Restoration

After a challenging family day out during our holiday I lay awake in the middle of the night trying to untangle my worries. Fear heavy on my chest as I convinced myself I’d got parenting wrong from the start. Then I started to pray, I gave God all my concerns and questions. This is what I love so much about our Lord;- his power, the strength, perfect peace and wisdom he gives along with sometimes just one or two word answers. The word was RESTORATION. With it came an instant coolness to my head and a lightening of my heart. 

In the morning I looked up its full meaning and have been marvelling about it ever since. Like a stone getting stuck in the tread of a hiking boot, short tempers & tantrums were niggling in the smooth running of our family. Seeds of negativity infiltrate and sprout so quickly, even between my husband and I. We needed to come back together. I needed to come back to Jesus not fight with impatience and fear on my own (notice how these feelings always bring division and isolation!). I recalled how the absolute flawless presence of our Lord, the unwavering pillar of truth had gently exposed the lies and filth in me but there was no anger, fear or punishment just boundless LOVE – My blind eyes were opened to the seriousness and vastness of my sin but at exactly the same time I felt the intensity of the love God has for me. The ultimate in gentle discipline! 

  
 At times my behaviour is no better than a toddler’s, my emotions can get blown around by my circumstances but not when I rely fully on Jesus to strengthen the foundations in my heart. He is the joy and peace in all situations. God never gives up on us. He waits for us through our tantrums, pride, sulks and the freedom we have to go our own way, waiting for us to turn back to him so he can set us on the right path. Just as a parent waits for a toddler tantrum to subside, he is always there to scoop us up into his arms the millisecond we stop kicking and allow him to. After the restoration of my heart came the restoration of our family, that evening we were at full peace with each other reading about the greatest love of all under the most perfect dusk sky.
  

Real Love

When I was five I would curl up on my dad’s knee. If I really concentrate I can smell his work shirt; the soap and sweat mixed by the Lagos humidity. His hands were like giant’s compared to mine. I was entranced by the magic of cigarette smoke as it whirled up, danced and disappeared in the air. I would press my ear to his chest, listen to his heartbeat and then find mine with my palm and try to match it’s beat to his. I felt so safe, warm and calm as my head rose and fell with every breath he took. This is my earliest recollection of feeling loved. When I was 18 I held his frail hand, desperately clinging to his fast fading safety and protection. I watched his silhouette as his chest filled with air for the last time. I somehow made sense of the movement of the nurse’s lips and the world dropped from beneath my feet leaving me suspended, lost. I ran out of the room and an unfamiliar noise was released from the pits of my being. I felt an almighty pull in a place in my heart that I had no idea even existed. Then it dawned on me, our heartbeats could never be synchronised again and I calmly walked back to his bedside. The curtain was drawn around us and I kissed his forehead. The cold clinical atmosphere filled with a glowing warmth that filled me with an incredible feeling of hope and an overwhelming feeling of love. It was beautiful. It was perfect.

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My granny was the first person to make me feel special. She wrote my name on a small card and placed it on a placemat, next to a Christmas cracker, on a beautifully dressed table in a big room full with family. She never mentioned my shyness, never made me feel awkward for not eating the vegetables on my plate. Her house was always safe, warm and smelled of lavender. She drove fast on the motorway and there was always a tin of sweets in the glovebox. She loved birds and could make marmalade. After dinner she would break up chocolate into a bowl and leave it on a side table next to me. We spent evenings playing scrabble in front of the fire. I was fascinated at how she could knit without looking. She was the first and only grown up who I wanted to talk to so much it felt like I could burst. She would take me out of the bath and wrap a huge warmed towel around me and sing Rub-a-dub-dub. She would give me Kim’s favourite ball and let us out onto her perfectly manicured lawn and tell me he had missed me which delighted me. She always made sure that I had a tuck box full of treats to take back to school. She sent me typewritten letters and handwritten postcards that radiated warmth. Reading them today still makes my heart warm. She always kissed me good night, made sure I was warm enough and left a blanket incase I wasn’t. Her presents were simple and thoughtful. She made delicious meals and then told me she had put carrots in. I’m laughing now because I’ve just realised what she was doing! She is the reason I stopped being fussy and why I have the confidence to hold a conversation. I couldn’t stand it when she died. One of my remaining childhood toys is a teddy she let me choose from the toy shop. He’s missing his red ribbon from his neck and he is sat at the end of my daughter’s bed. Writing this has made it clear how much of her has shone through in the way I mother my children. My granny provided one of my deepest experiences of motherly love.

