And it's starting to look like there might actually be a Spring sometime.
A very satisfying plodge around stomping grounds I haven't visited for about ten years. Empty hillsides, birdsong, beautiful views and a wind which blew me up the hill on the way out, and still blew hard enough to keep me sliding all the way down again on the way back.
Now if it would just kindly blow the water away from all those fields and back into the rivers where it belongs...
When a child dies, your world stops. A peaceful passing or a struggle to the bitter end, an expected event or a tragic accident, is irrelevant; your world stops.
Problem is, the rest of the world doesn't. It might pause for a while, but eventually the world moves on. And you are left with a dislocation, the knowledge that you are forever slightly out of step with the rest of the world. You may connect, you may mesh, but like a broken zipper, there are places where the cogs which once held you so closely to the world just gape open. And you can paper over them, and move around them, you can get used to avoiding them, but you can't ever really pull the two worlds back together in the way they used to be.
When Goldie died, she was in a hospital a long way from home. Prayers and love, pain and suffering, nursed by strangers but thankfully surrounded by many of the people most important to her. I don't know, I can't know, what she was feeling at the time. But I do know what what carried me through was the knowledge of the love of God, his presence tangible at my side, his sorrow and his grace flowing over us in that busy little room. And over the next however long it was - because time flows differently too, when you lose a child - the only respite from the suffocating sadness was to fall back into worship.
A long drive home, and yet my hands steered my bus not to my driveway but to the church car park. Wanting a while to rest before picking up the rest of my life; anticipating a quiet space; instead I found a hundred children and a crowd of volunteers in fancy dress staffing the annual holiday club.
I thought I wanted solitude; instead God found me friends. Arms around me, a physical comfort and a sharing of the sorrow; a strengthening before I stepped back into family life. God is good.
It was a messy death, Goldie's. A long delay before the funeral; a longer delay before the inquest. And eventually, confirmation that it was an entirely avoidable death. This need not have happened. Goldie could, even now, be singing her way through the wee small hours, waking her housemates and laughing at her carers. Or, of course, she could now be crippled with pain from various conditions, she could be suffering from prolonged seizures, she could be the victim of sustained and systemic abuse. We'll never know, because it didn't happen that way. Her life was cut short, at the age where many young people consider life to be just about to begin. A catastrophic catalogue of errors means she will be forever 18. Dancing in heaven.
Grief is a lonely path. We all walk it differently. But that friend who first greeted me in the car park, who allowed me to weep for my loss instead of carrying others, she now walks this same path. And friend after friend after friend follows on, until the circle of friends I have who have lost a child is, unbelievably, wider than the circle of friends who have not.
When your world stops, worship is all that's left. I don't know that it's even necessarily a conscious choice. But when you fall, and God is right there underneath, what else is there?
We talk about being living sacrifices. Sacrificial praise; the act of stepping out of the loneliness, the bitterness, the despair. The deliberate decision to look up, hold up our hands and worship, not necessarily leaving it all behind, but reaching up from the middle of the mess and acknowledging God as sovereign over all of it; that's a choice. And not an easy one. But the instinct to cling to The Rock; the reaction a hurt child crying for a parent, that I think goes deeper than any kind of choice.
It's hard to explain, impossible to rationalise. God is good, all the time. And yet, the unthinkable has to be thought about. Children die. The world suffers. And we weave our way through it, somehow.
We turn to God in the dark times. It's easy to pray, to beg and plead, when your child is sick. To ask for healing, wisdom, clarity of mind to make the right decisions. To pray before exams, before job interviews, when we don't know where the next meal is coming from, whether that's because there is no food in the house, or no mental energy to assemble that food into something resembling a meal our families will eat.
And it's easy to give thanks (and easy to forget to give thanks) in the good times. To praise God for the exam results, the driving license, the clean bill of health.
It can be suffocatingly hard to go on praising God from the depths of torment. But it can also be the only thing worth hanging onto. To receive another phone call, to know another friend's world has stopped; what else is there but to turn up the volume and lose oneself in an ocean of praise?
It feels wrong. The temptation is to feel guilty, to resist the escape and instead to rely on ones own strength. To surrender to worship, even or perhaps especially messy, snotty, snivelly, crumpled on the floor in a heap praising whilst simultaneously daring to tell God how we really feel about the massive unfairness of it all type of worship, feels like failure. I should be stronger than that.
But we were built for this. Jesus was broken for this. Not to plaster on a smile and pretend everything is alright, not to paper over the gaping loss, not to dance to someone else's artificial timetable. But to take our brokenness, to pick up the pieces of our lives, and to give them back to God. We don't have to fix ourselves. Which is good, because I can't.
