My thoughts on…’Father Fiction’ by Donald Miller

Reading Father FictionI mentioned in my 2012 Review that my favourite book that I read last year was Father Fiction by Donald Miller.

Donald Miller is one of the few ‘Christian authors’ I can deal with reading, as he is both a gifted writer, has studied the craft of writing, and also doesn’t write tritely or with the supercilious arrogance of ‘this is what you should believe, and this is how you should live it out’. He makes me think. He writes with intelligence. And he doesn’t take himself too seriously.

Over the years, I’ve had many recommendations of books I apparently ‘must’ read to help me with my ‘Daddy issues’ or ‘mother wounds’ (contemporary Christian women seem to be all about ‘mother wounds‘ and the ‘father’s heart‘ these days, and the language they use in their endless seminars on the topics does my head in to the point where I dread having to go to women’s conferences. Or faith based conferences in general). I’ve had a lot of pity about my upbringing being a poor child of divorce, and let’s face it a family history which is like something out of a soap opera. I did get told by a pastor once that the way I don’t cry all the time and seem totally at peace with it all is apparently because I still need healing. Thank you very much, but after 28 years I’ve kinda learned how to deal, and yes that evolves as the circumstances continue changing. Plus, you weren’t there for the 2 years I spent crying and screaming and swearing at God in church corridors asking him why I’d had so many crappy father figures placed in my life. I got counselling and gained perspective. And now I’ve worked hard at studying others to find better examples of parenting, marriage and fatherhood.

I’d spotted the book by Donald Miller and couldn’t afford to buy it at first, but then one night spied a copy on my friend’s bookshelf. Yes, that was the night Miss S and I ended up in a conversation about what I do for a living and why some kids grow up with out a Daddy.

In the introduction he writes…

This book is about the hard, shameful, embarrassing stuff you and I have to work through as an individual. It’s about me secretly admitting to you I needed a father, and how I felt like half a man until I dealt with those issues honestly. And if you let it, this book is an informal guide to pulling the rotted beams out of  from your foundation and replacing them with something you can build a life on.

What Donald Miller does is look at aspects of life and character and talk about how a lack of a father meant that he didn’t learn certain lessons the same way (or at all) and how he had to learn them in different ways. He talked about some of the fears common amongst those who have grown up without fathers. And some of the attitudes and behaviours we might have learned because of how we’ve grown up without a male role model in our life.

I personally am very thankful to have grown up with a single mum. I’m proud that my Mum had the courage to leave a terrible marriage which was beyond repair and instill values and lessons in me that have helped me succeed in life. I’m certain that I’d be in a much worse place as an adult if she had made a different decision. However, there are things I missed out on as a result of being a ‘divorced kid’. Like being able to be part of organised activities or play with my friends at weekends. Being a latch key kid (which I think made me much more responsible and sensible from a young age. It could have gone the other way though). Not having a good example of relationship to live with (this could just as easily happen if you’re the child living parents who do not have a healthy marriage).

To be honest, though his writing is influenced by growing up without his Dad and what that instilled in him…I’d recommend this book even if you grew up with your Dad. Because no parent is likely to have given you a perfect example of how to live life. He talks about integrity, sexuality, dating, friendship, mentoring, authority, decision making, work ethic, education, belonging and forgiving our fathers.

Josh said, “You either get bitter or you get better”. It’s that simple. You either take what has been dealt to you and allow it to make you a better person, or you allow it to tear you down. The choice does not belong to fate; it belongs to you. 

There will always be a reason to feel sorry for ourselves. And sometimes it really is appropriate to grieve something terrible that has happened in our lives. But we also have to move on; we have to set ourselves free from the trap of self-pity.

As I read that, I wanted to jump for joy at a book that finally told me ‘yes, it is ok to move on!’ I’ve always felt like pastors wanted to hold me back and pity myself and my need for healing for all the insecurities I was left with growing up with such terrible examples of fatherhood (or none at all).

It’s a book I know I’m going to go back and flip through over and over again.

If you grew up with an absent father…I really commend it to you. :)

Sharing hope & Sophie

Thank you to those of you who were praying, thinking positive thoughts and have contacted me to ask how the women’s conference went last weekend.

The answer: It went well. Completely beyond many of my expectations.

Phew.

I had to follow Heather, and let me tell you she set the bar high. She shared from her heart about prayer and talking to a God who loves us, cares about us…but also challenged us on the importance of interceding for and forgiving others.

Then it was my turn.

For some weird reason I started by sharing about my name. I really believe names matter. I hadn’t planned to do that, but for whatever bizarre reason it was where I began. I shared about David and his response to losing his son and how it tells of a hope of returning to the ones that died before us and seeing them again. I shared quotes from 2 ladies that have inspired me greatly – Angie Smith & Sarah Williams – their thoughts and struggle with grief after losing their children. And of the hope of the new heaven and earth (at this point I remember getting a little overexcited about what that might be like and how with all the freaky living creatures from Revelation 4 & 5 it was going to be ‘mental’). And I shared about my fears that I couldn’t be a Christian because of having had an abortion, and about how I had named my unborn child Sophie. And how I sometimes wonder if I was wrong about her being a girl and that when I meet her in heaven she might be like ‘Mum? Seriously? SOPHIE?! Why did you call me Sophie?!!

