When you have no idea where you are…

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Grief is such a strange beast.
Regardless of how I seem to be doing, it lingers.

Things which are usually enjoyable, seem like an uphill struggle, and disproportionately drain me. Getting out of the house for a walk on my own, feels impossible and I find myself afraid I’ll miss my family too much, to take an hour to myself.

I have been reading though, lots – blogs, novels, poetry.
Over Christmas, I re-read my way through the entire Harry Potter series, in about two weeks, including The Cursed Child. I also read several biographies, and then made my way through Sense and Sensibility (which I had never actually read), and Persuasion (which I had). I have just finished The Penguin Lessons – a memoir by Tom Michell.
It has provided a welcome escape.

I am feeling pretty low and lost at the moment.
I love my family, but for the first time in years, I have no idea what my purpose is. I have nothing to work towards, nothing to look forward to – although in the day to day, I do have a million little things in which to delight.
But I am struggling.

Where there is no vision, the people perish:
but he that keeps the law, happy is he.
Proverbs 29:18

I have moved churches, and whilst this was a good decision for me, and well supported by Husbandman, whilst he and I go to the evening service at my church together, we are no longer worshipping in the same church community.
Because he is responsible for music at his church, he is not free to really be engaged with watching our children if we go there, although he occasionally takes Eldest on her own. I find it too hard with the particular children we have, to manage at church on my own, wherever we go, as the Boy and Mini One want to run around and climb. It really needs two of us, therefore the kids don’t very often attend, meaning our family church experience is dissipated – disconnected.
And I want more. I know there is more.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
Ecclesiastes 3:11

I am not working as an actress, either.
I have said before, and I absolutely mean it, that I have never missed acting more than I have cherished and delighted in raising my children and committing to educate them – yet I still miss it dreadfully. I have no project to work towards, nothing that needs my skills, creativity and focus, and I am floundering.

Encouraged by my best friend, I had begun recording my own poems and those that I have previously performed, but, like with my walks, I struggle to take the time – despite it being available to me.
I signed up to a casting website, with a view to taking a few bits of work as they would fit with our family, but didn’t even complete my profile before the 30 day trial expired! They have since offered me a further 30 days free of charge, but I can’t seem to make the effort.

I am lost.

I have always been full of ideas and dreams, of what next and where I want to go. These are still in my heart, but for the first time in years I have no idea what I need to be doing.

I am not currently needed in rehearsals. There is no role for me to have to get my mind and body around.
No one needs me to record my poems, or work on speeches. I have been out of the loop for ages and I have lost my confidence, and the drive required to generate sufficient energy to push through to completion is painfully absent. I find that unless there is a genuine need for my efforts, or the inspiration to pursue something, it is an enormous struggle to motivate myself.

IMG_20170409_144630We are unschooling our three children, so whilst I am needed for a huge variety of things in the day to day of life – to be part of games, to make food, to help them with their ideas – whilst I am needed to drive us places, to encourage them, to answer their many questions, and I am definitely needed for many cuddles and kisses – which I thoroughly enjoy – I don’t have to work towards anything.
My kids are developing beautifully in their individual ways.  I love and delight in their company. They are not my project, they simply share my life and I theirs, and whilst mothering is definitely the hardest job I have ever done, it doesn’t feel like a job  – it just is the privilege of my life and I enjoy its flow.

The only thing that I was looking forward to last year was the arrival of another child into our family.
We were both delighted to welcome another gorgeous blessing into our hearts and lives, regardless of any natural sense of uncertainty and trepidation that comes with expansion, we couldn’t wait. This baby gave us a sense of moving forward, moving towards something.
But sadly she didn’t join us, instead bypassing earth and going straight to heaven.

She is safe, happy, fulfilled.
I am happy for her, and know that I will see her again. Truly.

But I miss her. A lot.IMG_20170406_122702

I feel empty and cheated, especially since I had a good four months of vomiting and exhaustion and general pregnancy woes, all for nothing. And now this week when we should have been in the chaos of birthing another family member, we instead had the ultimate anti-climax of no baby, just grief.
And we are not currently pregnant.
And I want to be. We both do.
Our family is incomplete, and whilst a new baby will not be Hope, I really want another little person to cherish, and to have that focus.
But here is the rub. My kids, my husband and my life are not projects.
I know this, and wouldn’t want to compromise the dignity of any of us by seeing us so.

Yet I am left feeling empty. WHICH HURTS.

