Category Archives: Heart

Tact and the Real Message

“I know how you’re feeling,” came a voice from somewhere close, “and I do feel really sorry for you.”

And my heart grew and I forgave her words because she is my daughter and this is her best. They were not hollow words spoken with an adult’s urgency to fix or with undertones of self-interest. She has little idea of nuance and tact.

So when she says ‘I know how you’re feeling’ she honestly believes she does. Perhaps she does have a sense of the colour of depression or the pain of its bite. I pray she does not know the full injury of it in her lifetime, or at the very least in her childhood. Oh little one, I sincerely hope you do not know how I am feeling.

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What touched me enormously was that she would even try to comfort me with words, though her pity was not what she was really trying to convey. The message I heard loud and clear was “I love you mummy”, which actually was the message I really needed to hear.

Messengers get shot frequently by those bitten by depression. In recent years I have learned to listen to the message behind the message. It’s not about the most well-chosen words, though for me at least they often bring the best relief. It’s not about connecting either, though finding common ground can bring hope and joy; I’m no longer journeying alone on this day. ‘I do feel really sorry for you’ can mean so much more than ‘I recognise your struggle and I hate it too and I hate that you have this fight on your hands and I pity you’. No, the act of being present, of communicating at all – in some age-appropriate manner, this is what brings light to my heart and salve to the bite-marks. My son spends time on my lap. My husband quietly washes up. My daughter tells me she knows how I am feeling.

And I stand back from my heart and marvel that God would bless me so much, whispering his love to me in so many ways each day – using even children so honest because of their lack of tact – and I give him my griefs and my deepest aches, because he is strong enough to carry them all. And though I crave tact and good words, I crave the real message more now and I pray my words too will speak love and that that love will be heard.

 

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Grief stinks

The day after Ascension, who grieved?

It is a very odd part of faith, the ascension. We don’t focus on it a lot in my tradition; the date falls on Thursdays. Jesus, killed on a cross on a Friday during Passover. Raised from the dead on the Sunday, marking a new celebration day in the week. A new first day. Then multiple appearances in various locations, to numerous doubters and followers. He sat and ate with them. Talked and explained. Listened and loved the lost and the confused. Those close to him were convinced that he was indeed alive.

Just like the 40 days in the desert before his ministry years began, there were 40 days in which this post-resurrection Jesus continued to baffle and bookend. Unfettered by any human control, he chose who to present himself to. He did not intend to take Israel as his kingdom by force or to oust the Romans. Instead he repeats his earliest message: the kingdom of God. The proximity! The invitation!

The kingdom of God demands an engagement with Someone and a relinquishing of Self in order to be fully Alive. It turns one’s heart’s desires from self-promotion to praise of God. And in that moment the wonderful realisation of knowing what it truly means to be Loved. Human love is just a shadow of this Love.

These turners, these followers, these men and women baffled and bruised by life choose Love. They are the start of something, but they are not enough on their own. They need a spiritual encounter and a promise of help and strength.

ascension01So God does the unimaginable – again. He separates. From day one he had been separating light and darkness. Now he separates from those who turned to follow him. A significant separation of a physical body with limits, before a spiritual meeting with his followers. The practicalities are not even that important. An ascent – lots of witnesses – and a junction in the story.

I would have grieved. Something had happened and Someone had gone ahead, calling others to follow. I would have grieved the distance and the unknowns. I would have grieved the mess remaining and the masses of unrepentant folk. I would have grieved the stench of life Without. (I would have had hope too – my eyes lifted from the past to the future and from the sticky hell of earth to the hope of heaven. But I would have grieved.)

And grief remains in our world in the mess. I didn’t know any of the celebrities who died in the past year, but I grieve at the end of opportunities, creativity, laughter. I think many of us do. The separation is out of our control and we don’t want it.

weight of grief

Two months ago my granny died.

I don’t want the separation and the emptiness when I return to her home. I don’t want the grief, though it tears through me. She was a war-time evacuee. A left-hander in the wrong era. A girl who thought her mum was her sister – raised by her granny in Notting Hill and ignored by her father. She lived most of her life in Devon and I rarely saw her out of the county. She was stubborn. Hard work. Kind, but firm and she didn’t suffer fools. Forged in her generation with scars and dashed dreams of her own, you needed to meet her on her terms, which was hard. She had a strange sense of humour. One time, for a surprise, she arranged a tour for me of the local sewage works. She had been a model. A cinema owner. A mum. She was brave, and witty, and under-educated.

