A Smile For Everyone

A Smile For Everyone

I was tidying up this evening and putting away Miriam’s end of year school report. This entailed bringing out the folder in which I have stored all of the children’s school reports since they started school.

I knew it would be painful, but I couldn’t stop myself. I started reading through Leah’s school reports in reverse chronological order.

Leah’s Limavady High School reports spoke of an A grade student, quiet, hardworking and enthusiastic. I felt very sad, thinking of what might have been.

However, it wasn’t until I started reading her Primary School reports, that my emotional dam broke completely.

Leah’s P7 report, spoke of an avid reader, a fluent writer and a delightful child who was caring and mature. When I had read her P6 report, I had to stop reading, I could no longer see the pages. Leah’s P6 teacher talked about Leah’s happiness coming through in her singing and of how Leah had a smile for everyone she met.


It left me wishing that it was still 2008 and that Leah was back in the Ballykelly School Choir, singing her wee heart out.

The t-shirt that Leah wore when performing with the Ballykelly School choir in the Odyssey Arena in Belfast. I don't remember noticing at the time that this was connected with the Clic Sargent Children's Cancer charity.
The t-shirt that Leah wore when performing with the Ballykelly School choir in the Odyssey Arena in Belfast. I don’t remember noticing at the time that this was connected with the Clic Sargent Children’s Cancer charity.

Unfortunately we don’t have a roll back option on our lives. No matter how hard or how much we wish for it. We can only go forward.

Many, painful, difficult things happen in life and we have to find a way to go on.

It isn’t easy.

The love of family and friends certainly helps.

Sometimes though, even friends and family can be busy or have other stuff going on.

The Bible tells us that ‘we have a friend who sticks closer than a brother’ Proverbs 18:24 

I believe that friend is the Lord Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for us, so that our sins could be forgiven. He rose again and He lives forever to intercede with the Father for us. Hebrews 7:25


It’s been good to write

It’s been good to write

I recently had a long and very helpful conversation with a Christian friend who writes about her experiences as a bereaved Mummy and how God has given her the strength to cope.

One of the many things I found interesting in our conversation, is that she didn’t actually start writing until long after her children had died, whereas for me, writing has been one of my coping mechanisms.

When I mentioned this, she said something like, “I didn’t grow up in an era where it was fashionable to keep a journal.”
I laughed and replied “Well actually, neither did I.

I’ve been scribbling in notebooks since I was thirteen.

At home, or at summer camp, I wrote.

My peers sometimes found this unusual and I was at times questioned as to what all this writing was for.

My young self had no wise words with which to answer them.

I just knew that writing was how I coped, but I couldn’t explain this.

As I got older and life got busier, I stopped writing every day and I only wrote when I was deeply troubled.

Sometimes I wrote often, sometimes I wrote infrequently.

On the day that I received the phone call informing me of Leah’s diagnosis, I knew one thing for sure, that I needed to start writing.

I started a new notebook that very day. I chose a “Project Book” – one that was divided into five sections.
Section One was kept for hospital appointments. Before every appointment, Leah and I agreed what questions she wanted me to ask and I wrote them into this notebook.


It became quite a laugh at our appointments, as the doctors and nurses would glance anxiously at my notebook, to see if we had a full page, or a half page, of questions for them to answer.

I remember on one occasion in Bristol, our favourite Doctor was on duty. Leah and I were ready for him with a full page of written questions. He good naturedly accepted the armchair that we had pulled up to the bed in anticipation of his arrival. He knew that there would be no hope of escape, until every question had been discussed.

I’m so glad now to have all of these recorded memories.

Deep distress and trauma blurs our memories and can leave blank spots.

Many times since Leah has died, I’ve poured over my notebooks, trying to piece things together, trying to make sense of it all.

Sometimes I read things that surprise me, even now.

We received Leah’s diagnosis on Friday 19th April 2013. I know that I googled it that weekend. I’m a nurse so I have some understanding of medical matters. Yet, on Tuesday the 22nd April one of my written questions was “Is this 100% curable?” How could I ever have been so naive?

When I look back now I can see how hope/faith/denial can get all jumbled up.

That’s ok.

We have to stay sane.

We have to keep hope alive.

Many times over the years, in my work with families, my colleagues and I have wondered how parents can seem oblivious to how unwell/delayed their child is, when it seems so blatantly obvious to us.

