If only you really knew…

One of the things about writing a blog is that I get some lovely feedback. It can be really encouraging and an affirmation that I am following a call I believe God has given me, to speak about my experience in the hope that it can give others a voice and place to be heard.

A few days ago I was given a lovely encouragement “you write very honestly and helpfully, keep it up”.

This was a beautiful expression of support yet my first thought was

if only you knew the bits that I keep hidden, the parts that I don’t share, the areas that are still shame filled and therefore kept away, not to be read or seen not to be shared publicly

That was it and for some reason it sent me into somewhat of a downward spiral.

When I write a blog post I get to choose what is written. I get to read back through and edit it to make myself sound more Christ-like, more worthy. I don’t have to publish the parts that are still a work in progress, those areas I struggle with. I get to paint myself however I choose to. I can present one face while keeping another hidden.

I have written in the past about depression and my eating disorder but I realised a few weeks ago that I still struggle with my eating disorder. It has not been left in the past but is still a part of my day to day. While I no longer use laxatives to purge I do still use food as both a comfort and a reward, a way to numb and a way to celebrate. I still look at food in terms of ‘how worth it is to consume’ and whether I will regret it later. I still skip meals here and there and tell myself that it’s ok because I’m not purging. I still look at the scales with disappointment and frustration.

But it’s not ok, it’s hiding a part of me because that part isn’t ‘complete’, I am not able to stand on the victory and say “I have come through this and there is hope for you” instead it leaves me with shame. When it comes to food I do not seem to be able to practise what I preach to others. Others are allowed to make mistakes and start again yet I hold myself to a higher standard where failing doesn’t seem to be ok or allowed. Because by now I should be able to do this differently.

Today these feelings of guilt and shame left me feeling like a shell of myself. There but not quite there.

I found this Ann Voskamp quote the other day

So today this is what I hold true to, I get to take these messy feelings and give them to God. I don’t have to do anything with them I just have to hand them over and say

God I don’t know what to do with these but I know that you do

That’s it, no more no less.

The lady that gave me the encouragement also mentioned a verse she is due to speak on (which I looked up)

Zephaniah 3:17

The Lord your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing

God IS with me in the middle of my mess and he WILL have the victory. My story isn’t over yet, I will be renewed through his love for me and he sings over me at the top of his voice.

No matter how I see or feel about my present circumstance I am still Gods beloved. That I know to be true.

I pray you may know that for yourself too.

God is good. All the time?

In our Church we’ve talked quite a bit about mental health recently, and I love that.

I love that mental health and wellness is becoming more a part of ‘normal’ conversation, that it’s not so much of a thing to hide from or feel uncomfortable around. That we are feeling more confident to be able to say what we’ve been up to during the week and to talk about how our mental health has been. That they don’t have to be separate or only for a certain time.

Hey, so how’s your week been?

It’s been ok, I went for lunch with a good friend, I popped in on so & so for coffee, Wednesday I wasn’t doing so great so I gave myself some space just to breathe

Why shouldn’t it feel that easy? Not every moment needs to turn into a big counselling session, sometimes the most positive thing is for people to feel that they’ve been heard, truly listened to. Without fixes or advice being given but simply heard and validated.

This morning in Church we sang Blesséd be your name (Matt Redman)

Blessed Be Your Name
In the land that is plentiful 
Where Your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be Your name
Blessed Be Your name
When I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed Be Your name
Every blessing You pour out, I’ll 
Turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name
Blessed be Your name
When the sun’s shining down on me
When the world’s ‘all as it should be’
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering 
Though there’s pain in the offering 
Blessed be Your name
Every blessing You pour out I’ll 
Turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name
Blessed be Your name
You give and take away
God give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name

And it struck me, it’s easy isn’t it, when things are plentiful and there is abundance, when the sun is shining on us, it’s easy to see that God is good, to trust that he is our good faithful Father and that he only has good for us. It’s easy to praise God for the blessings in our lives.

But…

When life is harder, when we’re in the desert, when all we see is the wilderness surrounding us, when there is nothingness, when we face suffering, pain and darkness is God still good then? Does he still have good things for us even though we can’t see the light in our darkness? Is God still our good faithful Father? Do we still sing praise to God’s glorious name?

We can easily fall into a trap where the Bible can be used against us and God, verses like Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”.

So if I’m experiencing poor mental health, if I’m suffering, what am I doing wrong? why am I not prospering? why do I not feel God’s blessing? why do I feel so far from God or that God has gone silent on me, where is my hope? Is my faith just not enough because I’m not experiencing the blessing that the Bible promises me?

I don’t have an answer for that but I do know that suffering with poor mental health is not a sign of a lack of faith or that our prayer life just isn’t enough. I do know that this battle has already been won and we are victorious!

