When grief and trust collide

At 7.15am on Saturday, I was thinking about making some pancakes for breakfast.

One phone call, 50 miles, and four hours later, I was standing with six other members of my family at the hospital bedside of my darling Nan, my one and only, amazing, bonkers, beautiful Nana.

The cancer that had invaded her lymphatic system over the past five years had grown so big that she was undone.

She had died.

I never thought she would leave us this way.

I looked into the face of my Grandad, widowed after 60 years, and all of us were asking How? and Why? She was well, she was well, she was well, and then suddenly she wasn’t, and it all came crashing down in less than 72 hours. None of us were expecting it. None of us were with her when she died.

How do you move on from such agonising grief? From knowing that someone you loved so much has gone, that they’re not coming back? And never even having said goodbye.

Regret bubbles up and crushes the heart and I wonder why I didn’t visit her more often, why I didn’t pick up the phone, why I didn’t send her a photo of her smiling great-grandchildren even though I knew it would bring her joy.

And so much was unsaid. Did I say ‘I love you’ enough to last a lifetime?

For there will be no more meetings, no more phone calls, no more letters, no more stories, no more chicken pies, no more jellies, no more walks in the garden, no more listening to the sound of her voice, no more loving.

IMG_4306Someone leaves you and all you’re left with is a pile of letters in a flowing, neat hand and your toddler self’s favourite bunny that you cuddled so much it became threadbare so she went and bought another one which you loved almost as much.

How can we live with this brokenness? Every love we ever have ends in loss, one way or another, so that sometimes it seems as if we are better off not loving at all.

Yet I couldn’t help but love her. She was indescribably amazing. And she loved me, loved us. She gave us this beautiful gift of herself and if I could say one thing to her now, it would be this: Thank you.

Thank you for loving us. For always listening. For never, ever making us feel small, or worthless, or belittled. For saving your empty packets so we could play shops in your chalet. For teaching us how to love nature. For taking us on so many train rides. For being so very brave so we could enjoy more time with you. For all your ‘there we ares’. For being bold, and frank, and speaking your mind. For all the stories. For the letters. For the cards and for never forgetting our birthdays. For every moment that you loved us, for all our years.

How can we accept that someone who has been part of life from the very beginning is no longer present? That we can never talk to them again, or hear their voice, or touch their hand? That the last touch was cold, that every moment I looked at her and thought she would move, breathe, she didn’t? That the papery skin and the white, soft hair were just an empty shell?

We are not built for goodbyes.

It’s not that I think I can do a better job of running this broken and busted world than God. I know I never could. It’s not that I doubt that there is a plan and a purpose, or that I am bothered by not knowing whether she will be there in the eternal kingdom. That is his business. I haven’t lost trust.

But when grief and trust collide, the question is how to live with the brokenness and allow God to work through it.

And if love always ends in loss, then it proves that the reward of loving is in the loving itself. For love is an action, not an end. I see this with my children, when I wish I could hold them once more in their baby form, and know I never will. I couldn’t hold on to that love, but love I did. And I would again, even though it would end. Love was not the end but the journey.

And if the reward of loving is in the loving itself, then she was rich indeed. For she loved us without counting the cost, and she taught us what friendship is, and she taught me what kind of grandmother to be. Brilliant, brave, bold, and beautiful, and so very, very kind.

Nothing will ever be the same. I will miss her all my days. My heart is broken but it will keep beating, and I know Jesus opens his arms and bears his heart to us and says ‘Come, I have comfort even for this’, and underneath everything are his everlasting arms and one day everything will be fair forever and for now I weep and I trust and I put on one more load of laundry, because there is only so much time to love.




Notes from the south

Two months ago, we moved to our new home. Ever since we arrived in Bristol in December 2014, we had been renting a lovely little terraced house in the north of the city. But renting is expensive, so we decided to buy a we-can-make-it-lovely little terraced house in the (more affordable) southeast of the city.


If you know Bristol, you will know that there is a north-south divide. It’s mainly a geographical thing. As in, there’s a river that runs through the middle, and the traffic is terrible, and it’s just hard to get across. The south is known as the ‘cool’ side; the north is known as the ‘posh’ side. Before we moved to the south, our neighbour-to-be described our north Bristol area as ‘the other side’. When we told our northern friends the area we were moving to, they asked, ‘Where is that?’

Here, it seems, people have their patch, and they stick within it.

Our move was four months in the making; from the time we made the offer on the house, to the date we moved in. Then suddenly (it seemed to me), I found myself in a new house, in a new neighbourhood, on the other side of the city.

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More than resolutions

This post has been a long time in coming…

In fact, I started it on my birthday, four months ago.