But now she is dead and next week I return to Devon to sort through her clothes with my mum. A task of turning and of separating and of grieving.

I think it is ok to grieve. Even the painful things. Our hearts expect it.

I think it was ok for the followers to grieve, following Jesus’ Ascension. Things had changed.

When something changes and we feel the weight of separation we long to express that. For some it means retracing and recalling. For others it is far more private. Grief is heavy and the price is high – the BBC are saying today that broken hearts are a real thing.

But, after grief? After the initial rush of emotions? Once the pain has become more calm?

This is where Hope lives. And the Ascension gives me Hope.

granny

I can hope to meet my granny again. She shared my faith and she lives and I will see her and talk with her again. I can place my hope in God, though I hate the separation of death. He lives and he is not controlled by death or by physical limits. I can hope for good things and know that there is more than the mess and the stink of grief and separation. There is a kingdom I am part of and my eyes are fixed on Jesus.

Mindful Eating

Beating depression and anxiety is akin to marching uphill. Marching daily against the laws of emotional entropy and greedy gravity.

It turns out I don’t march so well on a full stomach. I have been comfort eating now for the past few months to the point where I don’t feel right watching TV or starting the next activity without a snack and there is always always a reason to eat. This is not right. I’ve been here before: I graduated several sizes larger than usual because eating and revision just go so well together. I changed my eating habits and lost weight gradually and sufficiently to marry three years later a size or two smaller than usual.

Marriage doesn’t always mean keeping the weight off. Those inches kept creeping back. I have never minded much how I look, but for the sake of my family and my arteries I have been having reservations about all the calories and unhealthy snacks I’ve been consuming lately.

I mentioned these worries to my counsellor recently, who had a great tool for me to use. I want to share it here for my own accountability and to encourage others. I have tried it for the past few days and it is having some success already.

It is an acronym. When I feel like eating, I need to ask myself:

Am I Hungry?

Am I Angry?

Am I Lonely?

Am I Tired?

If I am angry, lonely or tired, there are solutions which do not involve food (and I can ask others to help me in this too). If I am genuinely hungry, I should stop and think what my body actually needs to eat. What does my body really crave? Part of learning mindfulness to beat anxiety is in recognising thinking habits, acknowledging worries, anger and fears and becoming very aware of the moment. When you stop and savour something all your senses can be used. If I tune in to what my body really needs I can start to provide it. Sometimes my children just need an orange, or some milk, or a tomato. They are more in tune with their bodies’ needs than I am. I’m still in creme egg season and using food up because we have it, not because it is what would bring healing and wholeness.

There is still a time for cheese straws and chocolate. But there is also a time for carrots and kale. I am not going to tackle this one head on because I have a real problem with eating too much and too often. I am going to go at it slowly but surely. Having the HALT principle will help me, because I work well with a general rule. These next few weeks I am hoping to learn to savour things better and enjoy what is good and right.

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7 years on

Today marks the seventh anniversary of dad’s heart attack. A heart attack which would have killed him if he had not had mum nearby. Or if he had lived in a different time, or a different place. In his own words ‘every day since then has been a gift. God has been good.’

Today is a gift. Each day I get to tickle my children, feed my guinea pigs, joke with my dad or learn from my mum is a gift. Each day I get to wake up next to my amazing husband is a gift. Each day I find something to smile about is a gift.

Dad’s health is good, but it is not perfect. Life is good; a good gift. I want to thank God for this precious gift.

And God has been healing me over this time too: there are new things on the horizon. A book. A relocation. New opportunities. Learning to let go of some aspects of the past, enjoy the gift of the present and trust deeply for all that the future will bring. Perhaps I will start a new blog. I’m not hurrying any decisions though. There is too much going on preparing for selling and moving and I am learning to work within my limits. I will always treasure my mum and my dad, and be grateful for all that God has done for me through them. But I am also learning to use the treasure he has given me to serve him wherever he calls us as a family, and whatever he creates through us, be it open or hidden.

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For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:21

White Spaces

So much white space in life right now. I’m so wanting to doodle in the edges.

 

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I don’t want to forget how valuable the white spaces are in books. How important the rest in the bar is when playing an instrument (not least woodwind). How urgent the weekend always seems. Rest by design. Wow, really? I’m allowed to slow down, look around, even stop?

Stopping doesn’t come easily to me, but it is making more sense and generally having a good impact on my recovery.

