A brief encounter… of the heavenly kind?

I wrote this blog post to share one of the encounters I had with God after my daughter died. This was the first time I heard His voice. I haven’t heard it since, not as clearly as this, but He’s shown Himself to me in so many other ways. I wonder if, on this occasion, He knew I was struggling so He had to be this clear.

Chasing dragonflies

Last year, I had an encounter at the cemetery that has never left me.

There have been a number of occasions when I’ve visited Abi’s memorial where I have felt a presence near me; a bit like you might feel when you think someone is behind you, but when you turn around you realise you’re alone. It either makes you shiver a bit or you shrug it off as imagined. But to me, it always feels pleasant, warming. I never thought I’d say that about being alone in a cemetery!

This particular day, I’d visited Abi alone as usual during the morning. I didn’t feel chatty, I felt depressed as though I’d woken with a large grey cloud above me. I was on the verge of tears and confused.

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Loving my children after losing my child

While, of course, I loved my children before Abi died, that love has changed quite dramatically since.

I gave birth to Abi, back in 2000, and it wasn’t long before my second child was on her way. She arrived when Abi was 22 months old. Back then, I worked 4 days a week and my husband and I had been married just three years. We’d just about settled into our first home together when we had to move to a larger house. I’d only been in my new job about three months. There was a lot going on. On top of that, I suffered what I later realised was Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) following my second child’s birth. It was fast, furious and unbelievably painful, and a stress to both me and my child that still has repercussions today.

Life felt hard. It’s fair to say, I can’t remember much of the early years with the two girls and I’m thankful for the photos we took, as it reminds me that it was – in the main – a good time in our lives.

But back then our lives were like many other people’s – more about getting stuff done, getting us to places, sorting things out, stressing about work. There wasn’t much time to water the roses let alone stop and smell them! We complained about all the ‘normal’ problems of parenting that I see countless people complaining about online today. At times, I’m sure it felt like my children were sent to ruin me, not bring me joy!

After a few years had passed and life seemed more settled, and me recovered, we had another child, this time a son. His home birth was much more positive and calm. I finally felt in control and confident in what I was doing. Life was good again, and we were more able to see the wood for the trees and appreciate each other. We made some really good memories. But it still had its challenges, challenges that almost tipped us over the edge, challenges that – today – mean nothing…

When Abi died, in 2013, I seemed to remember every time I lost my rag with her, or ignored her or didn’t go to an assembly because I was working… I regretted a lot. Yet I also began to remember the things I thought I’d forgotten. Memories of the little girl came back to me, they were always there, just squashed by the trials of life.

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‘Where is your God now?’

While there are many commonalities to being a Christian, a relationship with God is a deeply personal thing. Those who believe have ways of talking to or hearing God. Some people come to the faith through deliberate reasoning and learning, others simply grow into the faith, and then there are those who have the encounters with God that most of us pray for. But one thing I noticed, and have wrestled with, is how the relationship with God can change after a bereavement or period of suffering.

Until fairly recently, I was happy to pray to God, to ask Him for help with a problem, to pray for my family, to pray for healing, but when those prayers were not answered I felt confused and alone. Isn’t it true that when something goes well we believe that was God answering our prayers (and, perhaps, we take just a smidge of the glory by thinking it was thanks to us praying in the the first place!), yet when something goes badly we are stumped as to what happened, and don’t know what to say.

Reading about Jesus’s last days on earth, I understood how he knew he had to take the burden of our sin onto himself, he had to take the suffering of our bodies and minds, and worst of all, he had to be abandoned by God, his Father. He had to know what it was like to live without God, just as the people were doing. When our prayers aren’t answered the way we want them to be, it can feel this way for us.

‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’
Matthew 27:46

Yet, at the hour of his suffering and abandonment, Jesus put himself entirely into God’s hands.

Feeling is believing
After my daughter died, I knew in an instant that I wasn’t alone in my grief. That Jesus was there – right there – grieving with me. It was a comfort but it also left me feeling more confused than ever. I was totally separated from God at that point in my life. I hadn’t lived a very Christian life. If anything, I felt nothing but anger at my decision that it was ‘all untrue’. I felt spiritually alone. So I was shocked to feel this overwhelming sense of spiritual love.

