hope deferred

I was in London at the weekend, down in the underground I spotted a poster for a new film (don’t ask me what it was called!!) which had the tag line;

‘it takes courage to hope’

Spot on, I thought, spot on. Had there not been so many people around, I would have taken a picture of it.

I have been wanting to write a blog on hope for a while now, wanting to get back into blogging. Trouble is, I wasn’t sure how to frame it – so – be gentle with me as you read this, I am not sure how it will pan out!

When I first moved to Brum, I realised I still needed quite a bit of help in sorting myself out, and as such was referred to a counsellor at my GP surgery. I remember once saying to her, ‘to be honest, I try not to hope, it’s just too painful,’ to which the response which came was, ‘well, let me know how you get on with that, hope is an intrinsic human activity.’

Hope is something that is important in our role as chaplains to offer to patients and families, though we are always wrestling with what ‘appropriate’ hope is (and we know that that is a loaded thing in itself!) I have also heard so many, many sermons on hope over so many years, but I usually hear a scripture like this quoted:

‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him’

Romans 15:13

I never hear

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.

Proverbs 13:12

And I find myself wondering why this is. I am not sure a truer phrase has ever been written, and I do believe that part of what I have been wrestling with over the last few years is a sick heart as so many dreams I had hoped for have not been fulfilled.

When I went to South Sudan, I was SO expectant to see this wonderful country continue to develop, so excited to have a generation of children who had never experienced war, and I prayed so much over them in my early days especially that they would never see it. Then December 2013 came, and another generation found themselves fleeing to the bush, many others making that tough journey to refugee camps. When my organisation was struggling so badly and so many people were getting hurt, I kept having hope that things would improve. I returned in January 2014, thinking that things could only improve – how wrong I was. My hope, once again dashed to smithereens.

There is of course the obvious one of not having found anyone mad enough to want to love me forever, or bear his children and attempt to live the crazy family life – the other day someone said to me, ‘you said you are 43? That’s so young to me, there is time for everything yet…’ I wanted to scream and say no, not really, would you want to be a mother to a 16 year old when you are 60? – but it’s so hard for people who have not had to walk this path to understand – and very easy to offer hope, often without realising how painful or exhausting this is!

I remember receiving a birthday card in Tanzania in 2001 which read something along the lines of, ‘may this be the year all your dreams come true.’ I remember getting that, and feeling SO excited that I would meet someone that year, and that life would become more challenging, but also so wonderful learning to be loved. I was 26 on that birthday! Since then, pretty much every birthday since, people have written the same sentiment in my cards, and I have come to hate it. I know that the intention is so good, and mostly it IS a real desire that person holds for me, but I struggle with it, it feels like false hope. This time of year is also hard, so much that is a little tough, Birthday, Christmas, New Year, all times of new beginnings and hopes for new things, and all within 9 days of each other with other hard days coming soon afterwards. I so desperately try not to hope now – I have held hope for other things too, which I know affected my heart, I won’t go into everything, but yes, I know the truth in that proverb and I know the pain that offering hope may bring, I know the truth of the heart getting sick.

Yet, my counsellor was right. Hope IS an intrinsic Human activity. I was talking to a good friend who has walked a different path to me, but still with some very difficult moments where hope has indeed been painful. She wrote in her text, ‘I don’t want to hope too much…..’ to which I responded I totally understood that. Her response was interesting:

‘I was kind of smiling as I wrote that, I thought, Ruth is able to relate to this. But once in a while I also have been thinking it’s a pity I can’t have all the joy beforehand. The joy of hoping. That stage can be nice.’

The problem is, that sometimes I do sense that hope beginning to swell in me, and I push it right down, I know the negative of what it can do. But I also know the joy that I am missing out on in doing so. Yet I also know that this is a necessity at the moment to continue to allow my heart to heal from the battering of the last few years.

