Book review, Family relationships, Wellbeing

Jesus Sits With Us In Our Pain

Recently I’ve been reading Liz Carter’s new book, Treasures in the Dark, a mixture of poetry and prose, written whilst she was shielding during the national lockdown earlier this year. Her poetry is so expressive and the sections of the book are divided into the seasons of the year, each piece pointing to the hope we have in Jesus.

Liz lives with a chronic lung condition, thus why she was shielding. Her 1st book, Catching Contentment, was written out of living with this condition as a Christian who hasn’t yet fully experienced God’s healing but has found ways to know God’s presence and some contentment through it all.

Reading her Easter poems from her Treasures in Dark Places book, I was drawn to Friday, expressing the pain of Christ’s crucifixion seen through the eyes of a disciple:

FRIDAY

We weep for you

our tears are our food

day and night

our souls wrenched apart

shards of desolation pierce our hearts

Yet you capture our tears

gather the great oceans of them blend them with your own

you shoulder our agonies

and you sit inside them with us you are torn for us

but ‘do not weep,’ you say, ‘take courage,’ you whisper.

We join in the groaning of all creation dive into echoes of exultation

ache for the song of restoration

and wait with fragments of tear-washed hope.

The second line of the first verse is based on Psalm 42 : 3 where an upset King David is thirsting after God , crying out to the one who saves for help. How often do I come to God in the difficult times? Cry out to Him for all that I feel, lament and mourn? It’s so easy to look to other people or things first for comfort, yet God knows what we need, before we even ask.

The second verse starts with:

“Yet you capture our tears

gather the great oceans of them

blend them with your own

you shoulder our agonies

and you sit inside them with us.”

These words leapt out at me when I first read them and were a great comfort in a difficult time, coming to terms with some bad news for a loved one. That Jesus is with us in our sorrow and pain, sitting with us and catching our teardrops is a strong reminder that he understands even our negative emotions and sits with us through them. We are not alone, no matter how we might feel or what we are enduring.

The news I had received had pulled out all kinds of emotions after initial numbness: positive and sad memories, guilt and a rawness and vulnerability that came from deep within. I had to bring all I was feeling and thinking to God and surrender the pain into His hands to relieve the burden and ask for His wisdom for how to act moving forward.

There is hope that there will be a time when God will wipe away every tear (Revelation 21) and there will be an end to our suffering when we leave this life behind. This brings comfort in the here and now, despite what is being thrown at me. Jesus in his death knows the pain and hurt that the world has endured for all of time. He knows the full and unfathomable weight of that burden and remained faithful to it, even to a death He didn’t deserve on the cross – fully man, yet fully God. It’s mind blowing, a mystery but also brings liberation and peace to a hurting a wounded world.

Is there any pain you need to bring to God today? Remember that He ‘catches our tears and sits with us, no matter how great that hurt may be.

Liz’s new book, Treasure in Dark Places, is available from Christian bookshops, Waterstones and online at Amazon. For more information about her book and where to buy it, click here.

Christmas, Family relationships, Mental Health, Wellbeing

How to reduce Christmas stress this year and find some joy…

As we draw closer to Christmas, how are you feeling? Do you feel prepared and have a plan ? Or are you filled with anxiety or worry or even dreading it?

A few weeks back I attended my local Recovery College ‘s “Coping with Christmas” online course. This has helped me to think about how practically I want us as a family to do Christmas this year & in a way that brings some joy rather than mainly stress.

Some tips to manage stress :

  1. Breaking tasks down into small steps, e.g. cooking Christmas dinner.
  2. Make a Christmas budget so that you don’t overspend. Include presents, food, travel, trips, donations, etc. & any extra costs you may have over the Christmas period.
  3. Think about the things you find most difficult over the Christmas period., e.g. finances, relationship, emotions, health wise). Write them down. For each one, come up with how you can overcome this difficulty.
  4. What are the good things you enjoy about Christmas? List them. Look at them when you feel stressed, overwhelmed or anxious to remember the positives.
  5. Boundaries : Think about what is manageable & what’s not. Be clear with family/ friends and stick to these.
  6. Self care: What activities will relax & recharge you ? Diarise time to do them, e.g. exercise, quiet time, have a hot chocolate or chat to a friend.
  7. When you start to feel stressed, what helps you to destress? For me, doing some deep breathing or mindfulness really helps in the moment.
  8. Be kind to yourself. How is your self-talk in your head? Is it negative or self-critical? Stop yourself if you notice unhelpful thinking and write it down. Would you speak to a friend like this? What’s a more kind way to speak to yourself? Say this to yourself instead. If you notice these negative thoughts are constant or your mood has been low for more than 2 weeks, this is the time to get help. Make an appointment with your doctor. Cognitive Behavioural therapy (CBT) may help.