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Before and after our grief

My husband’s car is on its last legs. We need to start thinking about replacing it before we spend too much more on it. He’s put it off for far too long and spent too much money keeping it going, but I know he loves the car mostly because of the times he spent with Abi in it.

The chats they’d had on the way home from a club, the trips they took together. It’s hardly been cleaned since she died (and it’s grim inside!), but I don’t push it. I know the sweet wrappers are hers. I know the hair clips are hers. I know he doesn’t want to lose even the dust that might be hers. It’s his space so I leave it to him (like a man shed on wheels!). We’ve changed my car and transformed our home. Abi hasn’t been erased by any means, and I’m always finding her hair clips around even now, but I know his car is the last big reminder.

When talking about replacing it, we were trying to remember when we bought it. Our marker… how long before Abi died.

You see, we’ve reached a point in our grief journey where life has become about ‘before’ and ‘after’ Abi. Continue reading

Life through God’s lense is not rose-tinted

With the popularity of social media it seems we know more about people than ever before. We know their good times though holiday snaps, happy families, beautiful homes, good jobs… then it goes wrong, for someone, somewhere. Someone we know or a friend of a friend. An accident, burglary, cancer diagnosis, sudden death… we perhaps, somewhat voyeuristically, crowd round them in a cyber world in shock and disbelief. While many will offer practical and emotional support, others will fan the flames of anger and injustice. Life is shit. It’s so unfair!

But, Jesus told us to expect all this. In fact, He promises ‘you will have trouble’ (John 16:33), which isn’t a phrase you’ll want to think of over the nicer messages!

Like me, one day your life could look very different… trouble comes knocking.

Your body doesn’t work the way it should anymore.
You develop anxiety over something unexpected.
Your job or income is threatened.
Your relationship breaks down.
You’re involved in an accident.
You are harmed in some way.
Someone in your family is taken ill.
Someone you know dies.

Something, anything, could have a profound affect on the rest of your life and how you are able to live it. And it’s often at times like this we turn away from God, confused about why our prayers aren’t being answered or why we have to endure this new situation and suffering.

Life is hard
In our society, we expect a large degree of perfection. Way back when, magazines touched up images of models to make them look perfect. This was one level of perfectionism that most people could ignore. However, the popularity and accessibility of social media amongst all ages and sexes has skewed how life is viewed. Life is edited to sound more interesting. Pictures are filtered to look better. The life we present online can show an unrealistic snapshot of what it truly is.

As a Christian, learning about Jesus, we are never told that our lives will be easy. I can see, now that I have explored further, that the message of ‘God Saves’ is not ‘God will solve all our problems’. When Jesus healed and raised people from death He was not just rescuing them from those afflictions, but was demonstrating who He really was and the power He had. (As we know, we often want evidence in order to to believe.) Jesus told us quite clearly that we will always have illness, poverty, evil and suffering, and that God will love and support us through it all and – ultimately – wipe every tear from every eye.

It seems a morose way to view life and contradicts what we are to believe in the love of God. But our suffering and God’s love go hand in hand, in equal measure.

When my daughter died, I didn’t understand why (I still don’t) but I did feel very strongly that Jesus was with me (and I had been so separated from my faith up to that point that I couldn’t even pray to God to save her). I felt a presence. I felt such love and grief alongside mine. I may not have understood what was happening to us, but I felt understood.

‘To be understood, as to understand.’
To be loved as to love with all my soul.’
Make me a Channel of your Peace, Prayer of St Francis

So Jesus’s message was we should not be surprised by the trials of life but know that we are blessed when things are going well. The good times shine out and become even better.

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A new way to mark the anniversary of our daughter’s death

Another year has rolled around since Abi was last here… on 6th February we were forced to remember the day she collapsed. On 10th February, we thought of the moment we sat by her bedside as the doctor turned off her life support and said goodbye. But mostly, we were reminded of the time when she was ‘ripped’ from our lives.

Three years since we last saw her, heard her, held her, smelt her, laughed with her, kissed her…

Each anniversary has been quite different.

The first was maddening, filled with panic and desperation to cling onto every single moment of grieving her. But then the hope of a new baby was just weeks away to distract us from our misery. Our rainbow baby arrived just two weeks later.

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