There are times that I struggle to offer hope to others, because I also know the intense pain that hope deferred – or totally destroyed – can bring, there are times when I wince at what I hear said to others, all with the right heart. Yet, I also know the importance of offering hope at the right time. Perhaps this awareness is something that is also somehow healthy, because there IS truth in that proverb written so many hundreds of years ago. Who knows! But I keep on pondering and wondering!



How to: do mission in the face of depression.

It struck me today that some folks who read this blog may be interested in a blog I wrote recently for my organisation, Church Mission Society. It has had a lot of press and comments. If it would interest you – please click on the link below!


No cosy bed

I just had a conversation with a homeless man who was asking me for 62p to make up the money he needed for a baguette. I don’t normally give money, I will often buy some food or a hot drink, but today I felt it was right to give the money.

However, the conversation we had really saddened me after my experiences of the last few years. I asked him what he was doing to get out of the situation he was in, a question I am afraid I often ask, and he said he was working with an organisation here. At this point I recognised him from before and mentioned he had a girlfriend too, he said yes and relayed the part of the story I had heard sometime last year.

I asked him if he was interested in the Big Issue, I carry info with me to give about how to get linked up and perhaps in doing so step on a small rung to getting back up again. He said he used to do it, but had stopped. I asked him why, he said it was hard… I pushed a bit more, till he confessed, ‘to tell you the truth love, I’m struggling a lot at the moment.’ I didn’t push more. I am no doctor, and don’t proclaim to diagnose people in the streets, but I recognised something familiar in his eyes of depression and hopelessness, perhaps the way his eyes shot to the ground as he said it, or the way his eyes welled up or how his voice cracked.

A friend said to me last year she’d heard someone talking to a group about his experience of depression; something which had struck her was, ‘the hardest thing is to get out of bed in the morning.’ I couldn’t agree more with that. I still don’t know how I managed to do that for the last year to 18 months in South Sudan, but somehow I managed it, always way past the last minute! In the early days back in the UK, in the height of my depression, I remember days on end in my mother’s flat, I suspect had I been alone I would have never got out of bed let alone the flat. I didn’t want to – no – i couldn’t – face life, face all that I was struggling with, and at that time also feeling a huge failure. I wonder where I would be now had I not an amazing organization behind me supporting me unquestionably, helping me with debriefing galore, making sure I had the medical attention I needed with the travel clinic we used at the time, and the few friends and family regularly checking up on me.

I’m over the worst of those days, but still most days are a struggle to face, because every day I face so much of what I’m battling with. In shops, on the bus, at work, in church, in things I see, things I hear, yes even sometimes things I do, especially when at work. My warm cosy bed would be so much easier to stay in.

But my friend on the streets doesn’t have that. He has no comfy bed to lie in and try to hide from the world. He very possibly does not have medication he may need, and every day he is faced with seeing hordes of people dressed smartly, having had a shower and probably some breakfast too, heading to a job somewhere, having some extra money for a drink or even a meal in a restaurant after work, whilst very often not having time to stop to talk, let alone help with food. I’m shaken be doesn’t have the same support I had at my lowest, and that too me is so wrong. When you’re sick bottom in your mind, I wonder how you do manage to get out of whatever bed you are in to stand on the streets, where many people will simply ignore you to sell a magazine, which although excellent, does tell everyone your situation. So hard.

I felt I had another little glimpse of the difficulties some people may have once in this position, it’s very easy to say you have to do this, that, and the other, but let me tell you; this, that and the other can be so very tough, impossible even when your mind is not as if should be. I am sure that’s hard to understand if you’ve never experienced this, I never thought I would understand that.

I found myself wandering away from my friend with such a deep heaviness in my heart, wondering once again just how in this country we ended up with such a huge problem, and how on earth we help so many people who may need more than a physical shelter…. I don’t know what the answer is, but I may try to think how to reword my question, or even totally change it from ‘what are you doing to change this?’ to something which possibly has a little more understanding of how tough it can be.

empty arms

I am battling with writing this blog. However, I had a conversation with a wonderful supportive friend last night, which has prompted me to write it, because once again – as with some of my other blogs, I realise that there is so much ‘hidden’ pain and suffering because people do not feel able to open their hearts for so many reasons, fear being one of them. I have decided to write this blog to try to once again raise awareness of a very difficult area.

