I woke up last night fully clothed and not in my own bed (I thought this kind of thing had stopped once I stopped going out!). Last thing I remember was shutting my eyes for an early evening snooze then being woken by my 2yo who was having a midnight tantrum. So I got into bed with her and then not long after I was woken by my 5yo who was sat up and crying because she’d had a bad dream, I didn’t get out of my 2yo’s bed for fear of waking her so I spoke softly over to her “It’s okay darling lie down and go back to sleep” she immediately stopped sniffling, lay down and went to sleep. It was 3am and in that moment I was reminded how God cares for us. He speaks to us and at his word we lay our head down and rest. I didn’t know at the time but this gentle night time reminder would stand me in good preparation for today. All day this verse keeps breathing into my soul “I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” Jeremiah 32:27. God is always speaking to us all, those familiar with his voice and those yet to be. He is the whisper of hope in devastating times, the warmth in the bleakness, the nudges of gentle encouragement when the storms come. When we stand on his word there is nowhere to go but to enter into peace, the full rest.
On Sunday morning we were reminiscing with such joy about loved ones who are no longer with us. That evening I received a phonecall with some very sad news. I’ve been walking around doing the usual everyday things but my heart has been floored. Inside I have felt so weak, as if my soul was just a puddle on the floor. While I was washing up I was telling God how sad I was, how my heart hurt for the immediate family, I felt so broken that they were experiencing this devastation and I said “All I can do is rely on you to carry me Lord, I’m so weak with pain” then the Lord spoke to my heart “Why are you crying as if there is no hope?” I felt as if he was gently lifting my chin and in that moment I was reminded how mighty our God is; we have a God who is bigger than all the pain, sickness and death, we have a God of hope. We have a God who understands our worries, fears and questions and is available at all times. We have a God who provides healing, peace and deep joy. We have a God who is in total control. We have a God who we can trust, even more so when we can’t see further than the blur of our eyes that are clouded with tears. He is the inexplicable presence of warmth in times of devastation.
Two verses immediately came to mind and soothed my heart –
“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3 and
“Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5.
When sadness has pushed me down and left me a broken mess on the floor, my hands are up ready for our Lord to pull me up and carry me through. His love leaves no room for worry –
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18
He is always with us, pouring out his love and providing us with the strength to go on.
“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” 1 Peter 5:7
Fear has been regularly knocking at my door through the misdiagnoses, scans, appointments, prescriptions, referrals, medications, Internet self diagnoses and handling the increasing severity of pain. I had to get through a lot of opposition to get the right medication but got there in the end. I was praying for just one day of feeling okay, just one day! And now I’m so grateful to have had 2 weeks pain free. There are still tests to do and specialists to see but I’ve learnt so much on this journey. I’ve experienced fear that subtly creeps in, it starts off as a small pin prick but it’s venom spreads through the body so quickly and, with me, at the worst it ends with anger or tears. Sometimes I’ve felt too cross to ask God for help but I’ve known that he is my only help. When I haven’t known which doctors opinion to trust I know I’m already in safe hands. When I’ve let my mind run away with the dread of what could be, he has reminded me that it’s ALL good anyway. When I’ve struggled with daily activities he’s flooded my heart with sweet words of comfort, hope and peace. When a doctor has expressed their irritation towards me, Jesus has instantly healed the hurt; showing me that doctors are only human too, they may feel pressure in their profession and to love them deeply anyway. When I have felt out of control, he has drenched me with the security that he is in control. He has enabled me to be thankful for the miraculous way in which my body works and to see the multitude of things to be grateful for that always far outweigh the difficult stuff. I’ve learnt to lean on him for everything because he really does care about the smallest details in our lives. His comfort and peace in every circumstance is like no other. It’s all been so wonderfully faith building. So fear, what ever guise it taps on the window in; terror, anxiety, post traumatic stress…He gives us the power to flick it away like the annoying little gnat it is. We don’t need to be afraid or even need to exhaust ourselves fighting or trying to control fear, we need only be still, trusting in Jesus. When I feel those first ripples of fear, that is my cue to fix my eyes on our maker.
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18
“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7
“Cast all you anxiety on him because he cares for you” 1 Peter 5:7
“When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.” Psalm 94:19
There have been so many adverts for LOVE over the last few days as well as images representing hope, peace and unity but in some of the attached exchange of comments there have been sparks of hate. It makes me glad we don’t have access to our own private armies, we’d be launching attacks left, right and centre!
How can we claim we love when we slam the door on people’s opinions just because they differ from ours?
How can we claim to want unity when we divide by viciously telling people to go away when they hold different views?
How can we claim peace when we are quick to call and respond to each other with horrid names?
Everyone’s story is valid, no one is more important than another. We all have the ability and intelligence to accept or reject people’s point of view, that is our human right, but sometimes we throw out the person along with their opinions. Before discarding the person, LISTEN. Really listen. Listen to their story. Ask questions. Open up. Share. It’s so amazing when we break that first barrier and we don’t let our preconceptions get in the way. Fear puts up angry barriers, love breaks them down. People will always have different views and make different choices, those are the results of the incredible gift of free will.
