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:

I Wondered How She Was Doing Now

I Wondered How She Was Doing Now

When you lose a child

A few days ago I found myself thinking about somebody who I used to know. She and I met at a Parents and Toddlers group sixteen years ago, but our paths hadn’t crossed in recent years. Her youngest daughter is around the same age as Leah.

Two years previous to us meeting up at Parents and Toddlers, her only son, a toddler, had drowned in a tragic accident. I was heartbroken for her. I could not imagine the enormity of her loss. However I always appreciated her openness and her honesty as she recounted to me the awful details of that day and the days that followed it, while our little ones played happily together and sang nursery rhymes.

She told me of how traumatised her older daughter was, from the events of that terrible day. She talked about the many ways in which grief was affecting her children and her marriage. She spoke about her efforts to source grief support for her children and how frustrated she felt at times about the suitability of what was available. Those were very difficult days for all of them.

This past week I unexpectedly found myself recalling these conversations and wondering what life was like for her and her daughters now. I wished that I could ask her how many years the sense of ‘brokenness’ had persisted.

Today when I was in Tesco paying for my groceries I noticed that she was beside me! We walked out of the shop together and chatted for several minutes. I asked her how her two girls were doing. It sounds like they are both doing really well. I’m so happy for her and for them. I asked her how she had coped with her older girl leaving home and the fact that her younger girl will soon be leaving home also; I got a very positive upbeat response – she’s really happy to see them both doing so well.

I wanted to ask her how many years it had taken her to actually start feeling okay again, but I wasn’t entirely sure that she knew about Leah’s death and I knew that I would just start crying. I really didn’t think it was fair to dump my emotions on her – she’s had more than her fair share of dark days. To be honest, maybe it was enough for me to know that they have all survived emotionally and that there is a light at the end of this dark tunnel.

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A Theology of Suffering

A Theology of Suffering

Habbakuk

Malcolm Duncan  is one of my favourite N. Ireland Bible teachers. I first heard him live at New Horizon in 2014, a few months after Leah had died. My concentration and attention span were limited but Malcolm’s preaching really held my attention.

Malcolm’s charge at New Horizon in 2014 was to preach each night from the Sermon on the Mount. On the Thursday night Malcolm announced that he felt that God wanted him to depart from what he was scheduled to speak on, in order to talk about suffering and grief in a message entitled His Presence in our pain. It was such a God moment. There were many friends and family there that night who were grieving deeply for Leah. Not to mention the many others in the 2,500 strong crowd who were grieving for loved ones or who were experiencing other kinds of suffering.

Malcolm said that night:

Have you ever cried out to God, “Why?” How can we not be moved when we hear the stories of Christians around the world that are suffering such horrific persecution. At some point in their life, every Christian will go through something that causes them to ask, “Why?” Mary and Martha went through that experience when Lazarus died.

The sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one who you love is sick.” Never think that sickness or death or suffering or unanswered prayer are an indication that God does not love you.  There is a cruel theology in the church that says if you are facing illness or sickness it is because you don’t have enough faith – that is NOT the case.  Suffering does not mean that God is punishing you.

Within weeks of this event, Malcolm Duncan was going to know grief and suffering like he had never known it before. In the months that followed, three members of his close extended family died by suicide, while three other family members – his mother, his wife and his brother, were simultaneously hospitalised in three different hospitals, for very serious illnesses.

Two podcasts that Malcolm subsequently recorded with Dave Criddle, entitled Hard Times and Hard Times Part 2  have been such a blessing to me. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve listened to these podcasts and sat writing notes in my journal.

In these podcasts Malcolm and Dave talk about how they’ve attended church feeling weak and broken and that it’s ok to not be ok. They said that although sometimes they have felt God’s presence in a very real way in their suffering, there have been many other times when they don’t feel God at all, they just continue on because they believe.

Malcolm talks about his faith being less ‘fluffy’ now and about being clearer about the difference between joy and happiness – happiness is fleeting and depends on our circumstances, whereas joy is deeply rooted in something much more meaningful. He says that emotional pain has caused him to dig deeper for meaning , but he also acknowledges that for many people, pain and suffering become the fulcrum on which their lives turn away from God.

How many times I have stood sobbing at Leah’s grave (this past week included), contemplating one of her favourite verses inscribed on the kneeling plate:

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Malcolm’s life has turned further into God, which he describes as ‘a work of grace’. He talks about saying to God “Unless you get me through this, I won’t make it.” Ah, but how those words resonate with my own heart.