I turn 42 this coming Friday. That is really quite painful on so many levels, I am not wanting to celebrate, as I have not the last few years. For as long as I can remember, I have longed to be a mother, planned for children, thought about ways in which I would want to bring them up, made mental notes of things I would want to instil inside them, even thought about names. I have longed to bring children up in the Kingdom, to serve together, to learn from, to learn with, to share with.

But, it has not happened. For reasons seemingly only known to God, I do not attract men, and am still single. There is a slight problem here, two to tango and all that. I have spent more years than I care to member being told I would make the most wonderful mother, I’m not so sure about that, I am sure I would make more than one mistake daily, but I had hoped to be able to try.

People often say to me, ‘have you thought about adoption or fostering?’ Well, yes I have. I had always hoped that once married, we would do either or both of these things, I believe it’s something that the church should be heavily involved in, it’s tragic that we have children going to bed every night believing that they are not loved.

However, I do not own a home in which to do this, and am not in a position to be able to acquire one. In addition – I do not want to be a single parent. I am under no illusions that parent-hood is hard, and I already struggle with loneliness, I do not want to use children to ease that, but plus, what do I do after bedtime? It may work for some people, but at this stage, I do not think it would be good for me to do. I had the biggest privilege to be there for a young girl for a number of weeks as a foster carer whilst I was in South Sudan, but it was also a very very hard few weeks.

Yet, my body, for 30 years has been physically ready for children. It continues, each month, a monthly reminder of all that had been hoped for, of the pain (and in my younger days, the medication I had to take to ease the pain and allow me to get on with the day made me physically shake) suffered through these things, which you put up with, because you believe something beautiful will come from it. You see, it’s not just the children – it’s having someone who loves you and wants to be intimate with you – who meets those needs, because – well – because they love you. Because through all your flaws and imperfections, has seen something which makes them want to live the rest of their life with you, work through the hard times, see reflections of oneself in the mirror and mould more into who God made us to be. To imitate something of the Kingdom with someone. When the times of sadness engulf you – there is no one even to give comfort, to hold you, assure you and walk the path with you.

I am surrounded by babies and young children all the time. My heart breaks when I hear how children are ignored, misunderstood, or mistreated, yes, I know sometimes it’s a bad day, and we all say and do things we regret in those days, but so often it isn’t. The news is full of children who have been hurt by someone intentionally, often a parent, and of course I have nursed children who were harmed in this way. It is so hard to understand how children are a ‘gift, a reward’ (as the Bible tells us) and given to people who will mistreat them so significantly, what does that mean?

I know that there will be people who think I just need to ‘get over it’ and believe me, the day I am able to deal with it and enjoy life without a sadness deep in my heart is a day I look forward to. I know I need to somehow learn to deal with life, I can’t walk away from conversations or difficulties all the time. I know even if I had found those things, life would not have suddenly been perfect, I know relationships take a lot of time and effort, parenting is so precious, but incredibly hard. My issue is singleness, but there are many reasons why people remain childless. I have talked with friends who have not been able to have children, and who have shared the number of years before they were able to hold babies, or attend certain places, ten years is the smallest figure I have heard, it is a process of grieving. Grieving for all that had been hoped and planned for, grieving of lost hopes and dreams, of children who were not able to come to be. THIS is why I am speaking out now, because I believe that there is so much unspoken, hidden pain that we are not aware of. And hidden pain can bring more pain, frustration, tears, and bitterness.

Good Friday. A day for forgiveness

Sometime last year I did a google search. This is not an unusual thing for me, indeed I often wonder if I ever knew anything before google, but the title of my search was one I never thought I would put in. ‘How to forgive God.’ Yes – you read it right, that is indeed the search I put in, and never expected to get any results, but to my great surprise – I did. It appears that others too have struggled with what God has asked of them, have felt Him abandon them (though my head knows he didn’t, my heart felt he did, I asked and asked for help, it seemed that none came) and I am actually not alone in something I didn’t feel I was able to ask others about!

