Tag Archive | grief

Grief…

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I’ve talked about grief before. The grinding, end-of-world kind of grief that shatters lives. No promises are made to contrary – the one thing we can all know is that there will be pain,, hardship, suffering. The best we can hope for is that we might be spared it for long enough to reach our adult years unscathed…

But all too often, that’s not the way it goes; recently, I attended the funeral of a friend who had died suddenly while on a kite surfing holiday in Morocco. Apparently he’d just sat down on the beach at the end of a fabulous day of doing what he loved, had a massive heart attack and was found dead some time afterwards. The funeral was a heartbreaking exposure of the grief of his much loved wife and their three teenage children.

In the crematorium and at the reception afterwards, there was one word hanging over us all, often unspoken, but, none-the-less ever present… ‘why?’

Why do our loved ones get taken at what, so often, seems to be the peak of their life?

To the best of our knowledge, my friend was healthy and had everything to live for; he had been vibrant with energy and zest for living. He was loved and needed.

shutterstock_182053358Among his friends and family, the question ‘why?’ was followed by largely unspoken accusations against the capricious God who had stolen their loved one away without just cause or warning; others saw it as unwelcome proof of the absence of a god at all.

As a Christian, those that know me, and know my reliance on Jesus Christ, will at some point ask me all the questions and point some of the accusations that they are burdened with in my direction. I have no answers except this…

Along with all the much wiser people who have gone before me, I have no explanations for suffering and the brutalities of loss. All I know is that Jesus Christ never claimed, for one moment, that a life in His presence would be a life unburdened by hardship (John 16 v33), though He did promise to bring us comfort to help us bear it all (Matthew 11 v28).

And of one thing, I’m absolutely sure – I wouldn’t want to go through any of the pain that I see in my friend’s family – and that, at other times, I’ve experienced in my own – without Jesus by my side, bringing me comfort, lighting my way, and making my feet more secure on the craggy rocks of life.

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Today is a sad, sad day…

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In January this year, I wrote about Marcus, our extremely characterful Maine Coon cat. He has given plenty of warning that his time was coming to an end, and at sixteen years old, we didn’t feel that his life was being cut unreasonably short. But, when he started to lose weight, I took him for a trip to the vet to check that there was nothing we were missing, and was told that he had a heart murmur, a sizeable growth in his large intestine and thyroid issues. Basically, Marcus was not in any pain, but he was going to die and there was nothing we could do.

So, he continued to be firmly in charge of our home until the very last. He became more and more fussy about what he ate and lost more weight accordingly, until, in the last few weeks, he had become a shadow of his former self, sleeping more and more, but never showing any signs of distress or discomfort.

We had been so anxious that he shouldn’t suffer, on tenterhooks as we watched his every move for signs that he might be in distress – ready to step in and do the humane thing. But we needn’t have worried, our gentle, sociable, generous feline had it all under control.

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He remained highly sociable to all and sundry, enjoying attention and loving strokes and being scratched under the chin – full of purrs right until the end. Yesterday, he made sure he spent some time with everybody he needed to, and then he spent last night on my lap, not sleeping much, just being.

This morning he was found in his favourite spot in front of the wood burner. Peacefully hogging the fire until the end.

Among the confusion of grief, relief that he went so peacefully and the aching hole now that he’s gone, there tends to be a niggling question as to whether loving someone or something is worth the pain of loss at the end.

And of course, we know the answer:

Love is a messy, bumpy, beautiful, scary, joyful, painful road.

Without it life wouldn’t be worth the ride.

Trusting to the End… And Warriors All the Way

 Without God’s grace we age like failing white goods, purposeless and ’in the way’ until we get dumped on the tip. But with God’s grace we become warriors, on the front line – where all the action is.

(the thoughts behind our song ‘Closer to You’)

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OK. I give in, I admit it. I probably ought to get my eyes tested and accept that it’s time I started to wear reading glasses. I’m not sure if the resistance has been about vanity or about simple denial of old age. But now the inevitable is starting to get its own way.

And, actually, it’s OK.

I remember a time when I used to lie awake at 2.00am, worrying about the big issues in life, like death and old age. You know, the really big scary ones that can work you into a cold sweat when you’re supposed to be getting some deep refreshment to ready yourself for the rigours of the coming day. Now, if I lie awake at all, it will be to fret about such weighty issues as whether I gave the cat it’s worm tablet or to wonder if I will have time to pick blackberries for the freezer. Life seems to have moved on.

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Which is strange, because old age and, presumably, death are looming a jolly sight closer than they used to be when I lay awake worrying about them. So what has changed?

Well, actually the answer is simple, in short, it’s due to my ever deepening faith in God.shutterstock_197213135

I find that the more I see of this planet, the more I learn, the more I come to be confident that God is calmly at the centre of it all, watching me, loving me and keeping me safe.shutterstock_133138838

’Safe’, of course, doesn’t mean without pain, illness or grief, ’safe’ is bigger picture stuff.  In John 16 verse 33 (NIV) Jesus says:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

As I say, ’safe’ is not about the journey, it’s about where it all ends – and, I don’t wish to spoil anything for you all, but I’ve sneaked a look at the end of the story – in the end, The Lamb wins.

