Glory in the Darkest Place

Christmas is joy and fun and laughter and grace (bring it on!) but it can also be sitting with situations that make us sad and determining to look to unrelenting hope in the face of darkness. Perhaps it’s depression or the loss of a loved one or dashed dreams or an unexpected diagnosis. Yet still there is the Light, burning brightly, on which we fix our gaze. This song says it beautifully…

Brittany Hope: Glory in the Darkest Place



Tho He slay me…..

FullSizeRenderWe came back here today – a kind of pilgrimage of peace – six months after our last visit. Last time I sat in these hands we were preparing for our IVF embryos to be transferred in. We were so full of hope and expectation having recovered from the devastation of the events of the new year.

And in the weeks after our visit to these hands, joy did indeed follow. But a few weeks later so did more loss and pain and grief. The hands in this picture are called “Entrust”. To me they symbolise God’s hands holding me. I thought last time I was here that God would hold me and we’d step forward proudly into carrying new life. But it didn’t happen that way.

For a while after our miscarriage in July I didn’t want God to be anywhere near me, but today as we rounded the corner and could see those hands in the distance, I was trying hard not to run in my eagerness to clamber into them once again. God’s hands have held us through the anxiety of the procedure, the faith in the waiting, the high of our pregnancy and the low of our loss.

The first time we saw them I thought that they were confirmation of our promise and that all would be well. I sat in those hands today and I cried again over the memories of this summer. I watched two white swans swimming peacefully in the lake nearby and I thought of my two little lost loves. I have spent months being angry with God over this moment from May but I had misunderstood his meaning. I understand now that God loves me enough to go before me to set up moments of encounter. Before we knew what was coming, He knew. He knew how bad it was going to be. He knew the depths of fresh, awful pain to which we would sink. He knew that we would need holding and holding and holding. God told me recently that He showed us these huge tree-trunk hands to remind us that He was holding us before, during and after and that we are safe in His care. He reminded me that we will always be in His hands and that we can trust Him even in the worst circumstances.

I see now that God gave us this encounter before the hardest moment of our lives, to keep us steady just when we needed it and to remind us that we weren’t abandoned in our pain but held before we’d even gone into it.

We sat in those hands again today, thanked God together and took communion. The bottom line is, I need God in it all. Each day we get to choose – do I want to know you God, do I want to trust you? In the pain, the despair, the healing, the fragile glimmers of hope beginning to resurface, I come back to “Yes, I trust you”. It’s not always easy, but I know whatever comes He will always hold me.

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.

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

My Husband, My Hero

Reading declarations of love and appreciation about someone’s spouse on social media has a tendency to make me feel just a little bit queasy. I’m not madly into PDAs although hand holding and the occasional side hug are fine every now and then. But it would be wrong of me, after all this time, not to talk about the incredible man who is my husband and just what a rock he has been over the last four and a half years.

Rolling back the years to when we were first dating, he was always baby mad. Any excuse to hold at least one little person (at a time) at church on a Sunday and he’d be first in line! Throughout our dating and engagement this translated to regular epistles on loving me, including how spectacular, no just downright hot, I would look with a baby bump and how he couldn’t wait to see it. Babies were on his mind from the get-go and it’s one of the wonderful parts of his personality that I love so much.

Over time this enjoyment of other people’s children and dreams of his own have become a source of wounding. I’ve seen him come home downcast after playing bass at a morning church service from struggling with the sea of children in the congregation before him. He’s watched films with scenes of newborns and cried at the harsh reality of his own children’s absence in his life. He’s felt alienated from his buddies as they move on without him, as they forget that perhaps this deep void in his life is something he needs to talk about, much as I do with my girlfriends. So often the woman gets all the attention and the man is underestimated and over-looked.

His personal pain in this period of our married life grieves me deeply. I hate to see him hurting. I hate that our recent loss has hit him so very, very hard this time. I hate that I can’t change our circumstances for him. (Perhaps we are understanding just a tiny little bit more about why Sarah would allow Abraham to sleep with Hagar in Genesis 16, for although a concubine-to-hand is definitely not on our To Try Out list, the desire to bring forth life for one’s husband is an urgent one).