This last week has shown me I am still asking that very same question. I think partly this has all been raised by visiting a church last week, where everyone around me was joyfully saying ‘Jesus will make you strong, where you think you are weak and help you to do what He is calling you to do’. My heart was screaming, ‘I WAS strong, I DID trust completely, but through doing what I believed He had asked me to do, I became weak, ending up crumpled in a heap and in more pain than I thought was possible.’ I also then had quite a big emotional wobble in the middle of the week. I am blessed that my new team mates didn’t seem too fazed at my tears, just concerned and supportive.

Today, Good Friday, I went to church. I didn’t this time last year, Easter day saw me walking around the Lakes up north, crying and praying a loud as I went – I think the tourists were perhaps a little perturbed at this mess of a woman marching away. Last year I also had a lot of debriefing – all normal when you have lived overseas, with many different experiences, but I was asked this question. ‘God has forgiven you for all the things you have done wrong over your life, when will you forgive him?’ That was the moment I did my google search, I still don’t know the answer, and I never thought I would be looking for one. So todays service was a tough one, thanking God for all He has done, but at the same time, wondering how I can fully move forward again, and yes, feeling bad – guilty even – that I am feeling this.

This might be a new idea for you, the very thought of having to ‘forgive’ the One who we know has saved us, gave His all and suffered for us. Somehow in my head, I know I don’t have to forgive God, – but in my heart, I know that there is a real stumbling block there, I need to move past this phase, and I need to be able to trust God wholeheartedly again.

I trusted God. I trusted He would provide all I needed. Initially yes He did, but slowly much of that was stripped away, with a lot of people in pain along the way. Gradually I became weaker and weaker, I asked for help from Him, it seemed that none came. I ended up returning burnt out, clinically depressed, a different person, in some ways for the better, but not so in other ways, and so very isolated – even when I was with people – and there have been some wonderfully supportive people along the way, no one had experienced all I had, which sometimes made it hard to talk things through and work things out. It took me a LONG time to accept going back was not a healthy option for me at that time, I wanted with all my heart to return to the place I had called home for 8 years, especially now that the war had got so much worse. I felt I lost everything. I was in a spiral and couldn’t see a way out. I retreated from life, I had no energy for people – some friends knew just from my absence on facebook that all was not well! I asked God to cling hold of me as I mourned, shouted and questioned. He has done. I am still here. I am in a job still serving Him, because I know that’s where I want to be, and I believe that this is the right place for me now, and am so blessed with the team I have been given. I guess I am what is known as a ‘wounded healer’ which, if we are honest, perhaps many of us are. I know he’s held onto me, and now it is not so difficult to talk about faith issues with families and colleagues and pray when it’s right at work. But I wish I knew how I could lay this one to rest. Last year I asked God out loud how I was supposed to trust Him once again. I knew it began with stepping out once again, but I wasn’t in a place then to do that; now I am and I’m trying….but still….I am aware of guarding my heart too much, so scared to open it fully to Him again.

Despite not knowing me well yet, our curate’s wife invited me home after the service today. I think she discerned something wasn’t quite right, and commented ‘the rugs been pulled out from under your feet.’ A great way of putting it. I have never before felt lost or seriously questioning like this or had the need to re-find myself. She also made the comment that she suspects many people in churches feel the same way, putting on a brave face to hide when they are feeling so let down. We talk so much about the cost of discipleship – yet rarely do we discuss what happens when that cost overwhelms us. I wonder what would happen if we did. If we allowed each other the vulnerability to say when we have felt let down by God, when we have felt his presence leave us, when we have been disappointed despite trusting God and giving our all, what would happen.? Would our honest testimonies of brokenness as well as encouragement help the church to grow? I just suspect it may.