We’re going on a Bear Hunt

The other day I found myself listening to the song that helped me through our first failed IVF pregnancy at the beginning of the year. It’s a beautiful song by Emile Sande called Breathing Underwater and sums up for me the incredible, despair-free journey we took as we lost two little ones to miscarriage over the New Year. Back then I sensed that Father God had scooped us up from the edge of a dark pit before we toppled in, and carried us safely through the months which followed.

I miscarried our most recent IVF embryos exactly three months ago today, and the landscape that we have traversed after this miscarriage has been so different. It has taken me a very long time to admit the depth of pain – perhaps accumulated pain – that I have been in. I started a new job only a few days before finding out in our early scan appointment that all was not what we had hoped for and two weeks later my body heaved and rejected what it could not sustain. The combination of beginning a new position alongside experiencing physical and emotional trauma felt like the worst timing in the world, and so I put a lid on my pain in an effort to march out the days at work. Despite seeking prayer support and booking a week of holiday, I should have guessed that I could not carry on as I was and that I might eventually implode. But sometimes, we’re not very good at admitting that we’re in trouble and that we need help, even as the telltale signs of physical stress begin to emerge!

My week of holiday, which was meant to be the rest we so desperately needed, was ruined by a nasty chest infection and conjunctivitis which only worsened upon my return. I took an extra week off to recover and then returned to work, but was immediately struck down by another infection, and at this point a kind and firm doctor realised that my body was crying out for help and intervened. I am bemused and ashamed now that I resisted for so long in admitting how ill I felt, but despite my pigheadedness, I also recognise God’s hand in the joining of dots as first my boss at work, then the counsellor (yes, I’ve just begun some counselling) and finally the GP all joined forces in ensuring I took the time off I needed.

Alongside this physical meltdown, I knew that I was up to my eyes in an emotional pain for which I had no words. My waking thoughts and prayers were little more than a deep groaning, “I’m so broken. My heart is so broken”, and this refrain would rise up from my spirit in the middle of the night, as I surfaced for the day and as I went to sleep at night. I had nothing more than a deep, raw agony of loss and I had no idea where to start in trying to heal. I felt like I was looking down into the well of my emotional reserves and could see straight to its very empty bottom. There was nothing left this time to draw on. The pain I was feeling had risen up in my life like a great, yawning cavern and as I stood at the edge and peered in, blinking furiously into the darkness to assess how deep and wide it might be, I was too frightened to venture further unless it sucked me inside and I never reappeared again.

When life wounds us deeply, when we go through trauma, we so often wonder where God is in the hurting. The words on the pages of our Bible can seem dry and crisp; we can read familiar verses without understanding the heart of the one who first breathed them. In the face of what seems like betrayal or disappointment, we can feel so justified in pointing the finger and asking God where he is in our pain. I have to keep coming back to the truth that God is right beside me. He is good and knows exactly what we need. His promise to redeem, heal and restore us is never withdrawn no matter what life looks like or how we thrash about or turn silent in our determination to cope.

As I began to accept and hunger for the space that was opening up to me, God presented me with two keys to dealing with this vast cavernous pain I was reluctantly tiptoeing around. The first came in the shape of my counsellor who explained to me that tears and confronting pain would not lead me into a depression (my biggest fear), but that by addressing the issues causing the pain, I would find I was making steps away from entering into depression. In other words, keeping emotions and hurts bottled up would damage me far more than taking the courageous step of releasing them. I’m aware that this is a very simplified approach to the huge topic of depression and that for many it’s not quite as simple as this suggestion, but for me it provided permission to press the ‘release’ button on my pain, rather than trying to swallow down what I knew was lodged inside me.

The second key came in the shape of a blog post by Kris Vallotton which I stumbled upon that same evening entitled, Leaving Pain Behind, which proved to be the confirmation I needed to step into my pain in order to get out of it. Like the children’s story, We’re going on a Bear Hunt, I couldn’t go around it, I was going to have to walk straight through it to get out the other side. Can I encourage you, if you’re reading these words and can just feel that inner niggle of, “Oh cr*p! I recognise this for myself”, I have found that the pain I thought was that big scary bear at the back of the cave ready to eat me alive, turned out not to be in there at all, but something much smaller and easier to deal with. What’s more, I also discovered that addressing the pain I was in simply required making the space and time to let God have full access to my heart and He did all the rest, in His best way for me, as only He can.

