Be still my soul

Guitar

My friend Kim is an inspiration; her Dad died of cancer several years ago. I met her after her Dad had died, before my mum received her first diagnosis, and I was amazed by her. She spoke about her Dad openly. She misses him and is so proud of him, but the pain hasn’t consumed her. Life has carried on, and with God’s help, so has she.

I didn’t tell her about my mum at first; I didn’t feel like my mum’s breast cancer diagnosis was anything compared to her Dad’s death. It was a couple of months before she found out, and then I was probably just as surprised by her reaction as she was to my mum’s diagnosis; she thought it was a big deal. After that, I was honest with her in relation to my Mum. I was worried at first, in case it reminded her of her Dad and it made her sad, but she reassured me that the reason she didn’t talk to me about her Dad was because he died, and she didn’t want me to think that my Mum would too.

When I moved away from the city, I continued to text and call her for advice. The weekend we discovered that the cancer had spread to her brain, I rang Kim. I was so scared. I had no idea how I felt, or what was going to happen to our family. Everything seemed to be moving so quickly, and the doctors were saying things that I didn’t want to hear. We talked, but her experience of cancer was totally different to mine, her Dad’s death no way like my Mum’s, but she did encourage me to pray. She listened to my doubts and questions, and assured me that God was real, he did love both me and my mum, and she would continue to pray for us. She told me a little of her experience, and encouraged me to make a mix-tape that I could listen to when it was tough. She told me the story behind the song, “Trusting in You,” by Ian Yates, and how that was written about a woman who lost her father to cancer.

The next day was a tough one. I found myself sitting staring at the railway tracks, when the song ‘Trusting in you’ came into my head. It was enough. I plugged in my head phones, and walked back to the hospital, crying and praying to God. I was desperate for this not be real, for my mum not to be dying. I felt powerless, and frightened, and so guilty. I was ashamed of myself, my behaviour, my inability to control my emotions. I told God everything, I begged him to help me.

A few days later, another song came into my head. I picked up my guitar and played around until I got the chords, and I sang it over and over again. It was basic, only a few lines; but it was a start. I sang it over and over; my prayer. A couple of weeks later, I added to it, writing the verses, until I had a full song; ‘Be still my soul.’ I really struggled to pray; what could I say to God when I still struggled with him so much?

‘Be still my soul’ really helped me to start talking to God again, pre-written words that expressed how I felt. As time carried on, I wrote more songs, each expressing how I felt and what I wanted to say to God.

 

 

Can I be honest with you?

Can I be honest with you

Lola was fantastic. I told her over the phone one evening, and she was empathetic. Apparently she had really struggled with her faith too, several years before slap bang in the middle of a dissertation on Christian Theology. She understood the difficulty in wrestling with God, whilst being tied to a Christian qualification and fulfilling various roles within the church. How do you teach a Sunday School class about the love of God when your angry with him? How do write a study for house group when every time you open your Bible you find another reason to dislike God? Lola encouraged me to hang on and sent me a book called Stumbling Blocks by Gavin and Anne Calver.

The book is really good. It’s about people who have decided to turn their backs on God and leave church. The book is not written to condemn them, rather to look at the reasons why they left and challenge these reasons. What encouraged me the most was that I felt that if I met the authors they would not see my questioning as a threat; rather they would accept where I am in my relationship with God and seek to walk with me into answers. They would understand my fear and hurt, and would care for me, rather than judge me.

Doubting God made me feel incredibly lonely, and I was very grateful for Lola’s understanding and willingness to talk through my doubts with me. Lola’s reaction encouraged me to share my doubts with more of my friends; and the more I shared, the less lonely I felt. Okay, looking back, I did bring some of that on myself. I mean, if I had been honest with those closest to me from the start, instead of trying to figure it all out on my own, I might not have felt so isolated.

I was honest, and to my relief so were they. They listened to my angry rants, and told me they were sorry. They were honest in their confusion, humble in how little they knew about their God.

I told Donna about my doubts, and a couple of days later, she came to church exhausted. I asked if she was okay, and she smiled, and told me she had stayed up late researching my questions, and had some theories she wanted to share with me. That helped. The information, and the arguments she had found were good, but what caught me was that she had stayed up because she knew the questions were upsetting me. That encouraged me that there may be a God.

You’re not real!

 

Tea for two

I had decided that God could not be both all-loving and all-powerful, and therefore was not real. I was now free to enjoy these last days with my mum, unburdened by the need to witness at her.