He asks “How does one travel with sadness – the absence of a sense of God’s presence -because finding God in the midst of suffering is not a given?” He says “What do we do with a God who doesn’t always heal, One who doesn’t always answer prayer?” Malcolm courageously admits to having thousands of questions. It is like the Balm of Gilead to my soul, to at last encounter a Christian leader who admits to being plagued with many of the same questions that I have wrestled with.  He says that one day God will answer all of our questions, but on that day, the questions won’t matter anyway.

Near the end of the first podcast is my favourite line of all, when Malcolm says that our churches are caught up with thinking about a theology of healing, when perhaps what they/we really need is a THEOLOGY OF SUFFERING!

“Hard Times” with Malcolm Duncan & Dave Criddle

“Hard Times, pt. 2” with Malcolm Duncan & Dave Criddle

Leah’s Parting Gifts

Leah’s Parting Gifts

During the week I was speaking to somebody who has recently been bereaved of somebody close to them whom they loved very much. We talked about their illness and their end of life care.

In the course of our conversation I discovered that their loved one had died on the birthday of the person who was speaking to me.

I was quite taken aback at hearing this. I was unsure of what to say. Somehow, in my mind, this seemed to make this person’s story even sadder.

Quickly in my mind I searched for what I thought would be an appropriate response to what I had just been told. I opened my mouth to sympathetically say “That must be very difficult for you.” but instead I asked softly “What did that feel like?

To my surprise, this person replied very positively that she saw it as a ‘gift’ – her loved one was terminally ill and in pain and she perceived it as her parting gift that her loved one’s body was released from pain and sickness on her birthday!

I have reflected much on this conversation since. The person I was speaking to was unaware of my circumstances and I think that was good, because it allowed her to speak freely without feeling uncomfortable or ‘worried’ about me.

Her positive attitude in the midst of her own obvious sadness and sense of loss has been helpful to me. I was reminded once again of how important ‘perspective’ is – how we frame a situation really does affect how we feel about it.

I was also reminded that grief and distress is such an individual thing and that we can never truly know the significance of any situation for another person unless we hold space for that other person to communicate to us what it means to them.

If I had replied with my intended response of “That must be very difficult for you.” I would have indirectly been implying that she should feel negatively about her loved one dying on her birthday – maybe then she would not have felt comfortable about telling me how she really felt. We would both have missed out.

Since this conversation took place, I have thought about the children’s story book Badger’s Parting Gifts, which I read many times to my children when they were small, to help them to understand and process death in a positive way.

This book describes how Badger’s friends were very sad after he died. Then they remembered all the special treasures that they had in their lives because of having had Badger as a friend and they drew comfort from this in their grief and loss.

Leah wasn’t old like Badger, she was only sixteen, but she has also left us so many gifts. I thought about listing some of those gifts here, but then I realised that – just like Badger and his friends – the ‘gifts’ that Leah left will be individual for each of you, depending on the capacity in which you knew her. 

Maybe you too would like to read “Badger’s Parting Gifts” – it’s narrated here in this Youtube video:

Guest Post – crashing waves

Guest Post – crashing waves

The words used in this blog post to describe grief are so beautiful and so true, I just had to reblog it……

Life as a Widower

A friend emailed me this morning after reading something he thought I might like to see.

‘Now in my defence,’ he began, ‘I never send you stuff like this, but I stumbled on it this morning and thought of you.’

I appreciated his caution; some days I’m just not in the mood to think or talk about grief. But then once in a while I read something that I feel compelled to share, mainly because I think it might just help someone else. I know from experience that a few words written in the right order and delivered at the right time can make all the difference. I for one have many people to thank for the words and time they have shared with me.

This following piece is guest post of sorts. Four years ago a young man, whom I know nothing about, took to the internet to try to find…

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The Healing Question

The Healing Question

Psalm 16:8-11 (NIV)

I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
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.”

I live in a constant dichotomy between yearning for Leah, wishing that she was here with me and knowing that where Leah is now, she is safe and loved to perfection by her Heavenly Father.

Recently the question of healing has come up several times in conversation with different people and I have been asked for my opinion.

I believe in divine healing and I believe that God still heals today. I also however believe that God is sovereign and that He alone decides who will be healed, not us.

