Last Monday I had a very tired boy, so when I saw his eyes prickle with tears as I said it was time to get ready for school, I made the decision that as he is only 8, and I'm never going to get this time back, I was going to keep him at home. We spent the morning watching The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, whilst drinking hot chocolate and it was so precious. He asked lots of questions about Aslan and about the battle between good and evil and although some of the questions were hard to answer, it was such a meaningful moment in time where it was just me and him, sitting snuggled under a blanket in a mutual state of uncertainty, curiosity, wonder.
If you read my last blog post you will be well aware that I was bought up in church. It was all I knew from day dot. My parents were and still are really prayerful people, and everything that ever happened to us would always be both preceded with and followed by a 'Dear Lord Jesus' while kneeling by our beds, prayer. I always knew that God was with me, and have memories of being a little girl and feeling protected by 'something bigger'. I believed in Angels, that all I needed to do when I felt fear was to ask for God's Angels to protect me, and I would feel an instant sense of peace. I'd know that, despite what my thoughts were telling me, I was safe.
I was born with birthmarks across a lot of my face and neck. The doctors told my parents I would need surgery. Nevertheless my parents (along with others) prayed and one-by-one the birthmarks disappeared. By the time I was 4 my skin was completely clear.
(I feel I need to say at this point that this is not a billboard blog. I will not be preaching. I am not on a quest to convert. This is just another little piece of me, of my experiences of another little fragment of my world being smashed up and pieced back together again.)
👆 This was my world, right from the beginning. I never questioned it.
Un-hindered. Un-inhibited. Un-spoilt.
Naive. Pure. Simple. A blank canvas.
As I grew bigger, my world did too, and my unquestioning spirit naturally began to ask questions. It began to notice things that didn't seem to fit the foundations that so far I was built on. It began to notice pain, suffering, injustice, exceptions to the rule. I am in my very nature a deep thinker, someone that wants all the answers, so the concept of 'faith' for me became, and remains, a challenging one. I started to grapple with ideas that had once been the very bedrock of everything that I was.
About 4 years ago, as my mind grew more unwell the very notion of God became anything but simple. It became a battle ground of constant cross-examination. Gradually everything I had ever believed began to burst wide open until I was left exposed in a very different way; open to contradictions, ambiguity, doubt. I questioned the idea of God from every single angle. I continued to go to church for the sake of my children, but I stood in the congregation and felt lifeless. I continued to pray, but instead of talking to God I would scream at Him into my pillow. I would listen to worship music but question and dissect every single lyric, longing for it to be true, but gripped with fear that it wasn't.
I was light-years away from that image I had of God as a little girl.
Around that time I started to keep a diary. Reading through it I came across a little stream of consciousness:
'I am in a place of half-truths, 'what-if's', maybes. It's so hard, desperate, painful, all-consuming. I feel soul-less, joy-less, confused, scared, trapped, beyond help. So lonely'.
I can't really remember what happened after I wrote that, but I do know that this bit of writing marked the beginning of what would be the hardest, most terrifying two years of my life.
And I look back, and I can see that this hideous period of my life was book-ended with evidence of the exact God that I loved as a little girl.
Around the time I wrote this I was setting up a music business (good timing, Em). Me and my husband were due to be going away for some training, and the night before the Pastor of our church offered to pray for me. I accepted, and I was handed a picture of when the sun streams through the clouds as it's setting. This happens a lot over the sea, and my mind was set to sceptical, so I shrugged it off as a nice, well-meaning cliche.
Ben and I set off the next morning with our 4 month old strapped into the back, fast asleep. We were making good headway, cruising along at 40mph down the A24 trunk road. All of a sudden the car started to swerve all over the road. I looked at Ben and asked what he was doing and he responded "I don't know. The steering suddenly isn't working!" Everything then seemed to happen very quickly and before we knew it we were hurtling full speed into the ditch where the car then got wedged, side on. We were obviously quite shaken up, but despite our panic were able to reach round and get our boy (who was nothing more than just a bit annoyed to be woken up) and climb out of the passenger window. Just as we were emerging from the car a man was approaching and told us that he worked for the local highways team. Two others then stopped and before long we were being checked over in an ambulance. Later on my Dad came to collect us.
As we were driving home, naturally experiencing a whole myriad of feelings, I looked up to the sky. As clear as day in front of me was the exact image that I had been handed the day before. I felt a jolt in my spirit and a voice that said "I LET that happen. BUT. Your other two boys who would have been mentally scarred, weren't in the car. You didn't crash into anyone. You came out. Your little one came out. Unscathed. Unharmed. I sent one of my Angels to help you. YOU are going to be ok".
This might seem beyond insane to you, and it's ok if it does. I was ill, but this voice came from a place in me that hadn't been heard for some time. There was reason, authority in this voice. I am one one of life's biggest questioners, doubters, sceptics, but there was and still is no denying what happened in that indisputable moment.
I wish I could say that from then on my faith was unshakeable, but my doubt and my scepticism remained, as did the pile of books by my bed entitled 'Why I'm Not An Atheist, 'Simply Christian' & 'The Problem of Pain'. (Fun times).
I had no idea how tightly I would need to hold on to this promise.
And then the other bookend. The one that marked the beginnings of my gradual ascent towards freedom.
My (now) six year old tinker loves his scooter. We were taking one of our daily jaunts to the park and the classic happened. During a panicked crossing of the ridiculously busy, rage inducing road he fell off his scooter. We all then did the sensible thing and ran leaving his scooter lying abandoned. A kind soul stopped as I went back into the road to collect it, which I did with a heartfelt 'thank you', a special mouthed 'sorry' and a slightly stressed blotchy chest. Little did I know that I knew the lady in the car. She also knew me, but she didn't know me. She had no idea what was going on. At this point not many really did.
At church the next day she came up to me and she said this:
"I was the lady in the car yesterday that stopped when your son fell off his scooter. And in that moment I felt God speak to me about you. He said this: You are His daughter and there is nothing you can do or have done that can stop him doing whatever it takes to fix it/you. Let Him love you through each day no matter what you do. You are not and have not done anything that He cannot redeem, heal and make whole again. Just as you were prepared to go back into the road to retrieve your son's scooter, you still went back to get it because you are a mother and that's what we do for our children. He wants you to know that He will retrieve whatever it is you have dropped. He doesn't want you live in this place of inadequate, half-truths, could have been, maybes. Don't listen to the voice that lies about you".
My mind remained a battleground for some time and the pile of books remained, but I went home that day and my heart felt like it was beginning to wake up.
My eyes began to notice colour.
My son went to find a sword and asked me "Mummy, can we play fighting?"
I will always grapple and never stop asking questions. I will always read books and ponder others' ideas and understanding about life. But for me, these bookends literally picked me up and plonked me right back in the midst of my experiences of God as a child.
And I felt whole.
I felt love.
Even when everything is hard, this is my unwavering, unquestionable truth.
And I try to be still and just sit there. Every day.
The story between the bookends will begin to unfold next week.