But. Now it’s 2017. So I guess I can call it my new year’s resolution post.

I previously wrote about my two solo hours on my birthday, my birthday treat from me to me. As well as reflecting on why time alone is so worthwhile, I thought about what sorts of things I’m aspiring to in the coming year and beyond. And I wrote a big list, an eclectic list, a long list of things to do, things to learn, places to go.

But honestly, on reflection, the whole new year’s resolution thing, it isn’t those things. It boils down to something very simple. Know God, know His love, and share it.

So simple.

What does such a simple desire look like in the flesh?

It looks like a person who knows that God breathed out the Bible and that the words found in there are God’s Word. A person who reads it.

It looks like a person who knows that God sent Jesus into the world because He couldn’t stop loving us and there was no way we were going to be able to put things right ourselves. It looks like a person who rests deeply and with abandon in this certain hope. A person who sees things as tools and sees God as truth.

It looks like a person who gives freely and knows that the greatest gift she can give to any other person is to point them to Christ.

A person who loves the Word and cares nothing for wealth, worries, or the ways of the world.

Could I maybe be more like that person this year?

That’s my prayer.

The list I made – it’s a good list. But this person who knows God, knows his love and shares it, she knows that these things are pale in comparison with the beauty of Christ. That she doesn’t need to do or achieve any of these things to be considered a success. That deep, deep joy is not to be found in experiencing things but in knowing Him.

That’s it.

When I looked back at my big list of ideas written all those weeks ago, I still wanted to do most of those things. Then I realised, this list, it’s not a goal list… it’s a wish list. And the thing about wishes, is that they’re not what we really need.

The real-life resolutions are to do with knowing Him, knowing His love, and sharing it. They are soul changes that will happen through perseverance and discipline. Through time spent in His Word. Through the sharpening and honing of the Spirit and through on-the-knees prayer.

So now I have two lists. The wish list – which tells me what my eyes see and desire. And the real life list – which points me to what my soul needs.

There is an overarching idea. That God is ‘over all and in all and through all’ (The Bible, Ephesians 4:6) and that every part of life is lived in His presence, His joy, His love, His grace. And that we are to do everything in love.

‘Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.’ (The Bible, 1 Corinthians 16:13, 14)

Do everything in love.

The Real Life List

  • Embrace… simplicity – read more, have less, sleep early
  • Engage… people (not screens)
  • Be… loved
  • Believe… in saving grace
  • Break… free
  • Daily… give thanks
  • Do… less; pray more
  • Let go… of perfectionism
  • Learn… something new
  • Live… with less
  • Give… the gift of words
  • Grow… in His grace

(My list of cues came from Ann Voskamp’s blog. They’re for the whole year, but because change is gradual, each month has its focus.)

The Wish List

Things that I really want to do this year…

  • Teach Sophie to read.
  • Make a prayer photo album.
  • Start (and continue) the habit of regular family devotions and prayer.
  • Buy a new table and chairs.
  • Have seasonal photos up in the house.
  • Get into making sourdough.
  • Bake bread regularly.
  • Attend a Bible overview day.
  • Start (and continue) weekly ‘dates’ with my husband.
  • Start (and continue) scrapbooks for Sophie and Matthew.
  • Make a photo book of 2016.
  • Keep on running – run a 10K race.
  • Do Parkrun with Sophie.

Things that would be nice to do…

  • Start (and continue) studying Maths A-level.
  • Teach Sophie to knit.
  • Learn a new piano piece.
  • Fly a kite.
  • Do a jigsaw puzzle.
  • Make ice cream.
  • Enter a baking competition.
  • Make creme brulee.
  • Finish knitting my jumper.
  • Read 10 books (at least!).
  • Bake a cake for someone when they don’t expect it.
  • Make cinnamon rolls.
  • Read a book with Nick.
  • Go on a family bike ride.

Things that need a little planning…

  • Go for a walk in the Brecon Beacons.
  • Go camping.
  • Read a book all morning long (fire and cosy socks recommended but optional).
  • Swim in the sea.
  • Have a picnic at the beach.
  • Go out for breakfast.
  • Go vegetarian for a month.

Things that need a little dedication…

  • Have an internet detox – no social media, online news etc for a month.
  • Unplug for a whole weekend – no smartphone, no emails, no internet.
  • Make a list of places I’d like to visit.
  • Make a list of 100 things I’m thankful for.
  • Do a no-spend month – no spending on anything other than food and bills.
  • Post 30 recipes on the blog.

Things that need a little money…

  • Go on a weekend trip with Nick.
  • Soak in a natural hot spring.
  • Have a spa day.