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.

 

Within You…

Within You...

 

… is a wealth of strength
… is an abundance of peace,
… is a mighty ROAR,
… is life,
… is joy to overflow.

Rose,

You are wonderful and very inspiring.

Thank you for encouragement, it means a lot. Not just your words, but the fact that you are here and doing life, here with friends and family, iron sharpening iron.

God sees your heart, dreams, ambitions, worries, anger and everything in between. He will never leave you – never. His love for you is constant and without limits.

Kim x

 

photo credit: Key Foster via photopin cc

With Love

photopin grandmother

Dear Rose,

I feel like there should be something profound I can say that makes this whole thing easier, but if there is, I don’t know what it is. All I do know is that the world is full of people who love you, and I hope you know I am one of them.

I know that you are brilliant, and strong, and that you will be okay. I know that, but I also know that sometime’s it will be hard, but that it is okay to hurt. Losing my step-father changed my family in ways I didn’t expect, and in ways I knew it would, but the one thing that did surprise me is that it didn’t mean that he was gone, not completely anyway. He was still there in the notes he had written, and the books that he had chosen, and the memories he had made. Stupid things that didn’t mean anything at the time, they were the things I remembered afterwards, and they made me smile.

Sometimes when I think about when we were younger I remember the number of times you told the story about asking your mum about the dinosaurs, or when she would drop us at school sometimes, or when she and my mum were telling us off for getting muddy before school and other silly little things.

I suppose what I am getting at is that everyone who met your mum will carry a little part of her with them, and that is a good and happy thing.

The only thing I can’t not say, is that it’s important not to get too caught up in looking after everyone else, it’s good to feel, and it’s good to feel whatever you need to. It’s okay not to be sad, and it’s okay to laugh, and to be happy and it’s okay to cry and be angry. I know all of this, but I know I felt pretty sucky for not being as sad as I felt I should be, I don’t want you to.

I know everyone will have said this, and I have said this a bunch of times myself, but if you need anything, even if it is something stupid like cake, just let me know.

With love,

Anna Banana

The reply

The Reply

Hi Rose,

That’s great news re job, thanks for letting me know. Thanks too for sharing how you are feeling and your honesty, this is such a tough time and hardly surprising you are struggling to make sense of it. It sounds though that you are doing ok and I hope you can go easy on yourself and be kind to yourself in all this.

I’m pleased to hear you are talking this through with Donna. I can’t offer easy answers but wanted to reassure you that doubt, questioning God, being angry etc. is all ok and probably even important as we grow in our faith. It may not help but I still ask some of those same questions and battle with doubt. In fact as someone said, if we knew for certain, it wouldn’t be faith!

God is love! That is who he is, his essence, and so he can do no other than love. He loves your mum and knows her heart in a way you do not, he longs for her to find him and know him and his grace is what matters not whether we think she has responded in the way we think she should. I think we often limit God and the work of the Spirit because we think it’s all about us and making that commitment yet we don’t see Jesus demanding that response, he treated everyone differently. Your mum has suggested an openness to know more and God will work in that, with or without our input!

I think it’s important you make those memories with your mum, pray for her and with her especially when discussion is difficult, read the bible to her if you can to reassure her of God’s love and presence but most of all, continue being the best daughter you can be ( it sounds like you are already!) And let God be God and take care of her knowing he is with her and you, even when it doesn’t feel that way.

You are doing great so keep going, keep trusting and may you know his presence and comfort as you walk through the valley (psalm 23:4).

The Email

work

This year I have been doing a internship with the Anglican Church, alongside working for a charity.

During the last intern training day, several weeks before my mum’s death, we were asked to leave an anonymous note in the box at the front saying what we had learnt about God during the internship and what difference the internship had made to us. I wrote something along the lines of, “This year I have seen teenage girls suffer and struggle with abuse, I have sat with people who have tried to kill themselves, and I have known one of them to succeed. I am tired, and I wonder where is God in the midst of this? I joined this year, excited and ready to change the world for God; now I wonder if he even exists.”