Like all of us I know how to love, but I am continually questioning – am I loving as fully as I could today? Is it “love” to shower it generously on my loved ones but then hold it back at someone who I feel offended by? One thing I know is that LOVE HAS NO PARTIALITY. What good are the big displays of love if we don’t have it written in the small print of our hearts? I think the difference I can make today is to make sure I am loving fully, make sure that I’m giving love in the small details of life. To love not only the people who are easy to love but the people who are difficult to love. I know this is only possible not by my weak and pathetic standards of love but but by keeping my heart entrusted to Jesus, who enables all that do to love like him – fully, powerfully and without limits, everyday allowing him to soften and mould our hearts to be humble, gentle and kind.
“As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34)
I’m good at grumbling, I’m so naturally great at it I make Morrissey look like Mary Berry. A couple of weekends back I’d had enough of my chronic illness. Tired & grumpy I left my husband & children and charged back off to bed. As I lay in bed frowning at the ceiling I prayed, “Seriously Lord, you give me 3 children to care for, how am I supposed to do that when my body won’t let me! I know you can heal me in a breath, why aren’t you healing me? I can’t take this pain anymore! Lord what do I do?!” Then my exhausted heart calmed “what do I do?” Suddenly peace fell upon me and a list of so many things I had to be grateful for started flooding into my mind. All these wonderful gifts I’d taken for granted since I’d woken that morning;- the gift that I’d opened my eyes, I was able to enjoy the soft sparkle of the sun. Blood rushing through my body, my heartbeat, oxygen, cells. Underneath my skin there was a busy network of a million miracles continuously taking place, keeping me alive. The part of my body that wasn’t functioning properly had grown so big in my mind that it had taken over my day but in that moment it shrank so minute in comparison to all the wonderful things that I had to be grateful for (in my body alone!) In life there will be hardships but there is always certainty in times of uncertainty -Jesus is enough to carry us through. His peace surpasses all understanding. He was not only reminding me to trust and be thankful, he was enabling me to do so.
“The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:26-27)
“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
The immense power of his love for all of us has made it possible to dance in our turmoils, sing in our heartbreak, smile through our pain and have the wonderful gift of a thankful heart. What a faith building experience!
Truth brings peace, calm and security. When I have lied; it made me feel guilt and shame. When I have been lied to; it was confusion and anger. Lies always need and breed more lies, this causes even more confusion. Some money went missing at work once, it caused suspicion, division, blame, anger, conflict, worry and unrest amongst colleagues. Even though I hadn’t taken it I found myself filled with fear that someone might think that I did. When the truth came out it restored unity and calm and no doubt brought freedom from fear and guilt to the person who had been dishonest. Only truth opens a way for forgiveness. Lies don’t allow this process, a lie keeps a person a prisoner in shame and guilt. When I’ve told a lie, I can see that my initial feeling is wanting to appear as truthful as possible. A lie always tries to imitate the truth. When we’re conned we have no idea we are being lied to until we find out the truth, only then do we see the trail of deceit and destruction.
Unrest, division, panic, confusion, anger, fear, guilt, shame and insecurity are all symptoms of lies. In life, in relationships, our marriages, our families, in society, in how we feel about ourselves or in our behaviour. These feelings, however mild or intense should never be tolerated as a normal part of everyday life.
By my pathetic self judgement and preconceptions about Jesus I thought I knew the things I had done wrong but I could never even begin to comprehend the extent of my sin, until I was shown. When I decided to put all my trust in God he breathed truth into my life, only then was I able to see my trail of destruction. I was able to see how utterly imperfect I am. Despite this God forgave me, drenching me with love, mercy and grace the instant I asked for forgiveness and gave my life to him in the quiet of my bedroom. By choosing to have a relationship with Jesus, he helps, teaches and makes it possible (by instilling a desire) to always walk in truth whatever our weaknesses and whatever situation we face. What a wonderful peace, calm and security he gives because He IS the truth.
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6
As I walked home with my daughters, I was enjoying the heat of the sun and marvelling at what a pretty town we lived in. I felt lucky that we moved here. I took a deep breath and exhaled relief because I had recently come through one of the most turbulent few months of my life and everything was good again.
As I was crossing the road, I saw some people gathered on the other side. They took up most of the lowered section that’s built for wheeled access so I struggled to lift the buggy up onto the high part of the curb. It was no bother, I was in such a good mood that nothing was going to wipe the smile off my face.
The words you shouted hit me like bullets in my back. I was stunned. I felt nervous that some trouble was about to begin so I turned to make sense of what was going on. As I scanned the scene it struck me that everyone was still going about their normal activities. No one had even flinched. Then it sank in that you had aimed your comments at me. I tried to make eye contact with you to show my disapproval but when I saw you tip your head back with laughter my heart froze. I realised that the words hadn’t fallen out of your mouth by mistake.