My husband and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary last weekend. Ten of the most empowering and remarkable years of my life (I won’t speak for him, but I get the impression he’s happy too). We went to Copenhagen for the weekend. The single most glorious weekend of my life. Beautiful Copenhagen. Time with the man I love. Without the children. Without anything planned in stone. Without – and this pains me – any Danish language skills. It turns out you don’t need them.

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God blessed us with beautiful days and beautiful pastries. With fairytale castles. With cute coins with hearts on (apparently they did mint 2-kroner in 2003, but we didn’t find any). I kept some coins totalling 10 kroner so I could walk around like Frodo and jingle at the children.

2-Kroner---no-mark

With half an idea of what to see, we stumbled around the city into amazing exhibitions and towers and a superb boat tour. We tried to work out whether the Little Mermaid had legs and why the water was so clear and how it reflected so marvellously on the Black Diamond building. We had pickled things and smorrebrod and I had a small amount of alcohol and we discovered a super hotel. We looked up at the buildings and realised what it feels like to be Lego-sized. We wondered if Denmark is to England what England is to the USA.

We learnt about how it is possible to do Trains Really Well Abroad although it helps if you know which station you want or if you are flexible enough if you get it wrong. We crossed the Øresund Link, which I had briefly helped work on at Arups on leaving school, and found Sweden delightful too.

It was a much needed and much appreciated break from the routine. White space. Not needing an agenda, but delivering nonetheless.

I am one for wanting to doodle into every moment of my life. But – beauty isn’t to be found by planning, doing, stressing. The richness in life becomes evident only when there is something to contrast it. The working purpose in any one life may be deceptively simple, but it is beautiful when contrasted with purposeful rest. See that hole in the coin? It makes it beautiful. And yet it is also, technically, a Nothing. An Absence. Remarkable.

I love the 2-kroner design. Actually I love pretty much all Danish design. I have discovered a big place in my heart for a country so closely linked to our history. I cannot make the waves of depression retreat. I cannot buy my way out of enemy attacks. It calms my soul that Denmark exists and that there is a place in this world where beauty and common sense live in harmony.

Lots of people asked me at church today how I’m doing. The truth is, not brilliantly. It is so weird to be genuinely terrified of tiny things again at this point. I find I need more time and space by myself than in engaging with others; even with those I love most. Falling back on to ‘toolkit’ crutches I listed in the series of posts a couple of months ago. I ache more than my heart can ache, and my mind won’t join up dots that should be so obvious. And so I spend long hours interacting with a computer or my mobile rather than facing people. My high scores are increasing, but my children are taking the strain and it pains me. I just want to be better, and back in the normal set of responsibilities.

dotsA wise person at church today read a passage that jumped out at me:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.    

Philippians 4:6-7

 

I have found over the summer that at those moments of utter madness I knew a massive need welling up in my heart and mind, and that the only thing that met that need was to consciously place myself and my life into God’s hands and choose to trust. Conscious Trust. Letting go of control and stepping forward in God’s strength alone.

Moments of suffocating panic immediately transformed into regular activity. Repeatedly. Worry-ruts became ditches at the side of the road. Spinning mind confusion replaced by focused order. Time and time and time again. There is no simple explanation for this, other than God’s hand at work. I am not mentally disciplined enough to carry myself – heart and mind – when both feel so broken.

God’s peace is like falling in love – noticing colours like you never saw them. Enjoying senses. Recognising the family. Being able to read words forwards again. Peace that not only transcends understanding (this much is well-drilled into me), but utterly guards hearts and minds. Peace which leads to action when we accept it and put it on.

And, fascinatingly for me, Peace which needs regular topping up, like fuel or windscreen wash in a car. There are times when I need a refill, and these days I am very aware that these times come around very often – my tanks are shallow. In fact I prefer keeping things fluid, trusting more smoothly and directly and learning to become better disciplined like this. The Peace is like a drug I find myself longing for, so I am learning to reach for it – in every situation – by prayer, by petition, in gratefulness – in desperation clinging to the only One who supplies my need.

So yes, I frequently feel as shallow and vulnerable as the skin of a bubble. But despite the marks of a crazy busy summer which took so much and gave so much more back – and from which I am still reeling – I know that there is an Answer to anxiety.

 

 

Chocolate Cake for the Soul

I have not blogged much recently about Hearts. Perhaps I should. Apparently they beat Hibs 2-0 yesterday. Well done them.

But as this blog occasionally does look at some issues to do with heart care (don’t hold your breath on that: I’m no doctor), it is about time I linked to a useful article on keeping one’s heart healthy. In between baking my husband’s chocolate birthday cake, I may add.