God in his goodness gave me friends for the journey. Friends who understand, who I don't have to hide from, but who will also let me hide behind an "I'm fine" knowing that sometimes it takes too much energy to explain. We're a mess. A broken people living in a broken world. But worship allows our brokenness to join God's great dance, it takes our pieces and places them in his mosaic. And when that's all we can do, it is also the only thing we need to do.
I've been pondering forgiveness since we left Blaze on Saturday (talks available here if anyone fancies a listen http://www.new-wine.org/node/1704 )
I think it's safe to say Arianna Waller didn't mince her words. We talk a lot in the church about how awesome it is that Jesus has paid the price, how thankful we are to have been forgiven, that each and every single one of our transgressions has been wiped clean until we are whiter than the snow. And it is awesome; grace and mercy, truth and love; freedom in Christ.
But we don't always talk so much about the other side of that. The fact that we just as we are forgiven, we must ourselves forgive. More than that; Jesus said - and we pray in the Lord's Prayer - that as we forgive others, so shall we be forgiven.
And Arianna - who works with young women who have been massively wronged by the world around them - had for me a new insight into what that forgiveness is.
It is not forgetting. To forgive does not mean pretending there was no wrong, no harm done.
It is not taking responsibility for the sin myself - although where I share the blame, I need to forgive myself too.
And for me, the part I really needed to hear, it is not necessarily a once for all time thing. Arianna used the analogy of a pair of scissors. Every time you choose to forgive someone - and it is a choice, an act of will - you snip away at the cord which binds you to their debt, and transfer that debt to God. We forgive - and go on forgiving - until the memories of the sin are no longer painful. Not because we are numb, but because we are freed of the burden. No longer defined by that act.
It's a challenge. There are things in my past I tend to skip over, try not to think about. I have pretended I am ok with things, turned real hurts into dark jokes, not allowed myself to feel the anger. And in order to forgive, I have to acknowledge that there was wrong done. Ouch.
But, as I'm snipping away, new memories are surfacing. As I allow myself to see the sin for what it was, rather than attempting to work out what I myself did wrong, I can sort out the middle and see more clearly. A recognition of a fault, an act of will to forgive that specific wrongdoing, and as I did so, so God reminded me of a loving act of grace from the very same person.
Removing the blinkers is helping me see people through God's eyes. Forgiving, cutting the ties, is clearing the way for me to see people - including myself - the way God sees us.
It's hard. But its good. It's an ongoing project, and I need the Holy Spirit to open my eyes to the truth of situations. To stop attempting to justify or minimise the hurt, but instead to see it for what it is, and forgive it. And keep on forgiving it, until it doesn't hurt any more.
We've only been home a few days, and perhaps I'm still floating on a high God tide. But I can already see how this makes a difference. To forgive, that I might be free. Free to love. Free to be the child of God I was created to be.
Arianna's book "From Pain to Pearls" is here http://mercyministriesuk.oxatis.com/Mobile/MBSCProduct.asp?pdtid=13523247
and I'd recommend it. This isn't a sponsored post though; it's the thoughts of a woman awake at 2am who knows some of what she needs to do, and hopes it might help someone else too.
It's a good thing my friends know me. Surprisingly, I was actually early this morning when meeting a friend for coffee. Early enough that as 10,000 Reasons hit the speakers, I thought I'd turn up the music and sing, rather than turning off the engine and getting out of the bus. Note for future reference; always a good idea to check your friend wasn't even earlier than you, and isn't in fact watching you through the window. Laughing.
Oh well. It broke the ice.
A child-free cup of tea; mine at school and respite, and hers one grown and the other much grieved for.
I remember first meeting my friend's jewel of a daughter; she and Mog were at a holiday club together. And I realised this was the precious child whose photo sat above Mog's on the almost empty hospice board (a board now full to overflowing). Dancing hands and a hidden smile, full of secret joy.
We became friends, her mother and I, over shared outings without children, and shared "oops she's really poorly this time" stays in hospital and hospice. It cuts through some of the clutter which gets in the way of building friendships when life is so caring-busy.
And then Ruby got sicker, and it was clear she wasn't going to get better. And life slowed right down for my friend, and for a while her world shrank to the four walls of her daughter's bedroom, with brief escapes to check the rest of the world was still around.
We buried Ruby the same day another friend's son died. Last year was utterly relentless.
And now Mog is still sick. And whilst she did, technically, have a very successful op last month, it didn't have the effect we were hoping for. And now we are going to have big meetings about what we think we should be doing for the best for her. It's a road my friend has travelled, and it is good to have someone who has walked it.
As another friend says, I don't know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future. That has to be enough, but friends who have walked this route know how hard that is.