A deep emptiness that only God can fill.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
    and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Psalm 34:18

I think that God has brought me to this place, gradually having stripped away all the things I feel that I flourish at.  Bringing me to where I have nothing to rely on but Him.
Don’t misunderstand me, he hasn’t sent bad circumstances my way. He is love. He loves me, but he will use them to bring about my transformation.

Not that I’m enjoying the process.
Actually I feel frustrated, confused and angry with him. But He can handle my anger.
He can actually see the whole of everything, whereas I can only see the equivalent to two feet in front of me.
The problem is my heart. My discontentment, my fear that I am too big for God to ever completely satisfy.  In which case He couldn’t really be God.
Which isn’t true.
But it still hurts badly.

Yet he is here with me.
I know His presence, His voice, and I have learnt to recognise the God whispers that drop into my heart  – He hasn’t abandoned me – I know he is close.

The man that has friends must show himself to be a friend, and there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.

Proverbs 18:24

This is what dying to yourself must feel like  – anxiety, and the terrifying lack of understanding of how to keep breathing, how to make it right, how to get things back to normal. Knowing that I cannot do it.

Praising Him helps – Husbandman and I have enjoyed some marvellous praise sessions in the kitchen, which has lifted our spirits and brought us moments of peace.

If God has given me my talents and gifts, blessed me with the opportunity to learn and to hone my skills, if He has gifted me with any insight or wisdom – then he will use them for His purposes, not mine.
Crucifying all my hopes and dreams with Him is the only way forward. That and being honest with God about the disappointment and frustration. He will return to me what I have given up for Him.  But if not, I am better off without them.

“Then I will make up to you for the years That the swarming locust has eaten, The creeping locust, the stripping locust and the gnawing locust, My great army which I sent among you.
“You will have plenty to eat and be satisfied And praise the name of the LORD your God, Who has dealt wondrously with you; Then My people will never be put to shame.…

Joel 2:25-26

Meanwhile, He carries me.

I have no idea what is coming next.
When or if I will have an acting project to dive into, when we will be blessed with another longed-for child. When this sadness and discontentment will shift.
I don’t know what I need to do. If anything.

My hope is in Jesus. And He will not change.

I still feel lost.
But God hasn’t lost me – and this makes all the difference.

Expectations 

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This Christmas, I gave myself permission to let some of my usual traditions go.
For the past 6 years, I have baked mince pies, chocolate gingerbread, shortbread and a Christmas cake, I have decorated the whole house and planned our Christmas dinner in detail, and with all the 3 course trimmings- I like Christmas food. We usually hang symbols on our Jesse Tree every evening of advent, I read The Vigil, and we plan a relatively full social calendar.

This year we couldn’t find the symbols, I had no inclination or energy to bake, and Christmas dinner was a curious mix of roast gammon, fish fingers and chips, and plain dry bread – the kids were all ill- and Christmas still happened.

We had just spent 5 months being homeless, staying for a few weeks at a time with different friends. I was in the early stages of pregnancy, and the sickest I had ever been.
Six of the final seven weeks of this nomadic season, were spent at my parents home, in a different city. It was hard. Hardest of all – the kids and I were separated from HusbandMan for most of it. Work for him was awful at that point, and it was a pretty painful season.

We finally found a home, or rather, God provided it for us out of the blue, back in the town we had just left, and for what we could afford.

A miracle in itself. 

It is beautiful. It is enormous. It’s right in the centre of town with two parking spaces, and whilst it lacks a garden, we are minutes from the park and other outdoor spaces. We feel so at home, and not a day goes by when I don’t thank God for it.

img_20161104_230558.jpgWe moved in on the Friday at the end of October, and with much generous help, got the place mostly looking organised, and how we wanted it. There was still some chaos, and by the end of the week we lost momentum unpacking boxes, but we were getting there.

HusbandMan went away with work that following weekend,  but I had help in the form of a glorious Saturday afternoon at a friend’s house, being fed and watered, the kids played with and generally being taken care of.

My first midwife appointment for about 8 weeks was the day before, and despite not being certain that we could hear the baby’s heartbeat on the doppler (at 18 weeks it may have just been hiding), I wasn’t hugely worried about it.
But when on Tuesday I had a pinkish tinge, and on the Wednesday there was slight but definite blood spotting, we were strongly advised to go to the hospital to get it checked out.