As a Christian, I also find reminding myself that what we’re really celebrating here is the birth of Jesus. He came down to earth, fully God, yet fully human, to restore our relationship with Him. Putting my focus back on God can put all the other tasks into perspective.

Reflecting on what you’d like Christmas to be like this year, after such a different 2020 to what we expected, how are you going to prepare for Christmas? How can you put your focus back on God?

Family relationships, Mental Health, Social Media, Wellbeing

How to intentionally rest whilst being present with my family

Posted with permission @mindinharrow from Instagram

I am thankful for a week’s rest from work and other admin but it’s been a challenge to switch off and stay off social media. However I now see the mental tiredness that being on a screen so much brings and the greater sense of peace that resting from it brings.

Taking more time for self-care and resetting boundaries with my family have also been of benefit over the week. Although I didn’t intentionally plan it, there’s been breakthrough as I’ve had a mini retreat and more time for God, soaking up the healing environment of the hills and mountains . More to follow on Instagram this coming week….

Family relationships, Mental Health, Wellbeing

Perspective (Five Minute Friday writing prompt)

Depending on your perspective of this Lockdown situation, you can see things in a positive or negative light, or oscillate between the two.

I know I started off very calmly and positively. My elder son’s school closed first and I took it in my stride. Then my younger son’s school also closed but there was a plan for being given and handing in work from home so things were ok. Gratitude was emphasised by my friends and I used this to remember what God has given us: a home, food to eat, each other and beautiful sunny weather to do things in the garden as a family. For someone who is often quite anxious I was surprisingly calm!

With all 4 of us at home, we started to work out a plan to share study space in the lounge and dining room, especially for our son studying for exams. At times, this positive attitude has given way to low mood, fighting the uncertainty of when lockdown might end and some sort of new normality appear. The challenge has been to keep reminding myself that this time will pass and we will be given our freedom to roam wherever we want to outdoors at some point. Lockdown isn’t forever!

This blog is taking part in this week’s Five Minute Friday, check out https://fiveminutefriday.com/2020/04/23/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-perspective/ for more information.

Family relationships, Mental Health, Trainer, Blogger, Writer, Wellbeing

The Easy way to De-stress…by Singing!

“God inhabits the praises of His people.”

Psalm 22:3, The Bible.

Image Source: Oleg Magni via pexels.com

Have you read the research that says that singing is good for our wellbeing? There are now many choirs up and down the country for exactly that reason. In fact, in Harrow, More Than A Choir, Harrow Community Choir, was formed to benefit those of us with mental health issues, to boost wellbeing and self-confidence. When we try a new skill, this can build self-esteem and doing something pleasurable, rather than something necessary, can give us a dopamine hit, boosting our mood.

Over the past few months, my mood had been slowly going downhill, to the point where my husband brought up the issue whilst we were on retreat in Wales. I found myself bursting into tears and it enabled me to bring to the surface some of the problems that had been bothering me.

Since then, with my husband’s support, I’ve been seeking medical and spiritual help but started to focus again on singing worship songs to God in my daily quiet time. Initially, I would listen to “The Joy of the Lord is my Strength,” by Rend Collective whilst walking in the park or sing whilst in the shower. It was then I realised the power of singing out praises to God, despite my low mood. It encouraged and uplifted my spirit as I took my eyes off my personal situation and lifted my eyes to Him. So now, I’ve added singing some worship songs back into my prayer time, usually at the beginning to put the focus back onto God.

Whether it’s singing in the shower or verbally calling out praise to God during your prayers – how can you worship God and give Him praise today?

Family relationships, Mental Health, Trainer, Blogger, Writer, Wellbeing

A blast from the past…reflecting on my first publication, gratitude for surviving teen puberty and a calmer life!

Just before leaving for our family holiday, I came across my achievements folder, which included this old 1990 Wycombe High School magazine. I’d kept it as the editor selected my cartoon of the return from a Duke of Edinburgh expedition. Surprised that it had been included, particularly as I’d forgotten to add my name, it makes me smile.

Fast forward twenty nine years later, and it’s my elder son’s turn to experience the Bronze Duke of Edinburgh expedition: this time by canoe! At the award ceremony, I found tears of joy springing up, to see just how far he’s come in the past 2 or so years.

From a socially isolated , angry and mixed up teen, fighting the changes through puberty, to a well-balanced, thoughtful and caring young man who is confident in his own unique identity and able to express his views in a respectful and clear way. In fact, he shocked his fellow students and teachers whilst on the trip, by finding his voice by assertively directing each team member in their rowing, ensuring the group made it to their destination in time! I am thankful for all the good that have come out of my son’s difficulties these past few years, as God has brought healing and redemption to a hugely painful time in our family.

We have just returned from a week in the wet, wilds of the Scottish Borders, refreshed, refined and relaxed, having built new family memories, where we’ve been blessed by each other’s company and learned more patience and tolerance of each other’s weaknesses!