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I soon discovered a love that no one could take away from me. Safety, warmth and happiness. I felt accepted, free, at one with the world. I finally felt truly loved and I loved everyone. My cheeks hurt because I couldn’t stop smiling. I was so happy. I wasn’t scared of dying and if I was to die what better way to go than this! This incredible feeling tingled through my arms and my legs. Waves of elation rose and flowed through my body and exploded from the top of my head. I could fly!
The come downs got worse and worse. It took more effort to reach any kind of state that helped me numb my heart. My newfound love hadn’t become weaker, I had become a maniac. The feeling of it’s “love” leaving me was like sitting cold and naked in a drained bathtub with a head full of tangled barbed wire trapping echoes of laughter and bass. I couldn’t bear the internal pain as well as the two facedness of whatever substance I saw in the palm of my hand. I had been tricked. Synthetic love was a clever little lie.

I have prayed since I was a child. During the time mentioned above there was only one prayer I said at the start, “God please don’t let this kill me”. I didn’t do much praying after that. Prayers like asking to pass exams when I hadn’t put the work in, praying to win on a scratch card, praying to be a day girl instead of a boarder. I had never got the answers I wanted. I once prayed to be born again, I recited all the right words but nothing happened so I shrugged my shoulders and felt I was probably not worthy.

One prayer changed my life, it was an ordinary day and I crashed to my knees. I was hopeless. I was done with life. I had failed. I had such internal torment but I wasn’t even sure why. Yes, I’d experienced bad things but who hadn’t? I had friends, family, health, a good life. On paper everything seemed fine. There was just an emptiness in the bottom of my heart I couldn’t live with. I was at home and I crashed to my knees and said the biggest and scariest prayer of my life, “Lord, please help me, I can’t do this on my own anymore. I’m sorry for all the wrong things I have done. I want you to take control of my life. Please, please, please help me.” I meant those words with everything I had. I was fully prepared to change and give up my life and anything in it. I was done with making stupid decisions that had resulted in emptiness. Suddenly, I felt a heaviness physically lift from my soul. The guilt, the burden, the heavy heart. Feelings I didn’t even know I was feeling rose from my body and disappeared. Just like that. Gone. It brings tears to my eyes because it was such a powerful release. I felt love pouring into my heart. A great love. It was so pure, I don’t have the gift of vocabulary to ever fully do justice to it because it was greater than anything I knew of this earth. This was my first experience of God’s love.

Have you ever seen the Elephant Melody scene in Moulin Rouge? That was exactly how I imagined my future husband and I to feel when we met. It was nothing like that, there was no singing or fireworks, instead a quiet, inexplicable and intense connection, the more I got to know him the more it felt like broken or disconnected pieces of my life were slotting into place. It was calm, natural and effortless. All was blissful for three years into our marriage then out of nowhere we were in our first storm.

This time last year I didn’t think there was much chance of us still being together now. We had gone from being the best thing to happen to each other to the worst to happen to each other. A marriage in crisis really is one of the loneliest places to be. I found myself praying again, desperately. I knew I had to be patient in these turbulent times but it was hard, I was convinced that after the difficult life I’d had that I was doomed to brokenness. I didn’t deserve a happy ever after. Old haunts, worries, intense self destructive thirsts came flooding back. I told myself I wasn’t even a good enough mother to hide my sadness from my children, surely they were better off without me. Many evenings I drove up to the cliffs and fantasised about the drop. The blackness seemed so inviting. Months passed and when I thought it couldn’t get worse, it did, again and again. I cried at the horizon. I begged and pleaded “Where are you God, where are you?” I prayed and waited but nothing. I eventually decided I would turn away from God. He had answered my prayers for a family and a future but why was my marriage falling apart? This was a cruel trick, surely. Maybe it was a punishment? How could he ruin my life like this? But when I pictured my life without God all I could see was a bleak desert, cold and loveless. If it was true, if God really didn’t love me anymore then I would sit at his closed door because to be outside his closed door was better than a life without him.

The misery and rows continued. Our home became unbearable, we were strangers to each other, we circled one another emotionally wounded, a seething hive of eggshells and raw nerves. Utter confusion at how we had turned into enemies. We talked, we resolved, but every positive step got crushed. A mere word would splinter into foriousity. We were at war with each other day after day. Month after month. We faked happiness mid quarrel when realising we were being observed by our children. We avoided one another but to make arrangements on what the best was for them. Separation seemed to be the lesser of two evils. Marriage counselling expensive and with no one to sit with our children, impossible. The lure of divorce was everywhere I turned; quick, easy, cheap, and everyone seemed to be successfully doing it.