My hubbie has maintained an impressively positive attitude throughout all the ups and downs of our infertility years. He’s never grumbled about the varying degrees of cleanliness he’s seen in the array of clinic cupboards to which he’s been sent to give up his wares for testing or collection. He’s held my hand throughout more procedures than either of us can remember and refused to leave the room when a terse nurse would have him wait outside. He’s mixed the IVF drugs and administered injections when I fumbled in my nervousness with needles, and he knows which arm is best for the nurse to use when taking my blood. He’s sat in awe at the sight of a pregnancy test stick turn to ‘positive’ and he’s waded into every gory minute of our miscarriages. He’s championed me, defended me and loved me in our mutual pain. He’s listened to me go on and on and on and on over all these years as I rage one minute and weep another in the ups and downs of all we’ve been through. And every single month when pregnancy has been a possibility, he’s been waving the hope and victory flag for Pupo (Pupo the faith monster is our affectionate fuzzy friend – Pregnant Until Proven Otherwise!) even when I knew another period was likely to be hours away.

Three Christmases ago a close friend of mine handed me a pot of words that she had been writing and collecting from her prayer times for us (what a gem she is!). She sheepishly commented on one that she felt stood out as an anomaly from all the others, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Initially I pondered with her at the strange choice, but now I am in no doubt that this verse, along with all the others, is an absolute fit for our circumstances. In The Message version it says this, “Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage”. My man has absolutely given his all for me. He’s put me first time and time again. He’s shielded me, sheltered me, prayed for me, held me, fought for me and loved me as we journey to these dark places together. He is not perfect, but he will always be my absolute hero.

As it happens my husband’s name means, “He (God) shall add”. And so as we wait and wonder about our family, we know that in this amazing name, and in his namesake in the Bible who dreamt and saw confounding miracles come forth, lies a promise that our God will add to us too.


When it finally happened, just over two weeks after my scan, nothing could have prepared me for this miscarriage. The clinic’s simple instruction to ‘go home and miscarry’, and even my previous experiences were insufficient. I feel it’s important to share some of the details of my miscarriage here on this blog, not to wallow in the gory details, but simply to pass on something of what a miscarriage can be like (please be aware that every single one is different and every miscarriage will require its own pathway of treatment) because so often women are ill-prepared and uncertain of what their body might do. If you’re at all squeamish, now is the time to look away and flick over to a different page because I feel I need to get graphic to explain what it can be like.

When it comes to miscarriage, from what I have gleaned, there are different medical options to help the woman’s body to let go. Please remember I’m not medically trained (although I’m beginning to feel like I could be after all these years inside hospitals!). Once a failing pregnancy is diagnosed, some women go through a procedure called a D&C (Dilation and Curettage), under general anaesthetic, where the tissue is removed from the uterus by a doctor. Others might be offered some form of medication – often a tablet – which tells the uterus to contract and release what’s inside. Others – like me – are encouraged to wait and miscarry naturally. And here in lies the problem with the latter option: for me miscarrying naturally would always be my preferred option and it can go very smoothly, but it doesn’t always and knowing what constitutes as a normal amount of bleeding and when to call for an ambulance can feel a scary fineline to figure out when the bleeding starts. Previous to this occasion I hadn’t talked to many women about their actual experiences of miscarrying: it’s a personal and private line that seems unnecessary to cross and it can be accompanied by such trauma that the act of reliving it causes unnecessary emotional pain. I had only really heard the horror stories so knew how bad they could be, but I had been given no indication by the medical team of where my own situation might sit on the spectrum, and even trying to use online forums to diagnose as I waited didn’t help.