There seems to be a huge emphasis on healing in some Christian circles these days. That’s great if you or your loved one receives healing, but what’s it like for those who move in these circles and who don’t receive healing for themselves or their nearest and dearest? Then, they not only have their illness or bereavement to contend with, they may also be left feeling like second class Christians, or worse still, like spiritual outcasts or rejects.

In 1985 a lovely friend of mine called Sandra was diagnosed with cancer. She was a pretty, popular girl, in her early twenties. A group of us immediately started getting together to pray for Sandra’s healing. Then, one young man announced that God “had given him a word” that Sandra was going to be healed. There was much excitement and rejoicing.

Except for me.

I felt like the odd one out.

I was so uneasy and uncomfortable.

How could I speak up?

How could I say what I really thought?

They would think I had very little faith.

They might even think I wasn’t a proper Christian.

Eventually I could stay quiet no longer.

I addressed the young man in question and I nervously said, “Has God really told you that Sandra is going to be healed, or can you just not believe in a God who would let Sandra die?

Silence!

Sadly my question was partially answered on the 12th August 1985 when Sandra went to be with her Heavenly Father, four months after receiving her diagnosis.

Before Sandra died, I visited her in hospital. I went in the hope of being a blessing, but I was the one who came away blessed. Sandra was weak and ill, but she just radiated peace and joy. The presence of God in her hospital room was almost tangible.

Why do some Christians become so fixated on healing as being the only possible option for their loved one?

Is it due in part to their inability to believe in a God who would let their loved one die?

Yet, for the believer, death is not the end, it’s a new beginning.

Yes the pain of missing Leah is awful.

Yes I cry every day.

I grieve for the fact that she wasn’t here to collect her Girl’s Brigade Queen’s Award recently.

I grieve that she isn’t right now sitting her AS exams.

I grieve that she isn’t heading off on an Exodus Team this Summer.

I will continue to grieve for every age and stage of development that we don’t get to experience with Leah.

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Yet, I know that Leah is safe, I know that she is loved beyond my comprehension.

The Bible says that as believers, we need not grieve as those who have no hope. (1 Thessalonians 4:13 )

I don’t grieve as those who have no hope.

I do have hope, but it still hurts.

Every day it hurts, really, really badly.

I’m learning not to fear pain, I’m learning to live with pain.

I’m also learning that He is sufficient for my every need.

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Does God Answer Prayer?

Does God Answer Prayer?

Recently my husband was speaking to somebody whose wife had a cancer diagnosis and asked him how his wife was doing.

This man replied that his wife was doing really well and had returned to work. He finished off with the statement “God answers prayer.

That kind of took our breath away. Not the fact that his wife is doing well – we are very happy about that.

It’s him telling us that all of this happened because God answers prayer.

Do people think that we didn’t pray for Leah to be healed?

Do they think that our prayers weren’t good enough?

Or was it just a throwaway comment, expressing his faith in God and not in any way meant to undermine ours?

Once I had calmed down, I reasoned that the last explanation is the most likely.

We’ve encountered many and varied responses from people of faith to the fact of Leah’s death.

One leader in a church that I occasionally go to, informed me a few months after Leah died, that she had died because of “lack of faith”.

He then quoted the Bible verse

Mark 6:5 NLT
And because of their unbelief, he couldn’t do any miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them.”

You see, for some people, the illness and death of a child doesn’t fit into their neat “I’ve got all the answers” theology.

Even before Leah became ill, I never liked the idea of confining God to a denominational box.

In my opinion, God is way bigger than our pet doctrines and statements of belief.

Yes, I do believe in belonging to a local church and getting involved in the body of Christ.

The Bible says in Hebrews 10:25 GW

We should not stop gathering together with other believers, as some of you are doing. Instead, we must continue to encourage each other even more as we see the day of the Lord coming.

It’s just that I don’t like the idea that any one denomination has got exclusive rights to God.

I think that God is way bigger than the boxes that we sometimes try to squeeze Him into.

For the record, I do believe that God answers prayer. I continue to pray regularly for many people who are unwell.

I don’t know why some people get better and others die.

I don’t believe that Leah died because of “lack of faith”.

Leah herself certainly did not lack faith.

There were hundreds of churches and thousands of Christians praying and believing for Leah to be healed.

However, God isn’t like a genie in a lamp. It isn’t as simple as us just telling God what we want and then abracadabra – we want it, so we’ve got it.

The Bible says in Isaiah 55:8-9 NKJV

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There are some things in this life that are always going to be a mystery.