Reflecting on my own journey through Leah’s illness and reading my own journals, gives me some insight into all of this.

Sometimes the truth is so painful, that we just aren’t ready or able to take it on board.

What the doctor told us on Tuesday 22nd April was awful, but within weeks I was able to bury it and move on a little bit.

Then in June, when we had our first outpatient appointment in Bristol, the consultant there told it to us all over again. I was nearly physically sick. I didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t want to believe it.

My writings tell me something else too though.

They tell me of God’s grace and His faithfulness and the loving kindness of the many people who have blessed us along the way.

One of Leah’s and my favourite Matt Redman songs says it better than I can:

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Never once did we ever walk alone
Carried by Your constant grace
Held within Your perfect peace

Never once, no, we never walk alone

The Project Book also has a pouch where I stored some of the beautiful cards and written prayers that people sent to us, along with hospital appointment cards.


I kept one entire section for encouraging Bible verses and quotations that people sent to us.

Here’s two by Rick Warren that I found written in there:

The ultimate test of faith is not how loudly you praise God in happy times but how deeply you trust Him in dark times.

Job is a book of questions, most left unanswered. The most important one is this – will you serve God no matter what happens? 

For me, I can truly say, it’s been good to write.


I am weak but Thou art strong

I am weak but Thou art strong


Matthew 11:2-3 (NKJV)
And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?”

When John the Baptist was a baby in his mother’s womb and she received a visit from Mary who was pregnant with Jesus, the Messiah, we are told that “the baby leapt in her womb” Luke 1:41

As an adult, John the Baptist preached and taught people about Jesus and then baptised him. We are told that immediately after he baptised Jesus the following took place –
Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Matthew 3:16-17 NKJV

So it would appear that John the Baptist was for most of his life, in no doubt, that Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of God.

So why the doubts and the questions in Matthew 11:2-3? John was now languishing in prison facing a beheading. Perhaps he was being tortured, perhaps he wasn’t getting very much food and sleep? All of these things can play tricks with our minds, truths we were once sure of can suddenly become very uncertain.

What has all this got to do with me?

I’ve been a committed Christian since 1980. I love Bible study. I don’t just go to church – I also love to go to conferences where the Bible is taught. I especially love to study the Bible myself at home. I listen to online sermons from preachers such as John Piper, R. T. Kendall and Tim Keller. I have always engaged in Scripture memorisation and practised “hiding God’s Word within my heart“. Psalm 119:11

When Leah was dying in ICU a woman in my sister in law’s church took to sending me an encouraging Bible verse every day such as Joshua 1:9 (NIV)
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

I used to just focus on a verse like this and repeat it over and over in my head. For two and a half weeks the doctors were telling me that Leah was more than likely not going to recover. I didn’t allow my mind to wander into the “what it’s” or the “what could happen” – I tried to remain very focussed on the present. Fixing my mind on encouraging Bible verses helped me.

However, a short term crisis is one thing, surviving the long haul is quite another.

Living with grief and loss is certainly a long road.

In my grief and in my loss I can quickly start to feel like John the Baptist felt when he was in prison.

In the hours when grief takes over, I don’t actually doubt the existence of God, I just doubt that life can ever become any better than living every day with this intensity of pain and sorrow.

When the waves of grief crash over my soul, threatening to hold me for ever in their clutches, I find myself at times unable to cling to those amazing Bible verses that for so many years have been my bedrock.

In those moments, all I want to do is get into bed, pull the covers over me, and never face the world again. That shocks me, because I’m not used to feeling like this.

I’m learning many lessons on this journey – most are ones that I would never have chosen to learn.


I’m learning that sometimes those truths that I am so sure of on my better days, can be much harder to hold on to on the really bad days. Even that realisation has been a shock to my system.

Nevertheless, every morning my alarm goes off at 6am and I quietly slip out of bed and head downstairs to spend time with God in Bible study and prayer. I once heard Joyce Meyer say that she would rather be ‘sleep deprived‘ than ‘God deprived‘ and I thought that was a good way of looking at it!

The Israelites were told to gather their manna daily and I too must seek strength daily for this journey that at times threatens to overwhelm me.