Then came our worst day of fighting, I sat on the kitchen floor clutching the phone after calling the Samaritans. “Martha’s” voice had been a welcome distraction but she couldn’t fix anything. Through the tears I repeatedly whispered, “Where are you?”.

My husband returned home with eyes still filled with hate. The rage between us continued so I walked out and went and sat beside our youngest daughter sleeping in her cotbed. I hung my head and lost hope. I conceded our family was well and truly broken. It was then that an incredible, vast, powerful, magnificent feeling of a love so pure, so brilliant, so wonderful descended into our home. The power felt like that of thunder, the room felt engulfed in a roaring fire but somehow the ‘flames’ were cool and gentle. It was perfect, perfect. So perfect. I was drawn back to the room I had angrily abandoned my husband in and we sat together into the night.

After a Church service the next morning, our lives had changed. The things we were fighting about hadn’t changed but everything had been fixed. Just like that. A permanent resolution that we could never have even come close to conceiving. Since that day our love has deepened and grown richer. I would have thought it madness or impossibility that I could have loved or felt loved by my husband more than I did the day we married, but that is what has happened. The depth is astonishing. We are now so strong in our union.

I was stunned for days at this sudden turnaround, but happier than I have ever been in my entire life. I will never forget that moment, the magnitude of purity of love that appeared. Have you ever seen elderly ladies singing to Jesus to take them home? That’s how I felt, the love I experienced that evening was so big, pure and perfect and safe I wanted to dance in that feeling for ever. Again I don’t have the words to do it justice. Divine intervention. Miracle. We are so blessed, so grateful and so happy. We have a new deeper understanding of one another and ourselves. We have the tools to move forward. I have a newfound and even greater respect for marriage and feel truly humbled to have been blessed to be in this position. Marital love is the greatest love of another person I have ever known. Marital love with the help of The Lord has been the most incredible and profound experience of my life. Just like that, he brought comfort, help and peace to our home.

In the weeks after I took a long hard look at my life. I remembered back to crashing to my knees and the certainty I felt of being prepared to change. I felt ashamed because I had to face the fact that in the years after I had reverted to my former ways. Old habits really do die hard. I thought back to the moment my Dad died, the sudden warmth in that room wasn’t his special way of saying goodbye to me after all and it wasn’t what happened when everyone died, it wasn’t a special sign he’d gone to heaven. I now recognised that presence. God was watching me then, letting me know that even though I thought I’d lost everything, he was there for me. Suddenly a well known poem I’d long admired finally made perfect sense, they weren’t my footprints in the sand.

My first child. The moment the blue line appeared, love drenched my soul. I felt deep inside there had been planted the most precious gift. I was protective of our baby from that moment. I even stopped swearing because I didn’t want it infiltrating through to my womb. When I first saw those little eyes blinking up at me I grew wings, I felt I could face an army of a thousand men if they dared to harm a single hair on my child’s head. I wondered where more love would come from for my next child, somehow it multiplied and again for my third! Limitless, unconditional. In the moments I look at my children the love rushes through me, their eyes stun me into a heavenly trance. Warm, real, beautiful.

I have said a prayer, in my head, every day without fail for each of my children from the moment I knew I was pregnant. Only recently have I started praying out loud with them but I hadn’t spoken to them about Jesus because if I’m honest I didn’t feel “qualified” as I am still learning myself. I had always been under the impression it was best left to the professionals like RE teachers at school or Sunday school. If I’m really honest, I’ve always felt a bit shy and rubbish at praying out loud. The other month my daughter had not been very nice to her sister. I explained to her how it might have made her feel. I put my hand on her chest and said it probably made her feel sad in her heart but it is better when we feel happy in our heart. Out of nowhere she asked if we could say a prayer. I was completely taken aback. She had made the connection. Our bedtime prayers had been the most basic prayers “Dear Lord, thank you for our warm cosy beds and help us to have a nice sleep. Amen” that was it! Nothing complex! I immediately knew she had experienced the warmth of Jesus’ love in her heart from when we had been praying at bedtime. And there was my answer, I didn’t need to teach her or explain it to her because just by sharing a simple prayer with her she had already felt it and her heart was speaking for itself. I knew in that instant she had experienced the joy of all the love she was ever going to need in her life. That is Love. Bigger than me. Bigger than anything I could physically provide for my children while I am here. Everlasting.