Suffering comes to us all in one form or another, whether that be through the loss of a loved one, illness, financial problems, mental illness, family breakdown. Following Christ doesn’t give us a golden ticket to a pain free life. So why bother? If following Jesus doesn’t save me from pain and hurt why give my life to that?

Because in that there is Hope.

Hope that one day God is going to restore all that has been lost and taken. That we can hold onto Genesis 50:20 ‘you intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives’.

Does that make our pain or suffering any less real in the here and now? Of course it doesn’t but it gives us strength, that whatever we face now we do not face alone. We have a God who has gone before us and yet is with us right now in the midst of our pain.

When we are in those dark places we often call to mind Ephesians 6:13 “therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand”. There are days when it even feels a struggle to just stand, situations press on us from every angle and they feel relentless. We can’t seem to summon even a small amount of strength to just stand, it’s too much. I think in these times God just wants us to reach out even just a finger to him. “God I can’t do this, it’s too hard, I don’t see the way forward and feel like I’m being buried under the weight of what I’m facing, all I can reach out is my little finger, is it enough?” And God is on it in a flash. We may not experience a change in our situation, we may still have pressure from all directions but God is in it with us because he never once left us in it.

One of my favourite lines from Matts song is

My heart will choose to say

We have a choice, either we choose to praise God in our suffering or we don’t, either we choose to believe in the God of miracles or we don’t, either we choose to confide in others or we don’t, either we choose to reach out even just a finger to God or we don’t. That is our choice, God isn’t going to bulldozer into our suffering without our permission. “You didn’t invite me in but I’m here anyway”. We are not passive in our faith, we get an active role.

So is God good all the time? You tell me.

International day of the girl

This is me aged 15! (Or as close a photo as I had)

If I was 15 again, I would tell myself to not be so desperate to grow up.

I would tell myself that school only lasts for a short amount of time. I would encourage myself to go and find out what my passions are and to follow after then. I would tell myself to take risks.

I would tell myself to be a little kinder to myself and to speak more positively to myself. I would tell myself “believe the nice things people say about you”.

I would also tell myself to allow people to take my picture and not hide from the camera so much.

Its International Day of the Girl I’m helping to raise awareness of girls living in poverty that lack trusted sources of advice on women’s health, relationships, education or employment. @CompassionUK has launched a new project in Brazil to empower girls, giving them desperately needed #AdviceForGirls and helping them make informed choices about their futures.

Join me in supporting these girls by posting a photo of your 15 year old self along with a piece of advice you’d give yourself looking back, and then donate £4 by texting EMPOWER to 70140 and give two girls in Brazil hope that their future could be different.

#AdviceForGirls #tbt #dayofthegirl (For text to donate T&Cs visit http://www.compassionuk.org/empower)

Not how many, but who!

A few weeks back Carl and I attended a conference on how to lead well while also taking care of your own mental health.

During that day World Mental Health day was mentioned a lot and I came away with a real sense of God saying “you need to do something on that day”.

We had 10 days to get sorted. No pressure!

I felt that something like a tea and chat would be a safe setting for people to come along to so we advertised a mental health coffee morning, the idea being that Carl and I would share from our individual experiences both as someone with poor mental health (depression and an eating disorder) and as one supporting someone with poor mental health and then we would leave the rest of the time to conversation.

A few days before our coffee morning someone said to me “I hope it is the success you need it to be”. Well I jumped on my little high and mighty horse thinking “I don’t need it to be a success, I’m doing what God has placed on my heart to do, it doesn’t matter to me how many people come along “, what a good obedient Christian I am look!

Ha, turned out I was wrong! I completely believe things to be a success or a failure on the number of people that come along not about what happens for them on a personal level. I want to boast with my trumpet “look at what I’ve done for God, aren’t I amazing, look just how many people came along”.

My worth is tied to doing not being

This coffee morning was about me striving to achieve worth from God (I know, I’m still working on it!) It’s like I think that if something like a coffee morning attracts a lot of people (if there’s weeping and wailing all the better) then God is looking down on me saying “well done my good and faithful daughter, I see what great things you’ve done for the kingdom”.

But it isn’t or it shouldn’t be about numbers!

There was a lovely small group of people who did come along this morning and who were brave and vulnerable, honest and open. Would they have been so open had the room been full? Maybe not, that’s not for me to guess at. The point is that for those who came this morning there was a space to say out loud “this is/was my story”, and it was precious.

God doesn’t love me more or less dependant on my actions or how many people I signpost to him, he loves me just because he does.

So this afternoon I looked after my own mental health, I spend time with a friend and I got outside and went for a run and I realised (again) that God loves me just because he does. I can’t earn it. It is just a beautiful fact that I am learning to accept a moment at a moment.

It is beloved not doloved