drove the same roads, only this time I was alone.

Unusually for me, I kept the music off in the car for the entire 70 mile journey – I needed to be alone with my thoughts and memories.

I drove on to the motorway and remembered how on Friday 27th December 2013 Leah suddenly became violently ill at that stage. Once the vomiting had stopped Leah insisted that she wasn’t sick, that she had merely drank some water too fast. She desperately wanted to be able to attend a large family get together in Donegal that evening.

On the outskirts of Belfast I passed the sign for Belfast Zoo and remembered how Leah longed to visit either Bristol Zoo or Belfast Zoo during her illness. Finally on Friday 13th December our Belfast haematologist told Leah that her immunity was now strong enough for a zoo visit. However, by this time Leah had developed a spontaneous spinal fracture and she would have needed to go in a wheelchair. She was in a lot of pain and could only walk short distances. Leah became ill and died before there was time to organise this.

As I drove into the many lanes of Belfast traffic I remembered how Leah used to look at the map that my husband had drawn and how her gentle calming voice ensured that I was always in the right lane.

Yesterday I prayed and asked God to help me.

I passed the turn off to the City Hospital at the same time as Leah and I would have taken that turnoff this time last year.

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You might wonder why I do these things, why I expose myself to this pain instead of running away from it? It’s just my way of processing it all, because sometimes I still can’t even believe that all of this has happened. Sometimes I feel as if a part of me is still in shock. The trauma feels too great for my mind to comprehend.

In December 2012, three weeks before her first blood test – the one that changed everything – Leah posted these amazing song words on her Facebook page:

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Rachel and I spent a lovely day together in Belfast. The last time I shopped in Belfast at Christmas time was in the 1980’s. Rachel got various bits and pieces. I spent all of £1.99 on a pretty candle holder – I love scented candles.

We had our lunch in Cosmos – I hadn’t been there before but Rachel described it to me as being similar to ZaZa Bazaar, a restaurant in Bristol that I particularly liked. I really enjoyed the main course in Cosmos, but for desserts the rice pudding and whipped ice cream in ZaZa Bazaar wins hands down.

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Rachel came back to Derry with me and she drove thankfully – I was feeling quite exhausted at this stage. Once home we did a bit more shopping from the comfort of the couch in front of a nice warm fire.

Leah and her iPad

Leah and her iPad

One of the activities that Leah loved being involved with was L.O.S.T. – Limavady Outreach and Service Team. After we had received Leah’s diagnosis on Friday 19th April ’13, the first people to overcome their shock and visit us to support us and pray with us, were three of the L.O.S.T. leaders who came on Sunday afternoon 21st April ’13.

This was my husband’s birthday and our wedding anniversary, but we weren’t celebrating – we were too shocked and overwhelmed by the news that had been delivered to us over the phone at 4.30pm on the Friday.

We deeply appreciated the courage and Christian love shown by these youth leaders, in coming to minister to my husband and I whom they barely knew – their visit made a difference.

A few weeks later all the leaders involved with L.O.S.T. bought Leah a gift of a 3G enabled iPad. She had to buy a bigger handbag to accommodate it because it went everywhere with her.

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This iPad was invaluable for the many long hours that Leah subsequently spent, as both an inpatient and an outpatient. Leah’s cousin bought her a subscription to Love Film so that she could watch films on it. Her aunt and uncle bought her a Spotify subscription. Wherever Leah went, this iPad went too and only the grave finally parted Leah and her iPad.

I love to listen to the Bible teaching of John Piper at desiring god.org. I know that some people consider John Piper too wordy and deep. For me, John Piper’s Bible teaching reaches the parts that other preachers don’t reach.

Today I was listening to a sermon by John Piper entitled “Ambushing Satan With Song” and I heard the following.

“January 8, 1956, Jim Elliot and four other young missionaries approached the jungle edge where the Auca Indians lived. Their last recorded act according to Elizabeth Elliot was to sing a hymn together:

‘We go in faith, our own great weakness feeling,
And needing more each day thy grace to know,
Yet from our hearts a song of triumph pealing,
We rest on thee, and in thy name we go.’

All five of them were killed that afternoon. But they, too, were protected by God—protected from a fate far worse than death. They were protected from cowardice and unbelief and fear. And I think it would be fair to say – protected with song.

We have two great weapons in worship: the Word of God and song. So let us give heed to the Word of God and let us sing with all our heart.

I thought about how Leah chose to listen to her favourite Christian music every day, using her Spotify playlist on her IPad, while dying in ICU. When the nurses came in to work with Leah I would lower the volume so as not to bother them, but they often told me that there was no need, as they liked listening to such lovely songs.

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While Leah was taking her last breaths in the Children’s Hospice, her music also played. The doctor attending to her said the music was beautiful.

Throughout Leah’s wake at our home, Leah’s Spotify play list played softly in the background. Several people commented on the peaceful atmosphere.

I think we should never underestimate the importance of music in influencing our mood.

John Piper’s words reminded me of how our daughter faced death without fear. I think that listening to songs that encouraged her faith helped her to remain strong and courageous.