The love that I have experienced from Jesus this year has been mind blowing. It has changed my life. Feeling the absolute perfection and grace of his presence seems to have exposed the many imperfections in myself. Becoming a mother made me lose my thirst for swearing, drinking and smoking, now I have the joy of Jesus in my heart I have lost the thirst for all that is not of him. I thought I was a fairly good person on the whole, yes I’d done stupid things, regrettable things, but I wasn’t bad bad. How wrong was I! I need working on on a daily basis! On a minute by minute basis most of the time. Like a photograph slowly exposing, the more I seek to know Jesus, the more I feel his almighty love, the more my many imperfections rise to the surface and the more I am humbled by his magnificent grace. I’ve noticed that when my children know they’ve done something wrong, they cover their eyes with their hands or hide under a cushion, it made me laugh one day because I realised that’s what I did with God, the things I do and have done wrong, I try and hide, ignore and bury them hoping they’ll disappear! I have learnt that nothing is too shameful, embarrassing, or bad for God, nothing. He corrects with Love. This is exactly how I am striving to be with the upbringing of my children. I am learning from his gentle corrections. I have certainly learnt a thing or two in my behaviour as a woman, in my relationships with the people around me. I fall so short of the perfect beauty of Jesus’ love and everyday I am still learning to be guided by him in my heart.

God’s love is the greatest love I have ever known. I have learnt that it is up to me to make the effort to nurture my relationship with Jesus. He would never barge in on my life because he is love, of course love doesn’t force it’s way in. He is there the moment we say his name with our whole heart and from there everything is easy. He makes it all easy. He provides the answers, heals all the pain. Brings joy in devastation. Turns tears of grief into tears of happiness. There are many many lies, he is the truth. He is waiting patiently around us until we call, flowing in us the millisecond we do, perfect, forgiving, so forgiving, gently guiding. His is real love, we can’t see it, we can only feel it. It drenches our hearts making us want to do better, to live better and to love better.

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Jeremiah 29:11

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Matthew 11:28

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Proverbs 3 v5-6

Boys to Men

Since as far back as I can remember, one of my favourite topics of conversation has been ‘men’. From passing notes about boys in school to giggling with the girls about guys to relatives asking when I was going to find the right man to marry. My relationship with men has had it’s highs and lows. I have gone through boy mad phases and long periods when I’ve wanted nothing to do with them.

The other day my husband was busy mending something and had his toolbox open. It was overflowing with all types of tools. I thought back to when I first met him; he didn’t even own a screwdriver. In a short period of time he’d acquired a mass of tools to fix any type of problem. It made me think how much this man had grown from a boyfriend who used to leap onto night buses with me, sleep till noon and enjoy lazy brunches, to a husband and father who’s main focus is protecting and providing for our family. It made me stop to appreciate what an amazing job he does and my thoughts turned to the men who take on this role. It is not easy. It gave me a new perspective on men, because I’ve not always thought so highly of them.

I banned boys from my fifth birthday party and aged nine announced I was allergic to them, specifically the loud, boisterous ones that were eager to show off their private bits and ‘accidentally’ trip up in the playground to look up girls’ skirts. Unfortunately around this time I developed a crush on a boy in the year above. So new and intense was this feeling, that under a mad haze of euphoria, with my stomach feeling like it was under the attack of a million butterflies, I asked him out. He mumbled something about me being too young and delivered my first painfully brutal rejection that no amount of Walkman rewinds of Kylie and Jason’s Tears on My Pillow could soothe.

After my 11+ I was carted off to an all girls boarding school. At last, no boys! This should have been my idea of heaven. Within the first few weeks the gossip about why the science lab was short on test tubes had completely grossed me out and the expectation to sit around braiding each others hair was just a bit weird. As soon as I was in, I wanted out. Suddenly all I could think about was boys. Boys. Boys. Boys. The boys were on the other side of the school wall. I became good at climbing walls. I just thought they were so cool, I liked the way they made playing pool look easy, I was entranced by their heated competitiveness when kicking a football in the park and the way they started nudging each other, then pushing, then hooking an arm over each others necks.

By fifteen I was a mature, sophisticated woman. A woman who, from photographic evidence, was taking makeup lessons from a drunk clown. I was never impressed or interested in boys and their cars, I was always more about boys who would put their jackets over my shoulders when it was cold and pretend they knew something about astronomy.