I knew there might be a problem when the first few days of light bleeding shifted one evening into a very different kind of bleeding. As I went to the toilet, it seemed as though the blood was running out of me. The only way I know how to describe it is that it was like I was peeing but it was blood being released in a steady stream. On top of that my body started to violently expel huge clots of uterus lining – a sensation I have never experienced before and pray I never experience again. For me the sensation was a bit like how it feels to have uncontrollable, explosive diarrhoea. There was nothing I could do to stop the blood or the clots from being released. When I thought the worst was over I put on the biggest overnight sanitary towel I had, but within 15 minutes it was soaked through to overflowing. In the end the safest place was to sit on the toilet to let me body release what was inside without making a mess. I sat there for an hour before finally thinking that perhaps this wasn’t ok, and that’s when I picked up the telephone to a friend who had miscarried some years previously.

This phone call is what changed things for me. Had I not had her advice to recognise the warning signs, the tipping point between safe and unsafe, between my body coping with a normal amount of blood loss and too much, I wouldn’t have felt confident to dial the hospital’s number. Within minutes of chatting with the emergency ward (NB: as it turns out fully saturating a fresh sanitary towel with blood within 15 minutes is a warning sign), we were in the car (I turned down the offer of an ambulance for fear of wasting valuable national resources) and on our way to the Early Pregnancy Assessment Unit. One other tiny detail I want to note in all of this also made a huge difference. A second friend had given me some unused incontinence knickers from her post-labour period and I had thrown them in the back of the bathroom cupboard for when my turn came. These knickers ended up being an absolute dignity-saver. As I waddled from the car to the hospital, full of shame and fear, these pants caught pretty much everything as the blood and clots continued to flow. We arrived into the treatment room in the nick of time, as they too were saturated and heavy from catching my miscarriage.

All this time I was anxious that despite my fears in our bathroom, I was wasting precious medical time. Isn’t that how we often feel, that we really don’t want to be a bother?! As it turns out, we were right to trust that the miscarriage had moved from manageable-at-home to unsafe. I arrived dizzy and faint from the blood loss. The medical team whipped into action, hooking me up to a drip, administering pain meds and monitoring my blood pressure (which had dropped) and checking over my internals. After a time I was found a bed and instructed to rest. If I needed the toilet I was told to catch everything that came out of my body in paper trays that sat in the toilet bowl so that it could be monitored. The team kept returning to check me over and to keep an eye on the amount of bleeding. Over the course of a few hours it slowed and I slept briefly.

I had hoped the worst was over but knew that I had to have a scan the following morning to see how much of the miscarriage had left my body. The internal ultrasound showed that although the majority had come out, there was still some left and the doctors gave me a series of pessaries to encourage my uterus to contract and release the remaining lining. (I later learnt that this drug is given to women who choose to have abortions. This fact is something that I am still struggling to digest, given how far from my own desire an abortion could ever be). Once again, we were given little information as to what to expect when the drug kicked in. I was offered anti-sickness and pain meds but turned them down, assuming I would continue to simply experience the milder menstrual pains that I could cope with.

An hour later I was back on the toilet, retching into a paper bowl and writhing in agony as the drug took hold. Looking back, I can only assume that I experienced a form of labour, as my uterus contracted and wave after wave of nauseating pain rippled through the lower half of my body. Locked into the ward toilet with me, my poor husband who had been with me throughout, rubbed my back and stroked my sweaty hair, listening to me oscillate between moans of pain and speaking in tongues as my exhausted body and mind tried to battle through. No amount of him trying to coax me back to my bed (on a public ward with three sweet elderly ladies) would work and after an hour or so a nurse was brought into the stinking room to administer the drugs I had previously resisted. After another half an hour, with the drugs now circulating, I relaxed enough to be taken back to bed to sleep.

As it turned out, the drug had not worked. Although both front and back passages had experienced contractions and emissions, the drug had not fulfilled its aim. I slept in an exhausted state. After several hours I was told that the worst was over and that over time my body would release whatever was left inside. I didn’t need anymore scans, only iron tablets and a pregnancy test to take in three weeks time (the quickest, cheapest method to check that my pregnancy hormone level had returned to zero). By this stage, a night in my own bed felt like a wonderful option. It’s the first time I have ever spent a night in hospital (I know, I’m a lucky girl) and I am full of admiration for both patients and staff who find themselves in this environment day after day. Although still a little wary, I knew that the worst was over and we were able to go home where I could spend the following days weak, weary and still bleeding, but definitely now in recovery.