Disapproval was quickly followed by disbelief. Disbelief was replaced with confusion. Confusion then turned into fear. An intense fear. Adrenaline took over and quickened my step, I needed to get my children as far away from you as fast as possible. I was shaking. I felt singled out, hunted down and very frightened. My heart was pounding and I felt removed from my body. I felt like I had been exposed and I desperately needed a pavement grey coloured camouflage to cloak us to escape your glare. I suddenly became very aware of my skin and I needed to disappear.
At a safe distance, I stopped to check my children were okay and felt a huge wave of relief wash over me that one was still asleep and the other too young to understand what you had said. More importantly, too young to see the real impact it had on their mother. I didn’t want them to sense that I was afraid. It was at this point I grew so angry that I thought to turn back to give you a piece of my mind. Had you not seen I was with children? I wanted to report you to the police. In my head, I scrambled for a witty one liner about you needing some geography lessons as I was, in fact, from a different continent than the one you had assumed. I wanted to mock you with the fact that I’m half English. As my anger spiralled out of my control I wanted to phone my husband and tell him that we needed to move and get as far away from this awful town as possible. I kept picturing you cackling behind my back. I was furious.
These horrid feelings were attacking my body and mind. But I didn’t want them to. I didn’t want to be angry. I didn’t want to feel afraid and I didn’t want to feel confused. I tried to brush them off, pretend I felt fine. For goodness sake I am a grown woman, how could a few silly words get to me so much. But deep down I knew the weight of those words. I felt something change within and could foresee its effect on my self perception, consequently manifesting in the way I raised my daughters. I knew I couldn’t successfully mother them if I felt bad about myself. I couldn’t deny that I felt different somehow and I had no idea how I was going to deal with it. I felt sad as I faced and reluctantly accepted my new label, “Victim of Racial Abuse”.
Then I remembered Jesus. Instantly a warm gentle flowing of calm filled my heart and it became perfectly clear that those words that had come out of your mouth had not only intended to spoil my day but to do me long term harm. They wanted to fill my mind with negativity, anger and self hate. Their aim was to breed within me so I could never look at myself or others in the same way again. I smiled as I recognised and rejected those feelings with such ease, they have no place in my life. Confidently I told myself, “my heart has been filled with love” and love can never coexist with hate, fear, malice, viciousness or any other form of poison against our bodies. They are all lies and there is only one truth.
Now I am terrible at forgiving, it’s a struggle for me not to hold a grudge and those words you said really hurt. But when I felt Jesus’ love drench my heart then forgiveness became effortless, natural and instantly those horrid feelings were replaced with joy. A joy that carried me home that day feeling better and happier than before.
What you didn’t know was that when I was nine years old (probably not much younger than you are now) another boy used the same form of attack on me. He spat one word at me. I cycled home so fast that day and I never told a soul. I lay in bed, squeezing my eyes shut as I recited “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me”, over and over. It didn’t work. I was still hurt. There began a journey of complicated self questioning that a young mind was not mature enough to handle.
It’s amazing, I never understood the impact that one word had on me as a child, until today.
From a young age I had been aware of my skin colour. My arm was always the arm classmates would compare their Summer holiday tan on. I understood that it was all natural children’s curiosity, it never had even a tinge of malice. It was the same type of fascination that occurred when someone turned up with a new Pop Swatch, new glasses, a Fanta yo-yo, a perm or their leg in plaster. I knew that this wasn’t the same. That word had struck me like a poisoned dart laced with a viciousness that seeped through my body and made me feel bad about myself. The colour wouldn’t rub off, yes I tried, so I was stuck with it.
It wasn’t until my twenties that I was brave enough to look at my skin again. I discovered there was a beautiful golden tone that ran through it. It looked healthy. There were tiny fair hairs on it that sparkled in the sun. Once I had recognised these qualities in my own skin, it wasn’t long before I started noticing others. I saw beautiful, rich, warm, smooth mahogany tones that shimmered in the light. Incredible pale translucent skin that was flawless. I saw skin splattered with freckles perfectly placed to highlight exquisite features. There were so many different skin types and tones and I began to see how much beauty there was in diversity. Once I’d realised this I was immediately transported back to the mentality I had as child; not to see colour. It’s been wonderful to witness this in the innocence of my children’s minds. When my eldest daughter was 2.5 years old she drew a picture of our family. She used a brown crayon for me and a pink one for her Dad and sister. I expected her to ask questions but she never did. It was just so natural and simple to her. She drew what she could see but she didn’t see that anyone was different.
So back to that sunny day to the moment our paths crossed. I have found that there is an undercurrent of hate in our world, and it will not breed and spread through me, however subtly it wants to. Vicious intent through words has existed long before you were born and I do not doubt that you are a good person with a good heart.
When I put my children to bed that night I said an extra little prayer just for you. I prayed for your happiness, that you would have wonderful people and experiences come into your life and that you would never be targeted by any form of hate. And if one day you happen to remember the moment you said what you said and maybe thought that it wasn’t really that funny after all, I wanted you to know that you needn’t feel bad about it. Please know that all is well.
I wish you good things.
Lots of love
The lady who, believe it or not, was once young just like you and who also thought she was a gifted comedian amongst her mates too.