By twenty I was completely disillusioned with men and stuck between a highly addictive, unstable relationship and a world of clubbing where some of men’s worst traits were revealed under the mask of alcohol. During this time I began to lose respect for men. Sometimes a girl did just want to dance without some bloke grinding up behind her. Some men seemed to lack any control of their hands, especially when a girl’s outfit included a skirt. Some men didn’t come to dance, they just stared. Some were solitary, prowling around the edges of the dance floor waiting to corner the girls who looked the most drunk. I watched men as they watched girls. I saw how worthless some saw women, how they thought the cost of a cheap drink bought their time. I heard the conversations of groups of men and the derogatory words and phrases they used. Then, after a particularly heavy night out, I watched dawn break and proclaimed that all men were pigs.

It was the new millennium and in the moments of life between the sounds of Kelis’ Caught Out There, TLC’s No Scrubs and Destiny’s Child Independent Woman, I saw men as weak, pathetic beings who at the flash of a purposely exposed Wonderbra cleavage turned into idiotic docile dogs.

Over the next few years I phased out men and began an amazing period of my life where I was back to being just me. No boyfriends, no dates, no men, nothing. I went to the cinema on my own a lot and always felt a thrill asking for a ticket for one and particularly enjoyed having the armrest to myself. It was a magical time in my life and one of necessary self discovery. I knew I didn’t want to cut men out of my life indefinitely but I took a step back and promised myself that if a man came along, he really had to knock me off my feet.

As I was living this new and wonderfully uncomplicated existence I was asked out a few times. I would instantly dismiss men on the most superficial level, too cocky, too fat, too short, too tall, too rude, too bald. Too many teeth, not enough teeth, awful jacket, bad shoes, too creepy, too nice. I once turned down a date just because the guy was a doctor, he fell under the category ‘too boring’. My conversations with men were very brief until the day I agreed to meet a man who I hadn’t been able to come up with any negative adjectives for. We had a ten hour non stop conversation. He felt like home. In a few short weeks I was happily sharing the armrest.

In the 4 years we’ve been married I’ve seen this man step up to the role of husband and father. Provide for my every need. Support me through huge transitions, the best times and some of the worst times. He’s never failed to take my calls at his desk when I’ve been in tears because I just can’t handle another toddler tantrum. I’ve seen a man nod sympathetically when I have gone on another pregnancy hormone fueled tirade and pretend to understand why such a trivial matter has turned my world upside down.

I could not have got through the births of our children without the safety and reassurance he provided. I have seen him work harder than ever before to put a warm, safe roof over our heads. I’ve seen a man that leaves at the crack of dawn, deals with the demands of work and comes home to be grunted at by a frazzled wreck that barely resembles the woman he married and on seeing that her day may not have been filled with breezy play dates tells her to put her feet up while he does bathtime. I’ve seen a man who had the exact same expression on his face as his newborn daughter the moment she let out her first cry. I’ve seen the lightening speed at which our daughters race to the front door the second they hear the key in the latch. I’ve witnessed a special kind of love that only exists between a father and his child. I’ve seen a man who just makes everything easy for us.

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I was probably one of the toughest nuts to crack, it terrified me and went completely against my independent nature to allow him to take the reigns of both our lives but in doing so and seeing him build us a life and home has allowed me to experience and, much to my surprise, actually enjoy a side of my womanhood that I never knew existed in me. No one could be more surprised than me that I find such joy in spending my days with our children. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to immerse myself wholeheartedly into motherhood during these precious years. Every day feels like he’s taking his jacket off to put on my shoulders.

Now I am 34 and I think sometimes men don’t get the recognition they deserve as husbands and fathers. It’s such an important role and equally as hard as that of wife and mother. So much more focus seems to be on babies and mothers at the beginning of family life. My husband gave me my most treasured piece of parenting advice just before our first baby was born, he highlighted the fact that we would both be new to parenting and neither of us would have all the answers. We would have to work together. This really stayed with me and it made me recognise and tame my inner motherly control freak that wanted to do everything my way. Every decision made in caring for our children, however minor, has been a joint one.

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This week he called me over to our 5 month old daughter and said “watch this”. He clapped his hands and to my astonishment she clapped hers! I asked him to do it again. He did. Then she did. I was astonished because at the moment my daily playtime routine with our youngest is tummy time with toys and mostly me making silly faces and talking or singing to her. This baby and I are together all the time and I hadn’t picked up on her readiness for the next stage of development but my husband, through weeks of working late nights, video calls and weekends busy decorating had brought out this incredible moment.

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Some weekends I see fathers with newborns doing laps of the park. It makes me smile because I always think, somewhere indoors, there is probably a shattered mum with her feet up enjoying a cup of tea that’s actually hot. These men are marvellous.