We will grow old; the alternative is viewed by most as even less attractive, but, as we grow beyond our sixties, many of us will experience a gradual erosion of our self esteem. The modern western world is so inclined to assess our value by how much we earn, what we achieve in a commercial sense. That getting-out-of-bed-to-go-to-work thing has a huge impact on the sense of purpose, and hence, value of all of us.

I’ve been talking to some elderly friends who break the mould recently. Last night I spent the evening with Betsy, who, at 84 is a truly inspiring member of our church. She has had her full share of the ’trouble’ that is a part of living in the world – her husband died seven years ago and she lost a son to a massive heart attack eighteen months ago. I particularly wanted to speak with her because, last year when I was talking with some church friends about God’s continued purpose in our lives, Betsy said “and you know what? It just keeps getting better.”

She laughed when I asked her about this, and told me that if she compares herself now with the Betsy of twenty years ago, she’s grown; she trusts God more – she trusts that whatever pain comes her way, He will work through it with her, and it will be OK. She described peace, the presence of The Holy Spirit; and she also described her increased sensitivity to His presence and what He is asking of her. She hears his voice more easily.

You know that feeling of elation when God has asked you to do or say something to someone? You’ve been brave, done as He has asked you – and then seen from their face that He has used you so that He can work a much needed miracle? Well Betsy gets that all the time. Every Sunday in church, she will be sensitive to who God wants her to ’get beside’, and, every Sunday, she finds that she has been led to a person who specifically needs prayer, God’s encouragement and someone wise to talk to.shutterstock_110911754

I also spent some time with my mother in law, Ella, who, at 79,  positive, energetic and determined to get the most out of life, is an inspiration in so many ways. But we weren’t actually talking about her, our conversation was about her Aunt Miriam. Aunt Miriam was a Methodist Preacher. She married once – to Harold – when she was in her late sixties. He was the love of her life. Four years later he died.

Ella told me that until Miriam was too old to ride her bicycle, she used to cycle round Sandbach, taking cakes, coal, medicines, you name it, if it was needed and she could fit it into her basket, she’d take it to someone.

I met Miriam once, in an old peoples home in Sandbach. It was a few weeks before she died; she was sitting in a chair, fast asleep when we arrived, and when she woke up her face was beaming with deep joy and welcome. She was 92 and utterly beautiful. The memory stays with me.shutterstock_163889813

Two weeks later, she told Ella that Harold had visited her in a dream the night before, he told her he was expecting her to join him in a couple of days time; Jesus had also come to her and she was so excited, she was about to go home. She died peacefully two nights later.

God’s work thrives on the intercession of women (and men) like Betsy and Miriam, and across the world there are successful churches built on the bedrock provided by their unceasing prayer. Listening, obedient prayer warriors. They are at the very forefront of God’s work.

My ambition is that one day, I might become one of them.

Yep – horrible stuff is going to happen in life, a lot of it already has, but we are all so loved, and I have come to realise that, if I allow Him to, God will extract value and purpose out of my every breathing moment.

And then he will take me home.

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When grief takes hold

When grief takes hold

Behind the song ‘Life Goes On’.

Last year I had my tenth miscarriage.

I find it strange that with each pregnancy hope for a second child would be reborn with renewed optimism. Excuses would be found for previous miscarriages that would make this pregnancy different. And then, as things started going wrong, I grew familiar with the pattern: shock and disbelief, a strong but all too brief sense of unreality, followed by anger… in my case, anger very clearly directed at God for allowing my hopes to be raised and then summarily dashed again; anger at wasted time, wasted hope, wasted plans. A deep sense of betrayal.

Followed by defeat.

And finally, the questions… questions that would linger on and rock the very foundation of my faith.

In the midst of my last storm, my Lord made something clear to me. He showed me the disciples, among a great crowd following Christ to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, waving palm fronds and singing. Christ was their great hope, he was going to save the Jews from the oppression of the Romans, he came with wisdom, kindness and miracles and he turned life on its head.

But then, in the space of twenty-four hours, their great hope was betrayed, humiliated and sentenced to death by crucifixion.

Christ’s followers must have been waiting for him to do something to save himself, but he did nothing. They’d seen amazing miracles, and they’d witnessed extraordinary eloquence, but, in his own defence he did and said absolutely nothing.

I bet they continued to wait for a miracle right until the last moment on the cross when he gave up his spirit.

Then there must have been shock and disbelief, followed by anger and probably a palpable sense of betrayal. On that Friday, all they felt they were left with was a broken body.

And then came defeat.

What God was showing me was that, whereas we know exactly why Christ suffered death, was buried and rose again – we get it, it is the very centre of everything we learn about Him – the disciples had none of this prior knowledge. They had very little clue as to what the greater plan was. Each stage had to be experienced in full Technicolor and could only be reviewed with the benefit of hindsight later.

But God knew the plan; in his hands a great miracle was being done.

In the midst of each of our personal tragedies, we will all suffer shock and disbelief, anger and finally defeat. But God wants to be with us to help us through the pain and to ease the burden.

And we can know, that in the depths of our pain … someone has been there before.