We had an ultrasound scan, and I jokingly asked if we definitely had a baby in there. She said yes, but that it wasn’t good news. The shock of hearing that our baby had no heartbeat and no blood flow registering on the screen, and that instead of 19 weeks, they were only measuring at 15.5 weeks, took me a few moments to realise that this didn’t just mean that our baby was small. However HusbandMan had got there quicker and he looked ashen. We asked for a second opinion, which was sensitively given, but then had the confirmation that actually our baby was dead, that I had been carrying them around for about 3.5weeks, and my body only just told me that something was up.

Shocked didn’t quite cover it.

Devastated and confused is closer.

I know that I am loved by a God who authors life and has raised people from the dead on many occasions, but this seemed so sudden and so final, that I didn’t know how to pray – whether to grieve or wait expectantly for resurrection.

After all the following blood tests etc. we decided to wait a day before taking the anti-progesterone pill which would begin the process of kicking  my body into delivery mode. We needed some time to process everything, as best we could- not feel rushed into the process of aborting our prematurely ended pregnancy.

Thankfully when I did take it the next day, my body (having laboured three times before) took the hint, and I had the quickest, easiest labour yet, in hospital a day later. The whole experience there was a surreal and utterly disorganised process to say the least (another story for another time), but I didn’t need to be induced, praise God, and it was all over pretty quickly and very cleanly.

Just fourteen days after moving in, we had birthed our dead daughter on Rememberance day.

We took about half an hour to sit with her, after they brought her back in, not that we had any idea of her gender at the time. We sat, with her in a tiny moses basket, simultaneously uncomfortable at her brown and squashed appearance (we had been told to expect this),  and marveling at the breathtaking definition of her facial features and bone structure. How, despite having been dead for nearly four weeks, this 15.5 week old baby looked so much like a person, albeit one who should have had a lot more growing to do.

In that intimate, raw interlude, we held our daughter and each other and thanked God for the privilege of carrying her as long as we did. We cried for ourselves, our disappointment and heartbreak, as we commended her to Jesus, where she belongs, telling her that we loved her and look forward to seeing her again and meeting her properly. We were surrounded by the tangible presence of God, and were comforted by knowing how close he was to us.

We named her Hope Izabela Christine, and buried her at the end of November in a local church yard. It was a beautiful service, a stunning, though cold day, and we were surrounded by parents, siblings, and those who are practically adoptive family anyhow.

I had dearly wanted to sing this song, as singing is a way I am most released into worship, and express my emotions. Plus I sing to all my babies. I am immensely grateful to God for giving me the grace to get through it.

DECEMBER BEGAN

img_20161204_124403.jpgAdvent had already started, and we, carried by an army of people praying for us and gifting us food and flowers – some of whom came over with practical help-  tried to deal with our grief and the grief of our children, amidst work, family life, our new home and the build up to Christmas.

HusbandMan had arranged 25days of surprises for me, which ranged from movie nights, to a date out at Kate Rusby’s Christmas gig, to gifts of chocolate, cake and G&T, to a carved tree decoration with our Hope’s full name and birthday, plus various coffee dates and family treats, all trying to bless me and speak my love language of quality time.
He even made printouts. He is rather wonderful.

Yet grief is a funny thing:

Despite the joy of these excursions and treats; despite the fact that I process things pretty quickly and was genuinely doing ok emotionally about Hope; I started to find that I was feeling tearful and slightly panicky at the thought of these most delightful and undemanding plans. I found the uncertainty of what was coming, made me hugely stressed and unhappy, and it took every ounce of courage to get out and go.

HusbandMan graciously adapted to this, by telling me what was on the agenda for the following week. December therefore developed some really lovely memories to treasure, despite the fact that neither of us were feeling especially christmassy.img_20161210_220646.jpg

The Wednesday before Christmas, the kids got ill.
We ignored our instincts to stay home, instead heading south to spend a few days with family, which was, in retrospect, the wrong choice given the circumstances, and we were physically and emotionally  exhausted by it.

On Christmas day, I only took daughter #2 to church, as the others were too unwell. We and the girls sat up to Christmas dinner, and our son flopped miserably on the sofa in the same room watching Sarah & Duck. It was a strange ‘festive’ combination.

Yet it was also blissful.

Here we were, our little family, being just us, together, free from the pressure and expectations of others, from any prior expectations of our own.We needed rest, peace, to be ourselves. Here was joy.