But then a strange thing happened. During one of our lunch time outings, my mum asked me questions about my teenage years and I struggled to answer them with God omitted. It wasn’t that I felt the need to tell her about God, in fact quite the opposite, I wanted to leave him out, but he was so weaved into my story that it just couldn’t be done. It didn’t throw me though. If anything, it only intensified my anger at the non-existent God. During my month of atheism, I told more people about my experiences of God than I had ever done as a Christian. I prayed more, albeit prayers of “I hate you! And you’re not even real!”

I was wary of who I told about my new found atheism; I had seen people’s reactions to my doubts in previous months and didn’t want to be preached at by a load of squirming, awkward, self-righteous nutters who feared for my salvation. I kept going to church, leading groups, life as normal. I was on a church internship, and I really didn’t want to end without finishing my foundation degree in youth work, so I decided that I would leave the church in September.

It was an intensely emotional time for me, and I think that pushed me to reconsider everything I believed. I absolutely did not just want to ‘have faith;’ if I was going to keep going with God when all this was over, I needed to know He was real. I spent hours searching the internet for people like me; I found that there are plenty of stories of people finding God, but not so many about those losing Him. This frustrated me; I needed someone to talk to, someone who could relate, someone who would accept how I was feeling and not freak out on me.

But who could do that? I was about to realise just how much I had underestimated the people around me.

Why can’t God be more like Santa?

Santa

I had struggled with the question of whether people who didn’t believe in God went to Hell for years, but now it seemed more important than ever.

As a child I believed in Santa, who decided who got presents based on their behaviour (though one year Santa forgot me – that was the year I decided he didn’t exist); I could easily accept a Santa-like God. But a God who bases your salvation on whether you believe in him or not? That sounds like a really clever way of getting your followers to make recruits. Not unlike chain-mail; those really annoying texts that say if you don’t pass it on something bad will happen; fear is inspirational, and can motivate people to do things they wouldn’t normally have done in their right minds. Like believe in a God that allows suffering.

And if God was going to allow my mum to go to Hell, a place of eternal suffering, then I didn’t want to be his friend. The more I read my Bible, the greater a jerk he seemed to be. I could not wrap my head around how Christians believed this God to be loving and caring.

I couldn’t stand the pressure of ‘saving my mum,’ and decided that if God was going to force that upon me, then I didn’t want to serve him any longer. I grew so incredibly angry with God. These could be my mum’s final days and I couldn’t enjoy them with her because I was constantly worried whether I was being a good enough witness.

Following the advice of my friend, I prayed one night whilst she was in the hospital, she would be put on a ward with a Christian who would lead her to God. When I visited the next day, I found my prayer had been answered. During the night, a Christian lady had been moved into my mum’s ward and they had stayed up discussing the possibility of the existence of God. Unfortunately, instead of my mum becoming a Christian, the Christian had become an Athiest.

I decided that God could not be both all-loving and all-powerful, and therefore was not real. I was now free to enjoy these last days with my mum, unburdened by the need to witness at her.

 

photo credit: Joriel “Joz” Jimenez via photopin cc

God I Need You

your not my mum photopin bed

 

The last time I spoke about God, I was really angry. How could a loving God watch as the one’s he apparently adored suffered? How could a loving God send those he loved and created to Hell?

Before now, I’ve been a pretty committed Christian. I’ve always asked questions, but with my mum’s death fast-approaching, and God seemingly being nowhere to be seen, these questions have became so much more important.

When I was 14, I met a preacher at a Christian conference. It was my first Christian conference and I was amazed! My friends and I were in the youth tent, where they had a live band who led the worship, there were wide games that involved hundreds of teenagers, and when the preachers spoke, I could totally relate to what they were talking about. There was a Q+A session on the Sunday morning, and it seemed that everyone had a question for the panel at the front. I was never chosen to ask my question, so persistent, I found the preacher after the session to ask her face to face. “Do non-christian’s go to Hell?” The answer seemed simple to me, “No, of course not! What kind of loving God would do that?” Instead the answer I got was, “Yes. Yes they do.” I was crushed; the preacher watched my face fall and asked, “Are your family Christian?” Is it only people from non-christian families that struggle with this question? “No. I’m the only one.” “Well then young lady, it’s your responsibility to make your parents Christians. God has placed you there to save them, and if you don’t, it will be your fault that they go to Hell.”

I walked out of the meeting tent heavy with the task I had been appointed to. I cried all through the afternoon concert. How was I, Naughty Rose, going to persuade my parents to become Christians?