I thought the box was anonymous, apparently not. The next week I received a message from the course tutor telling me he was concerned, and would I like to talk?

This was my reply:

Hi Dan,

Thank you, I appreciate it.

I’ve just been accepted for an apprenticeship in administration for a small family business not far from my hometown. My mum’s best friend runs the company and she offered me the job. I’ll be doing an NVQ in admin whilst covering for a girl whose on maternity leave for 12 months, but even though it’s an apprenticeship, they’ll pay me minimum wage.

It’s great because it gives me some financial security of my own for the next 12 months, but it also gives me more time to work out whether I want to pursue ministry or not.

We had a meeting with the doctor last week, who told me the average time between cancer spreading to the brain and death, and we will definitely receive the life insurance which will cover the mortgage, so that’s one less worry. However, my mum doesn’t believe in God and the more time stretches on, the less she reasons like herself and the more I feel that any commitment she makes to God now would not be fair as she is often not in her normal mind. She cries randomly, reasons like she has aspergers, and she can get nasty. It’s not just the emotional effects of cancer, her personality is changing. My Dad isn’t feeling well and is sleeping on the sofa so I am sharing her bed, in case anything should happen in the night, and nearly hourly she sits up, puts the light on and writes. It’s really weird, but I can’t reason with her.

2 years ago, I prayed that God would make sure someone would be with my Nan when she lost consciousness before dying. She wasn’t particularly ill, but being in the city, I thought it a good idea. She died of pneumonia the night I went back to the city, being robbed by a drug addict. If that’s what happened with my Nan’s death, I don’t feel I can trust him with my Mum’s death.

I already struggled to trust him because of the girls I’d worked with who had such a rubbish ride; some were abused or raped as children, and several tried to kill themselves. One of my friend’s died of a heroin overdose in February. If God is all-loving and all-powerful, how could he watch these children and young people suffer and not make himself obvious to them? How could he watch as those Korean school children drowned? It’s horrific to imagine what drowning would feel like to a frightened teenager and yet that’s how God killed all the people in the great flood. Every man, woman and child. It makes me wonder, what kind of God am I worshipping?

God’s watching all that’s happening with my family now, and I feel like when I believe in God, that he is real and good and powerful, it is so important that my mum comes to know him before she dies, and although I know it is not my responsibility, I find my mum stops being my mum and becomes my mission and that’s an awful pressure to hold. In those time’s, instead of being able to appreciate the time we have together and using it to make memories, I worry and try to find opportunities to talk about God. When he’s not real, it’s not a problem, we can just relax and enjoy the time left with no agenda. I feel frightened that she may be so close to finding him but that he’ll kill her right before she meets him. That I won’t be quick enough, or worse that the quicker I try, the quicker he’ll kill her off because he doesn’t want her to find him.

I’ve been trying for weeks to get my mum and Donna to meet up and every time I set it up, something got in the way, be it other visitors, my mum being ill or nurses coming over. Last week, after telling me that God’s not real and if he is, he’s a shit, she admitted to Donna that one day, she would like to talk to her about God and dying, but not yet. My mum think’s she’s got a year, but it’s really more like a month or two. The cancer’s like a ticking time bomb in my mum’s body, but God has the ability to slow it down long enough for her to find him. The idea that he may choose not to, makes me angry with him, but I don’t want to believe in a God who isn’t loving, so I’m not sure I believe in him at all.

On the flip side, all of this past year can’t be enough to destroy everything I’ve already seen and experienced of God, can it? I’ve got to believe that God is an all-loving, all-powerful God. I’ve seen and heard too many things for it not to be true.

So I’m not quite sure whether to believe in God or not, but I think that’s okay. I’ll work it out in the end and this apprenticeship will give me time to think about it.

That’s a really long and ranty message, I only meant to say thank you and tell you I’d got a job :-/ Nevermind, sending it anyway.

See you next Thursday,

Rose