This whole Advent/Christmas season has been held in a permanent tension.
I have wrestled with the pain of losing a child –  and the coming of the baby Jesus.
Seen the excitement of the lights and parties, bought and anticipated presents – but also felt our loss, leave me sitting both in the centre and way outside of the celebration.
I have felt confidence in God’s unchanging goodness and faithfulness – coupled with the deep disappointment that what I had expected, and longed for would no longer be fulfilled.

Yet somehow I have felt more awe and wonder during this season than ever before. I have hope where we have lost our own precious Hope.

We need to hunker down and recover.
All of us.
There is no short cut with mental health or with grief, so I will not expect us to be ‘back to normal’ in a month or two.  There is no normal. Only what is in front of us.

HusbandMan is grieving just as deeply as I am, though differently, and really struggling. Yet when many kind, well-meaning people stop him to offer condolences, they seem to forget to ask him how he’s doing, but immediately enquire about me. He is smashing expectations that he should be invulnerable, stoic and unwilling to show his pain, and tells them how he is doing anyway.

I am only just recovering physically from the birth experience, all the energy and hormonal crazy I have expended, and Now I’m struggling with anxiety and mild panic attacks.

I am fighting these, practising taking my thoughts captive, discerning what is true. But this doesn’t mean that it is any less real. Sometimes I need to do something regardless of my feelings, because I may find I enjoy it after all, but at others I need to stop. I will do what gives me peace, whether or not that means disappointment will follow. And I choose not to feel guilty. I am only answerable to God, and to Husbandman, so I’m giving myself grace and permission to be gentle.

‘The Light Shines in the darkness – and the darkness has not overcome it.’
John 1:5

2016 has been incredibly hard.
But within it God has done many beautiful things, and more importantly,  He has been right in the thick of it with us.
He will bring us to freedom.
He is our hope and our provision, our rock, our stronghold and our refuge.
He is and has been our comfort and tender parent.

2017 as just another year can offer me nothing. But the light of the world, who loves us, and came to be as one of us, promises that He is trustworthy and in him our deep hopes and His  promises will never be unfulfilled.

‘Yet, in the dark street shineth the Everlasting Light.
The hopes and fears of all the years, are met in thee tonight. ‘
O Little Town Of Bethlehem

HO HO Who?

Father christmas


“He’s making a list,
he’s checking it twice,

He’s gonna find out who’s
naughty or nice,

Santa Claus is coming to town.”
(performed by the Jackson 5.)

Or is he?

I realise that this could be somewhat controversial, but my husband and I have decided NOT to tell our children that Father Christmas is real. He wont be questioning whether they are naughty or nice each year, and he wont be coming down our chimney. Especially since we don’t have one.

I grew up believing in Father Christmas. My parents didn’t do the dressing up part of things, but we wrote him letters, we did have stockings, and we did put out a mince pie, a glass of something and a carrot for Rudolph.
And I loved it.

They did a great job. I was utterly convinced.
So convinced in fact, that even in the face of some of my school friends attempting to burst the bubble, and in conversations with other adults who, whilst not actually undermining the idea, gave me a hint that they didn’t believe in him, I adamantly refused to waver – accusing them of not having enough faith, and subsequently not deserving to have him visit. I think my Mum had to gently challenge me not to be so fervent in conversation with others, because I was coming off a bit rude.

I held on to this until the end of year five, not so long before my tenth birthday in the summer.
I had begun to question, after years of arguing with people, whether there may or may not be some truth to their insistence that I was being duped.
This had also come at a time when I had recently given my life to Jesus, and was wondering how, there only being one powerful God, was reconcilable with the magic of a jolly, fat man, flying round the world filling every child’s stockings with presents in one night. So I did the sensible thing, and asked my Mum a direct question about whether it was actually all true.

DSC00947We were in the last weeks of Advent, so Mum told me to ask her again on Christmas night. I was highly suspicious at this point, and thought that if it was going to be bad news, why on earth would I want to hear it on Chrismas Day – one of the most joyful days of the year and the climax of all the build up – so I didn’t bother. Instead I left it until the summer, when I finally got my answer.
She told me about St. Nicholas, and that he had been real, but that the actual Father Christmas idea was not true.
I was gutted.

Always with a flair for the dramatics, I think I said to her something like –
“So many times you have lied to me!” to which Mum understandably got a little irked and defensive, and told me not to be so ridiculous, that it was only this one thing.
I had simply meant that she (and Dad) had continued to perpetuate the myth.