And this past year has been tough on my friend. Things don't stop when your child does, there are still 24 hours in every day, and the world out there still moves to its own rhythm. How do you deal with the disconnect between our world and the wider world?
My friend has found a way.
A collection of poems, from Ruby's life, and from the life which will insist on going on, even when your child doesn't. It's a beautiful book. Raw, real, precious. (And available here
So we talked life and poems, practicalities and dreams, and then it was time to come home and get on with the next bits of life again. But because we'd had our chat, when the next professional helper phoned, I was all ready with my next suggestions, knowing what I needed rather than trying to work out what might be helpful. An instantly useful outcome, as well as the soul-food which is time spent with a friend.
That a single woman, in good company, must be in want of a cake.
I do accept the irony, in the light of my previous post. However, in my defence, this was not just any cake, but afternoon tea at Cassandra's Cup, the ye olde tea shoppe opposite Jane Austen's old house. And it was the last day of our wonderful weekend. And I had just walked a whopping four miles (ok so that's really not far, but considering my lack of fitness and the extreme mud, I don't think it's bad!) on a very lovely circular slopey squelchy route full of geocaches. Yes, having gratuitously insulted a number of friends for their interest in caching, I am now humbly (and publicly) eating my words. For it was fun. Even if I am now a muddy soggy windswept mess.
So, having made ourselves sufficiently muddy to appear as village peasant extras in a low budget Austenesque costume drama, we stopped for a terribly traditional and elegant afternoon tea, before tramping the mud around Jane Austen's house in Chawton.
And it was good.
This bedspread, made by Jane, her mother and sister, out of their old dresses. Not much white muslin there.
Jane Austen's prayer.
Most exciting of all, the very table (but not the very chair) which she uses to write her manuscripts.
Plaque on the wall outside.
<strike> Mad </strike> wonderful friend.
And a piece of lace made by Jane herself.
Muddy or not, a most excellent end to our weekend away.
Tomorrow, I'll step back into real life when I pick up the girls and start the merry round of nursing, hospital visits, meetings and everything else. But today, the rain held off until we reached the coffee shop, and stopped again by the time we'd finished. The sun shone, the wind blew, and we were very very happy.
An oasis, a beautiful bonus day once more after the New Wine Women's Day on Saturday. Still unpacking everything from that one, still sifting through what was thrown at us, and lots of extra reading to be done.
But once again, God was so good to us. With floods and storms all over the coast, He made it possible for us to arrive in brilliant sunshine. A wonderful lunch, and the giggles started. And only a mild drenching whilst chasing a rainbow before heading into Fawlty Towers for the weekend.
Blaze itself was awesome. Can I rise to the challenge it set? I hope so. I think I have a bit of a path, I know I have a God who loves me, and I'm absolutely certain He can take whatever I dare to throw at Him, if that's what I need to do. And I know He's given me truly awesome friends who will be walking alongside me whatever our future holds.
A ridiculously silly evening. Laughing until it hurts, over inappropriate and inexplicable nothingnesses. I am so thankful our God has a sense of humour, and chose to share it with us. Walking silly distances and climbing viewing platforms in horizontal rain; there is nothing like weather to reconnect us to the power of God. Excellent food, tasty wine, offbeat waitresses, and stupidly slidey bedclothes. Creaky floorboards, cracked walls, and terminal silliness.
And then, today, an Austen day.
Now I'm home, and tired, and going to soak my blistered feet. But I have remembered how much I used to love walking outdoors, and am resolved to find a way to be out there more, no matter what Miss Mog may need. So many God Breezes this weekend, so much more than we could ever have asked for, and the knowledge of so much more to come.
A little under two years ago, I stepped on the scales, and the number underneath me started with a 14. I didn't stop to read the rest, but jumped off fairly quickly, and stopped for a think.
Two years to go until the big four-oh, and I did not want to enter my forties getting ever larger.
I joined a gym that same week, a nice, friendly, small and unfashionable gym, ladies only and full of gentle encouragement from staff and fellow members, many of whom made me look like a spry young thing.
And I ate healthily (well sort of), and I found I had far far more energy, and things started feeling pretty good. And I lost two and a half stone (35lbs for my American friends), and I was starting to notice a difference.
And then tLP had surgery, and then the very week she went back to school, Mog got sick. And eight months on, she's still not well, and I've rarely left the house, and I turned forty fatter and less fit than I had been the year before.
This week, I went back to the gym. And it has changed, and it is scary. But the people are still friendly, and the personal trainer who went on maternity leave as I left is now back with a bonny eight month baby. And I will have a new review, and we will set targets again, and maybe at some point in the next few years, I will shed this extra weight - shockingly, I am overweight by the weight of my not-small eleven year old girl.
Imagine how much more easily I could carry her if I were only carrying one of her?