God had done some incredible things during that conference. I had seen young people healed before me, and I had experienced the Holy Spirit (a story for another time); I knew that God was both powerful and loving. But now God had also become an enemy of sorts; I was fighting him to get my parents into Heaven.

Now I am older, and hopefully a little wiser, I don’t believe what I did then. I do not believe that my parent’s salvation depends upon myself. I am not convinced that God allows his creations to suffer in Hell for eternity.

But whilst my mum was ill, this all came back into question. It may not be my responsibility, but what if my behaviour, my character, the reasons and stories of why I believed in God, had the possibility of being the small things that tipped the balance? What if I held back, and she went to Hell? The words the preacher had spoken to me now hung over my life, made every day with my mum stressful and pressured as I tried to find the courage to share my faith with my mum.

 

The Beast Inside

Monday 9th June

Yesterday the stream of close friends and relatives trickled in to visit my mum, all aware that they may be seeing her for the final time. Every relative gives me a sad smile and a tight hug, before asking questions about how I am and how I’m coping. I try not to give too much away; I have to be strong. My cousin brings his baby son, but he isn’t allowed to take him into the ward; so whilst he sits having a cigarette with my Dad, I play with his son, making faces and pretending that this small boy’s mother is dying and I am distracting him and cheering him up.

I see lots of older women with sad smiles, staring at me with knowing eyes. They can see through my act, they know the pain of losing someone they loved dearly, but they let me pretend and I love them. Although they don’t call me out on my charade, I know they accept me with my pain and fear.

What they don’t see is the hidden depths of anger. I am frightened and I am sad, but mostly I am angry. I have never felt so much fury as I do now, and I don’t know how to control it. I feel like there is a raging beast inside of me and I am at it’s mercy. I watch my mum weakly trying to communicate from her hospital bed, slowly regaining some of her mind and her senses; I should feel excited, relieved, happy. But instead this animal, prowls around inside of me and I have to concentrate to keep it caged in. I am rude and I growl at doctors and nurses, questioning their decisions and listing their failings. I struggle to hold back from my family, and the beast roars at my Dad and my younger sister, who still hasn’t forgiven me for shouting at her in A+E. The other patients are watching and my mum is begging me to stop, to open up to her and let her into my pain. But I can’t. I can’t make this stop and I feel so out of control.

I sit outside of the hospital and send angry, frustrated texts to my friends. Lola calls me; I cry and shout at her, and she listens. She holds my anger until I am calm, and then she encourages me to sit with my family. But when I go back in, the anger resurges and takes over. A nurse comes alongside me and tries to understand why I am angry, but I shrug her off. Racked with guilt and shame for my behaviour, the beast turns on me. I tell my family I am going home. My Dad follows me out, tries to reason with me, calm me down, but I can’t make it stop. I watch helplessly as the beast roars, and cries escape. People stare at me, this insolent, rude girl. My Dad apologises to onlookers, explains that my Mum is dying and I am struggling to cope. I hear passing ladies offer their sympathy and my dad pulls me close to him, as though he could hold me together. I am broken, being trampled beneath the emotions that I can no longer rein in, and I am done.

I leave my Dad and the hospital, to wander along the street. Tears torrent down my face; I am drowning within my own fear, sadness and anger. I find a bench and sit, people are staring but I no longer care. After what I do next, the people who have walked past me will not matter. Nothing will.

I watch as the train hurtles across the bridge opposite me, and wait. 15 minutes later, another train. I scan the fence to find a broke panel, just above a wall. It would take me 2 minutes to cross the road. 30 seconds to clamber onto the track. I have to time it perfectly, so I will be gone before passers-by realise where I’m going. Another train. I look at my watch, I have to get it exactly right.

As I wait, a song drifts through my head, “When the pain is crippling, when healing takes it time, when I’m breaking apart, I’ll trust in you.”

Faces race through my head. I see Donna, and Lola, and women who have encouraged me and believed in me, when I’ve struggled to believe in myself. Ladies who have accepted me just as I am. I imagine what advice they may have given if they knew what I was planning to do next.

I think about Kim, whose Dad died of cancer several years ago, and the advice she gave me last night. She misses her Dad and is so proud of him, but the pain hasn’t consumed her. Life has carried on, and with God’s help, so has she.

I plug in my earphones and listen to “Trusting In You.” As the anger dissipates, I cry out to God. I wander back towards the hospital, telling God that I’m struggling, and then asking for his help.

When I reach the ward, I climb into my mum’s bed; I apologise and cuddle up beside her, glad that I have her now if only for a short while. For a few hours, all is well.