In an emergency situation, it’s often necessary to switch to the practical coping strategies which cause head to over-rule heart. I am aware that I haven’t touched on how we felt, what our hearts were battling in all of this. As I lay unable to sleep in my hospital bed, I thought of every woman like me, and wondered at the bravery, resilience and strength that gets us through such situations. And the partners, the valiant men who have to watch from a chair by the bed as their mate goes through the horror and physical pain of losing the tiny life or lives that had been so precious to them both. Miscarriage can be traumatic, heartbreaking and incredibly frightening; an awful way to see a dreamy, exciting future disappear.

I flicked onto social media that night as I lay awake in my hospital bed and was sucker punched by an update by a lady from our old church announcing twins. The due date was close to ours. It hurt deeply even as I was glad for her. As I lay there I thought over how God’s willingness to bless her family – so many families – with new life, while our hopes of family continued to drag us to deep, dark places of pain and fear confounded me. I joked with a friend yesterday that if I have to unfollow one more woman on social media announcing a baby or showing off a newborn, I’ll have no-one left to follow at all! We do what we do to cope when we have to – and there is no shame in that. I am still numb and at a loss for words in my sadness. There are so many whys which will remain unanswered.

Last time we miscarried my husband and I struggled to know how to pull together in our grief. This time it is different, and perhaps that’s because this time neither of us knows what to say to God. We have no reserves of hope to fall back on. Our faith that God will redeem the future is buried under a mountain of pain and anger. We feel the loss keenly and our bodies have experienced horrors we have never known before. We really have reached the end of ourselves this time.

I have found two Psalms to be incredibly helpful and I share them with you here. They have given me the words that I don’t have.

I yell out to my God, I yell with all my might,
    I yell at the top of my lungs. He listens.

I found myself in trouble and went looking for my Lord;
    my life was an open wound that wouldn’t heal.
When friends said, “Everything will turn out all right,”
    I didn’t believe a word they said.
I remember God—and shake my head.
    I bow my head—then wring my hands.
I’m awake all night—not a wink of sleep;
    I can’t even say what’s bothering me.
I go over the days one by one,
    I ponder the years gone by.
I strum my lute all through the night,
    wondering how to get my life together.

Will the Lord walk off and leave us for good?
    Will he never smile again?
Is his love worn threadbare?
    Has his salvation promise burned out?
Has God forgotten his manners?
    Has he angrily stalked off and left us?
“Just my luck,” I said. “The High God goes out of business
    just the moment I need him.”

Once again I’ll go over what God has done,
    lay out on the table the ancient wonders;
I’ll ponder all the things you’ve accomplished,
    and give a long, loving look at your acts.

O God! Your way is holy!
    No god is great like God!
You’re the God who makes things happen;
    you showed everyone what you can do—
You pulled your people out of the worst kind of trouble,
    rescued the children of Jacob and Joseph.

(Psalm 77)

I love God because he listened to me,
    listened as I begged for mercy.
He listened so intently
    as I laid out my case before him.
Death stared me in the face,
    hell was hard on my heels.
Up against it, I didn’t know which way to turn;
    then I called out to God for help:
“Please, God!” I cried out.
    “Save my life!”
God is gracious—it is he who makes things right,
    our most compassionate God.
God takes the side of the helpless;
    when I was at the end of my rope, he saved me.

I said to myself, “Relax and rest.
    God has showered you with blessings.
    Soul, you’ve been rescued from death;
    Eye, you’ve been rescued from tears;
    And you, Foot, were kept from stumbling.”

I’m striding in the presence of God,
    alive in the land of the living!
I stayed faithful, though bedeviled,
    and despite a ton of bad luck,
Despite giving up on the human race,
    saying, “They’re all liars and cheats.”