I will close with a beautiful hymn that we sang many years ago at my father’s funeral. These words have often brought me comfort:

Just a Closer Walk With Thee

I am weak, but Thou art strong;
Jesus, keep me from all wrong;

I’ll be satisfied as long
As I walk, let me walk close to Thee.

Just a closer walk with Thee,
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea,
Daily walking close to Thee,
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

Through this world of toil and snares,
If I falter, Lord, who cares?
Who with me my burden shares?
None but Thee, dear Lord, none but Thee.

When my feeble life is o’er,
Time for me will be no more;
Guide me gently, safely o’er
To Thy kingdom shore, to Thy shore.

How I’m Getting Through

How I’m Getting Through

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 The Voice

3 All praise goes to God, Father of our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One. He is the Father of compassion, the God of all comfort. 4 He consoles us as we endure the pain and hardship of life so that we may draw from His comfort and share it with others in their own struggles.

One sermon a week on a Sunday morning has never been enough for me. I’ve always loved listening to Bible teaching at home or in the car. In the ’80s I had an insatiable appetite for the teaching tapes produced by Francis Schaeffer and L’Abri.
Since the arrival of the internet and podcasts I’ve been spoilt for choice – all the sermons I could ever want, at my fingertips.
In late 2012 and in early 2013 I was mostly listening to Joyce Meyer, Rick Warren and John Piper Early in 2013 Rick Warren’s son Matthew took his own life. Matthew Warren died on the 5th April ’13 and I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news. My reaction was to sit and cry, in solidarity with Rick and Kay’s broken hearts – just as some of you who never met Leah read my blog and cry in solidarity with our broken hearts. Then I prayed for the Warrens, as many of you do for us, which I appreciate so very much. How could we ever have got this far without the loving and prayerful support of God’s people?
In September ’13 Rick and Kay Warren were interviewed about the death of their son, by Piers Morgan on CNN – read excerpts from that interview Here
On Sunday 28th July ’13, Rick & Kay Warren returned to the pulpit for the first time since their son died. Rick commenced by preaching a new series entitled “How to get through what you’re going through” I was really excited about this and listened eagerly to the first two episodes while in the bone marrow transplant unit, using my headphones.
However, as time went on and I was increasingly aware of how unwell Leah was, I found that this affected my concentration and attention span and I had difficulty focussing, so I stopped listening to online sermons.
A lifelong favourite pastime of mine has been books and reading. Since Leah was diagnosed last year however, I have found it very difficult to focus on the written word for any length of time. I still read, but it takes me weeks to read a book that used to take me days. I miss the pure undiluted pleasure that reading once brought me.
I’ve also lost my lifelong love of listening to the radio. I used to wear out the buttons on my portable radios – now they lie gathering dust. There’s so much ‘noise’ in my head that the additional noise of having a radio on just irritates me.
However, today for the first time since Leah died, I listened to an online sermon. I felt ready once again to listen to the sermon Rick & Kay Warren preached on the occasion of returning to public ministry after the death of their son: How we’re getting through – I found it very helpful. I also found it quite surreal listening to it again almost a year after I first heard it. The first time I heard this message I was sitting in the bone marrow transplant unit and I was looking for the strength to cope with being on my own, far from home, with my critically ill child. Now Leah is gone from this world and I’m deep in grief.


Rick Warren describes the six phases of grief and loss as follows:

SHOCK: When your world falls apart
SORROW: When your heart is breaking
STRUGGLE: When you don’t understand
SURRENDER: How to experience peace
SANCTIFICATION: How God turns bad to good
SERVICE: How to use your pain for good

Rick does not however suggest that this is a neat process whereby you go through each stage and can tick it off and say “done that” – grief and loss is all very fluid and we can move backwards and forwards through any of these stages depending on what else is happening in our lives.
After the initial sermon, Rick then preached individual sermons on each of the above “stages” and these are available on iTunes as podcasts or via the Saddleback Church App.
Kay Warren talks about what she has done to help her hold onto hope and joy in her life. She said that she has compiled a playlist of songs to listen to, from which she derives comfort, which includes “Not For A Moment” by Meredith Andrews:

“And every step every breath you are there
Every tear every cry every prayer
In my hurt at my worst
When my world falls down
Not for a moment will You forsake me
Even in the dark
Even when it’s hard
You will never leave me”