I was a good big sister though, and as the eldest of four I diligently kept the secret for my siblings and continued to honour the story, although I am not sure that they were as bothered as me when they eventually found out the truth.IMG_0607

I have since discussed with my parents many times, their decision to tell us about Father Christmas. It was my Mum’s idea as she had grown up with it, whereas Dad had been the annoying kid at school (his words, not mine) who went around telling his schoolmates that there was no such person. However they both agreed that it had been really lovely hearing our delighted voices from downstairs opening our stocking presents and shouting
“Oh, Thank you Santa!!!”, knowing that we didn’t know it was them who had done it all.
I can see the appeal. Giving anonymously, and yet having the pleasure of seeing the response, is always a huge blessing.

However, the more that I come to know Jesus and grow in my faith, the more I am convinced that honesty and transparency are both vital and right. Particularly in a world which is filled with deception and lies, it falls on us where we know the truth, to stand apart in telling it, refusing to just go along with the norm.

I know that as parents, we will make loads of mistakes. I will probably inadvertently teach my children things which are wrong or shortsighted

But I don’t want to tell them untruths when I have the capacity to choose to avoid it. I don’t want to lie to my children.

And I don’t want them to ever doubt our trustworthiness as parents.
Who’s to say that my choosing to tell, what many would consider a white lie, won’t subtly communicate to their tender, impressionable hearts, that even the people they most rely upon are not safe to trust?

I want them to know that we can be relied on to help them navigate what is true, what is right and wrong, and how to view themselves and others, with integrity.

Like all parents, I have their best interests at the forefront of my mind when making choices on their behalf. But in preparing them to be all that they can be in the world, I can’t afford to let them feel that maybe they aren’t respected enough to be told the truth, in an appropriate manner.
angels and shepherds

My other problem with a lot of this is the subtle ‘truths’ about faith which are communicated to our kids through this idea.

  •  How can I knowingly ask them to believe in something that I know to be a lie?
  • When they do find out, how can I still expect them to believe in a God who they can’t see, who many others will declare is a myth?
  • Many people do make this transition fine, but how many more have found that this disappointment, among many others, has left a mark on their ability to trust someone unseen?
  • And particularly, how can I teach them about unconditional love? About the nature of GRACE (God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense), if I am perpetuating the lie that someone is keeping a list of who will get presents based on whether they were good enough all year?!?
    This feels too much like manipulation, and I have no wish to hold that over them.

    My children will have many hurts in this life, some of them will inevitably be at my hands, but I would never knowingly choose to hurt them, however minor it was. So why should I set them up for a fall, even a small one, with Father Christmas?

    So instead, we give stockings filled with a few small gifts- something to play with, to cuddle, to read, something godly perhaps, and a piece of fruit to start the day with – the clementine was always a favourite of my childhood stockings.
    As they get older we’ll add something for them give away.  There is no need for hundreds of toys, just a few meaningful, thoughtful things, and second hand stuff is great.
    A stocking is fun, and certainly a practical way of holding back the start of Christmas day until at least a vaguely reasonable hour (here’s hoping- HA!), but the presents will be from us.

    Father ChristmaspoohandpigletGruffalo

    In our family, we talk about Father Christmas as an amazing character, like the Gruffalo, or Winnie The Pooh – a part of the festive decoration.

    We will tell our kids of the story of St. Nick who, upon hearing of a destitute family of young women on the brink of prostitution, chose to anonymously gift them a purse of money to make ends meet – by dropping it down their chimney.

    his_nameWe can talk of the graciousness of God becoming human, as a vulnerable baby to a poor couple, just so that we could know that He knows how hard it is, that he gets it. To discover the permanent freedom and peace he offers us for eternity – starting now.
    That grace is not about balancing our good works versus bad deeds on the scale of rewards, but about receiving our reward regardless of how ‘deserving’ we may feel we are. Because, after all the tinsel and food, Christmas is actually about the arrival of the baby Jesus.

    Every family is different, and we all make the decisions we feel are the best ones. Therefore if you practice expecting Father Christmas, please don’t feel condemned by this post- you are not. These are our thoughts, this is our journey…. My husband and I simply find it helpful to periodically re-examine our choices with an open heart. If they are right we can be confident in them and if there is a better way, we can always make changes.

    This Christmas we shall still experience the joy of anonymous giving, by choosing to bless those in real need of help, and by trusting that our Father in heaven is pleased with us.
    And we shall trust that Jesus is gift enough.