We underestimate the power and importance of self-care, of being kind to oneself, of stopping and admitting what we need in order to get well, whether that be prayer, rest, extra sleep, having another good cry, a walk, time alone, time with others, a trip to see the doctor or a counsellor, etc. I am learning that on this occasion I needed a mixture of having the time and space to rest and recover, and also to allow God into that space to do what He needed to do and to not question His methods or motives. Regardless of how hard life can be, God’s goodness never changes – we just have to keep reminding our aching hearts of that.

Let me tell you more….

As momentum was beginning to build around me to facilitate my time off work, I saw increasing confirmations that what God had in store for me was the need for silence and stillness. I’m not very good at sitting with either! To be honest with you, I wasn’t sure I would like what I heard in my head if I sat silently with my thoughts – and more importantly, I wasn’t sure I’d like what God had to say if I sat quietly and listened! As I endeavoured one afternoon to put this silence and stillness into practice, I was distracted by a link to a spontaneous worship set and as I settled down, these words floated out into the air around me:

We’re so thankful for your presence that’s in this room right now. I just feel the joy of surrender, the joy of surrender. What a joy it is to lay down our lives. We’ve got to lose our lives to find it. I’m going to lose my life in you.

I will dare to believe that anything is possible. We throw caution to the wind. It’s time to risk again. I believe anything can happen, anything can happen when we rise in the faith in the name of Jesus. There’s more, there’s more. Jesus is at your door and he’s saying, “I’m coming for you”.

I will dare to believe that anything is possible. We throw caution to the wind.

It’s time to risk again.

As I listened to the words of the song and relaxed into God’s presence I realised that it was just this that was my problem and the root of a lot of my pain. I had been frightened of risking my heart again – on God, on a future pregnancy, on dreaming again – but the encouragement, the call from Him, the dare was right there in front of me: it’s time to risk again.

And as I asked myself to trust God, a picture came to my mind of Him standing before me. And as this picture played out in my mind’s eyes, God reached out, put his hand on my chest and then reached deep inside my heart and scooped out what was inside. He then put his hand to his mouth and swallowed what was in his hand. And then he did it again and again. At first, I didn’t understand what He was doing, but then it became clear: God was scooping all the distress, despair, loss, sadness, grief, hopelessness, discouragement, disappointment, bitterness, trauma, resentment and anger from deep inside my heart and swallowing it down right there in front of me. And as I watched He did it again and again. Eventually, knowing what dark and painful thoughts and feelings were in my heart I cried out, “No no no, you mustn’t do that. It will hurt you. It will destroy you”. I felt I was watching someone I love swallow poison in front of me. But God replied, “No, I’m God! It won’t touch me. This is what I do“. And sure enough I could see with every swallow, God was simply absorbing the negative energy of my pain, brokenness, grief and anger and it wasn’t impacting him at all. I guess in an incredibly graphic and intimate way, right in front of me I was seeing the enactment of Isaiah 53:4 when it says, “He took our sicknesses and removed our diseases.” Right there in front of me, God was taking up my pain and bearing my sorrows as only He can. And so I sobbed and sobbed and opened my arms wide to let Him take it all from me.

If this blog post is resonating with you, I would encourage you to click on the link to the worship set above and allow our amazing Daddy God to talk to you about what it is you need. Perhaps like me you have been holding on to anxieties, pain and fears, or you feel frightened of the uncertainty that lies ahead of you. But you know we never regret allowing Him to bring his wonderful power and love to us, and it’s always perfectly tailor-made to suit us. There is nothing in you that can put him off, no matter how much it might be putting you off, or how long you’ve been burying it for. It says in Zephaniah 3:17 that “he delights over us with singing” and this song cracked open my clogged-up heart to him.