What can I give back to God
    for the blessings he’s poured out on me?
I’ll lift high the cup of salvation—a toast to God!
    I’ll pray in the name of God;
I’ll complete what I promised God I’d do,
    and I’ll do it together with his people.
When they arrive at the gates of death,
    God welcomes those who love him.
Oh, God, here I am, your servant,
    your faithful servant: set me free for your service!
I’m ready to offer the thanksgiving sacrifice
    and pray in the name of God.
I’ll complete what I promised God I’d do,
    and I’ll do it in company with his people,
In the place of worship, in God’s house,
    in Jerusalem, God’s city.

(Psalm 116)

I don’t know how to give thanks to God in this place. I know there is still much to be grateful for, but the words of gratitude do not come thick and fast. I wake up with worship songs in my mouth and I sing them in the shower, but beyond that my heart feels like lead and I avoid our prayer room because I wonder whether those promises that I eagerly stuck on the walls are really just lies. We still wonder at this outcome when we believed we were set up for success by heaven this time. We are angry. We feel incredibly let down. We feel exhausted by the struggle.

Miscarriage takes time to recover from. We were never given any advice by the hospital team as we left. We weren’t directed towards counselling or told when to return to work. So much of this experience is poorly managed and badly handled. Among women who know they are pregnant, 1 in 6 pregnancies ends in miscarriage. I don’t tell you this to scare you, merely to highlight that this is incredibly common and we don’t talk about it enough. We will walk past men and women every day who know what it is to go through a miscarriage, and we’ll never know what it’s taken them to get up and keep going. So I’m talking about it just a little today. I’m sure there is much more to say. But this is me starting to share, and to say it’s ok to tell people that you’ve experienced a miscarriage and to need to find a way – or ways – to mark that loss and to grieve as openly as you need to. It’s ok not to bounce straight back from this. It’s ok to get angry or burst into tears for no apparent reason. It’s ok to find carrying on as normal a near impossible feat.

I have needed people around me to reach out, pray for us and love us as we hurt. It’s ok to say what you need and to ask for it – though I hope you don’t have to and that you will be found right where you are and given what helps you begin to heal.

For further advice, help and information on miscarriage, I have found The Miscarriage Association website to be incredibly helpful.

Beauty from the Ashes

I was reminded of a simple truth as I entered church on Sunday evening and heard the comforting sounds of worship music playing: God’s very nature is to redeem everything. Our Father, who has spent the whole of eternity drawing his children back to himself, cannot help but restore, redeem, renew, revive, re-make, rekindle, repay. It is just who He is.

And so this mess, this pain, this loss that I’m in once again…….He can take that and turn the disappointment into an appointment, the ashes into beauty, and my mourning into joy. I thought we had reached that place finally with this pregnancy, but instead we find we’re facing another detour and delay. Yet our circumstances don’t stop God from being who He inherently is. He can’t be anything but Himself. 

So even as I walk through the Valley of Death at this time, I can know that my God will have the last word here and that even now He is going about His business and making all things new. 

In the Eye of the Storm

I’ve been asking myself this week whether blogging in my current state is a wise idea. I’m not feeling particularly rational. I’ve been struggling to sleep. I haven’t spent hours in prayer or reading my Bible this week and I’m not really hearing God speak to me. Any observations or wisdom that might spill out on this page will not be made from my usual considered approach to our circumstances.

I’ve been trying to work out how to summarise the last two months when they are split so neatly into two such intense extremes. Today as I write this I am waiting to miscarry. My tired, tense mind can’t even begin to comprehend how to process this bit of information.

This time last week I was in a beautiful but tentative state of early pregnancy; grateful for every day that passed triumphantly and thankful for every reassuring symptom and sign of new life gently beginning to take shape inside my body. But just a few days later, at seven and a half weeks pregnant, I had my early pregnancy ultrasound scan, and where we had expected to see one, possibly two tiny babies beginning to form and hear the amazing sound of a heartbeat or two, we had the cruel shock of observing an empty amniotic sac and no new life to be seen. Several blood tests and another scan later and the outcome seemed pretty conclusive. We had a new term to add to our collection: “blighted ovum“.

The run up to our second embryo transfer had been so profoundly saturated by Father God’s words. We were led back to the same passages in the Bible over and over again, particularly those passages in John 14 and John 16 which talk about asking God for specific things and expecting to be heard and answered. Over the days leading up to our transfer so many beautiful moments unfolded. We live in a rural village and one day were privileged to see the birth of two lambs. The farmer told us that the mother had been declared barren when she was scanned with all the other pregnant ewes but here she was, a little late to the party, adding her own offspring to the collection. This event felt profound to us and we pondered the deep significance of its timing. Answers to prayer came thick and fast as we sought God’s face on the medical decisions we had to make and we saw positive outcomes blow the medics’ cautious predictions out of the water. Our God was in this. He had told us in no uncertain terms to entrust the outcome to Him and so far it was looking good.

I’m not going to tell you that I handled the Two Week Wait after the transfer in a perfect state of quiet trust and peacefulness. The fear and doubts shot out of my mouth even as my heart wrestled to keep them locked up. During an IVF cycle you are so hyper-aware of every single minute detail. Each step is nail-biting and each waiting phase feels fully loaded. On top of the mind games and waiting is an intense awareness of one’s body as additional hormone supplements must be taken to give the baby – or babies in our case – their best chance of survival. There is no switching off from twice daily pessary insertions and the delightful side effects they cause! But it has always, always been worth it.

The day I tested to see if I was pregnant I broke an agreement which my husband and I had made, that we would take the test together after work. He knew that if it was negative, I might never manage to get out of the house because I would be wrecked by the result. In my stubborn pigheadedness I decided I couldn’t wait another minute, but I had also talked myself into the conviction that I could not be pregnant. Fast forward an hour and I was sat on our prayer room floor howling in thanks to God and total disbelief that He would still bless His unfaithful, doubting daughter with her heart’s desire. The next three weeks passed in a mixture of amazed disbelief and tentative excitement.

Scroll forward again to the clean, bright fertility clinic suite and there we were in the aftermath of our appointment with nothing but confusion, shock and horror to hold our hands. As I sit here, still in disbelief, still trying to process the images that I have recently seen on-screen, I cannot work out why our circumstances have once again led us here. Pain, loss, disappointment and grief are beginning to feel like the only companions I will ever have in this life. We have lived so long beside them that I doubt I will ever get to hang out with joy or begin to dream again. I am so familiar with how it feels to live in the utter heartbreak of infertility that I wonder whether I’ll ever view life through any other lens.

I know that every woman handles miscarriage in her own way. Some are private, strong and silent. Some are more vocal, needing the comfort of others and the room to grieve openly. Some carry on as if nothing has happened. Others make it clear to all that their world has just fallen apart. Some run to God for comfort; others wonder whether He really can love them at all. There are many, many, many women who experience miscarriage, and many who never breathe a word about it. Every woman needs to be seen and heard in her own way during this hideous time. And loved, loved, loved. I am still zombie-like, groping about in the darkness for the words for this fresh devastation. Having experienced two miscarriages already, I am frightened of the physical pain and fresh sorrow that will accompany the bleeding when it begins.

And as always the same questions return. What about God? Where is He in this? What on earth did He mean by asking us to “entrust Him with the outcome”? We had experienced the joy of heaven over this new opportunity for new life and now this? How do I open myself up once again to let Him comfort me when He is silent now? How do I trust that He is who He says He is when life serves me nothing but pain and torment? How do I possibly believe that I am the apple of His eye when He continues to bless so many women around me with their miracle babies, but not me?

I turn to the Psalms, to poetry, to the words of David because I don’t have words to give Him,

 God, God . . . my God!
    Why did you dump me
    miles from nowhere?
Doubled up with pain, I call to God
    all the day long. No answer. Nothing.
I keep at it all night, tossing and turning.

And you! Are you indifferent, above it all,
    leaning back on the cushions of Israel’s praise?
We know you were there for our parents:
    they cried for your help and you gave it;
    they trusted and lived a good life.