In the days which have followed I can confidently say that my heart is no longer crying out that it is broken. I still feel vulnerable, I still feel wary of the future, and I still wobble, but I am free of the pain I was in. I trust that my God is totally for me and that nothing that is within me will put Him off getting near to me.

One final thought… I have also found the Philip Yancey book, Disappointment with God, to be a hugely helpful read over the last few weeks, as I have wrestled with how to deal with life when it throws difficult things at us and God seems to have forgotten us. Yancey explores in an honest and authentic way what it is to have these questions and how to find the answers we’re looking for. The central message of the book asks the questions, will we trust Him, will we risk our heart for Him as He has done for us? I want my answer to always be “YES” no matter what life throws at me.

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A Letter to my Nieces

A&ATo my darling nieces,

I have just returned from another wonderful afternoon with you and wish I could convey how full you leave my mother’s heart every time I come away. I am brimming, bubbling, effervescing with the sheer joy of having spent time in your company.

One day I will tell you just how precious every one of your smiles, every cuddle, every giggle is to me and how deeply your love moves me. You won’t know now that being with you, being loved by you and letting me love you soothes and heals the hurts I carry, as Uncle Joe and I walk out our dark valley place. You won’t understand yet that this barrenness, this ache, is made easier because you both exist in my life. You have given us so much as we navigate the yawning void of childlessness. Every single day I am thankful for the gift that each of you is to us.

From before either of you had arrived into this world we had been hoping to bring about dark-haired cousins to grow up alongside your fair beauty. Your generous parents have allowed us to participate in your lives and we revel in every minute we spend with you. To you, I’m just Silly Auntie Helena; Aunty Fun who loves to laugh and play daft games, roll around on the floor with you or encourage you to bounce and screech loudly to express the pure joy of being young, energetic and full of carefree life. You indulge my crazy and I’m so grateful when you join in. But for me, I become a lioness when I’m with you. I love you fiercely as if you were my own and I delight in every single thing that you do. Every spontaneous hug or kiss, every picture you present me with, every strop, every conspiratorial whisper at the dinner table or hissy fit because I have to go home is pure joy to me.

When you were tiny and my body newly-ached each month to be creating life, it was your spontaneous hugs or demands to be carried which kept me sane. When I tried my best to hide my grief and loss, it was the everyday pleasures of taking you out of your cot, giving you a bath or changing your nappy that helped to push those dark clouds away for a little longer. You cannot know how healing your very existence has been to me. Even now when you climb onto my lap to read a story or lead me by the hand to show me your latest endeavour, my heart bursts rainbows of happiness because you see me and you want to include me in your world.

When I first held each of your tiny sweet-smelling bodies for the first time; all milk-drunk and sleepy, it was with such wonder that anyone could be so perfect. You are precious treasures; priceless gold in the eyes of this beholder. And when your time as angsty teenagers begins and you come to me with wounds to nurse from the mean girl in your class who has been teasing you, or the thoughtless boy who has made you feel worthless, I will hold your sweet faces in my hands and I will tell you that you are the brightest gifts that the world has ever seen. I will remind you that the impact you hold began right back at the very beginning, before you could do very much for yourself at all. I will tell you that we already harbour years and years of beauty and joy and wonder and delight at the many amazing talents, gifts and skills you possess – and no playground huff or failed exam will be able to take that away from you. Your worth is already hidden in our Heavenly Daddy – the one who lent you both to us so that we could also share in His delight at your creation. And even though I may be nothing more than your out-dated, silly aunt who makes you cringe by then, I will remind you that the joy of your existence is stored up safely in our hearts forever and nothing will ever steal that from us.

I will always be praying protection over your health and your hearts. I will be thanking God that he gave you to us for as long as I have breath. I will be praying that you come to know Him intimately in your very own sweet, special and unique way, and that you will be the best version of yourselves that you can possibly be. When you doubt your place in the world, know that we, your family, along with all the stars in the sky and all the angels in heaven are joyously enjoying your worth and cheering you on. You are so much more than enough and we delight in you every single day.

I love you so very much.

With big squeezy hugs,

Your Silly Auntie Helena xx