And here I am, a nothing—an earthworm,
    something to step on, to squash.
Everyone pokes fun at me;
    they make faces at me, they shake their heads:
“Let’s see how God handles this one;
    since God likes him so much, let him help him!”

And to think you were midwife at my birth,
    setting me at my mother’s breasts!
When I left the womb you cradled me;
    since the moment of birth you’ve been my God.
Then you moved far away
    and trouble moved in next door.
I need a neighbor.

Herds of bulls come at me,
    the raging bulls stampede,
Horns lowered, nostrils flaring,
    like a herd of buffalo on the move.

I’m a bucket kicked over and spilled,
    every joint in my body has been pulled apart.
My heart is a blob
    of melted wax in my gut.
I’m dry as a bone,
    my tongue black and swollen.
They have laid me out for burial
    in the dirt…..

But then this….

God has taken charge;
    from now on he has the last word.

All the power-mongers are before him
All the poor and powerless, too
Along with those who never got it together

Our children and their children
    will get in on this
As the word is passed along
    from parent to child.
Babies not yet conceived
    will hear the good news—
    that God does what he says.

(Psalm 22, The Message version)

And this from a friend……

Was feeling really frustrated and upset this morning and then read this. May it encourage you….

‘He went…to a solitary place; and…prayed.’ Mark 1:35 NKJV By failing to pray – you set yourself up to fail. The reason Jesus never failed is because he never failed to pray. Note the times when he prayed: when his heart was heavy. During his ministry on earth, his cousin John the Baptist was arrested and publicly beheaded for confronting a king about his sin. ‘When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew…privately to a solitary place’ (Matthew 14:13 NIV). Disappointment, desertion, divorce and death will write their chapters in the book of our lives. Thank God for therapists and doctors, but ultimately there’s no one who can heal a broken heart like God. ‘He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power’ (Psalm 147:3-5 NIV). Whether placing stars or healing scars, no situation is too big or too small to get the attention of our loving God. To understand God’s healing expertise, look at the life of Job. Possibly no one in history lost more than Job did, yet God brought him through it all. In Job chapter 11 we read: ‘You will forget your misery; it will be like water flowing away. Your life will be brighter than the noonday. Even darkness will be as bright as morning. Having hope will give you courage. You will be protected and will rest in safety. You will lie down unafraid, and many will look to you for help’ (Job 11:16-19 NLT). Are you sad and heavy-hearted today? Do what Jesus did. Take time to pray about it.

And this is the hardest part in it all I think, because I don’t want to pray. I don’t want to talk to God. I don’t see what He can possibly have to offer me in this. The one who chose not to take the suffering away yet wants to offer me comfort and compassion?? What do I do with that? I have nothing polite to say to my Daddy at the moment. Perhaps you think I’m petty and pathetic. Perhaps you think I am immature and ignorant. I can see that I am blaming God for something He hasn’t caused. But I can’t seem to lift my eyes higher to His hopefulness and to His loving care. I am in the eye of the storm, the centre of another nightmare which screams, “No, no, no, no, no, no”. And the questions, as always, overwhelm me.

I return to my Jacob-like state of wrestling with this mess. I know that I am grappling and my true heart’s cry, like his, comes forth, “I will not let you go unless you bless me”. As time begins to heal me, I will get up and limp forward once again. What choice does each of us have when tragedy comes knocking? I am still amazed at the resilience of humanity, of our instinct for survival. I thought I had reached my limit and was so grateful for God’s deliverance into a pregnant place. But now as I stare renewed barrenness in the face again, as I wait and watch for my body to lose its grip on this tiny little life that was growing and see our bright future literally flushed down the toilet, I know that even now I am travelling to new places within myself to find the strength to push forward. I am fragile fire. I am passionate patience. I am broken beauty.

I was sent this lovely poem by Rainer Maria Rilke which brings my aching heart comfort.

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

Within us all is the need to overcome, to believe for better times, to venture forward once again into a place of peace and hope.

For now, I’m just doing today.

Whatever you’re facing today – and I know that pain has so many faces – just do today with me. It’s all that is asked of us. It’s all any of us can do. And it is enough.