Afterwards there was much hugging. I was asked if I would stay to anoint people with oil and pray with them.

I did that for almost 2 hours.

And as I did, some women shared their stories with me. They too had lost children and grandchildren through miscarriage and termination.

The moment that will remain with me was a woman who told me about her own abortion and  whispering to me as I anointed her hands with oil, that after hearing about Sophie, she felt she could now name her own unborn child and do something to remember and honour him/her.

I almost started bawling.

Mostly because I was so thankful that sharing about Sophie had made a difference by giving women permission to grieve.

Thank you to all the ladies at Liberton Northfield Church for making me feel so welcome and giving me the opportunity to speak. :)

The Women’s Conference

Sorry for the interruption in the middle of the blog party! I thought I had already told about the date of the conference I was asked to speak at etc, but apparently I didn’t (apologies).

This is a women’s conference on Prayer & Healing.

Date: Saturday 24th September

Time: 9.30 a.m.- 1 p.m. (lunch included)

Location: Liberton Northfield Parish Church, Gilmerton Road, Edinburgh

Speakers: Heather Holdsworth & Laura Anne Mackay

Cost: £5

I’ll be speaking on prayer and healing after pregnancy loss. Though I have spoken at medical conferences about the work we do and training people who are supporting people in crisis pregnancy or after pregnancy loss, I’ve never spoken at an event like this. I really don’t know what to expect, and very nervous as neither my national partner or my local partner will be there so I’m going to be all on my own for this one.

Gulp…

Back in the days of Musings of a Koala (my old blog) I wrote about something that scared the crap out of me, and was shocked when the Director of the national charity I volunteer with, Joanna found the post and commened on it.

It was one of the encouraging words that lead to me sharing the journey I had into the work I do in more detail over a series of posts. I was totally overwhelmed by the response those posts got – not only from the number of folks in my church who eventually worked up the courage to ask me about it (most of whom I had no idea read my blog!), but also from a number of e-mails I got from people telling me about how those posts had helped them in some way. I really and truly didn’t expect it, but it gave me the courage to do what I’d been wishing to do for a long time and really be open about it and started this blog very aptly named ‘Learning from Sophie‘.

I actually didn’t explain the title of my blog until about a month after it went live.

One of the reasons I did inter:act is because I really wanted to be able to be better at public speaking, because I felt that maybe I needed to be to help mobilise the church to dealing with pregnancy crisis & pregnancy loss in a much more Jesus-like way.

It’s funny how common pregnancy crisis & pregnancy loss is in our country – it’s a common struggle. Yet I’ve gone to Christian conferences that have had seminars on supporting people who have been sexually abused, struggled with depression generally or with their sexual identity or with sex & relationships in general. And yet time after time people say “I wish I’d known how to help my friend” “I wish people had spoken with me about this before I got pregnant” and even “My minister advised me to have an abortion so nobody would find out I got pregnant out of wedlock“.

So last week I simultaneously wanted to both cheer and throw up when 2 women organising a Christian women’s conference in Edinburgh had said they felt they needed to have a session on the topic of prayer, pregnancy crisis & healing from pregnancy loss.

And that they would like me to give a talk on the subject.

Oh help.

I’m nervous for several reasons. Firstly, I really don’t want to mess this up. Secondly, I’m not a natural public speaker by any stretch of the imagination. Thirdly, I have no idea what to expect. Fourthly, I’m concerned they referred to me as an ‘expert’ on the subject. As my twitter bio says ‘I’m just a wee lassie fae Leith!‘ (and it’s true).

I do take courage though that the last time I was asked to speak at a Christian event (specifically to share the story of Sophie and the story of how I ended up in my current job) it went much much better than I ever could have anticipated, and heard months later how it had become a catalyst for number of exciting things that happened within that youth group. I blogged about it here and I said then that it had made me realise that sharing my story can help and make a difference in some way.

So I really hope that it will again.

Of course, I would appreciate prayer as I prepare to do this. One thing I really wish to do is to head up to beach to remember and honour my unborn child before the conference (which is in September) – I had hoped to do this in June but circumstances meant I was unable to do this. Plus if you have experience in speaking at these kind of events – please share your wisdom with me (I need it!!).

Be gentle with those who are grieving…

Last year, I began looking further into grief and loss – trying to find anything that may prove to be something that a client can hold onto as they journey through their grief. There can be no time limit on grief. It can come in fits and bursts, all shapes and forms. Somehow, I was led to this poem on an old website created by a family who had lost a child through SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).

I shared it with one of the miscarriage support trainers, and we’ve discovered it has resonated with clients both within our centre, but also with friends who have lost loved ones in other circumstances that have no connection with our centre.

Please Be Gentle

Please be gentle with me for I am grieving.

The sea I swim in is a lonely one

and the shore seems miles away.

Waves of despair numb my soul

as I struggle through each day.

My heart is heavy with sorrow.

I want to shout and scream

and repeatedly ask ‘Why?’

At times, my grief overwhelms me

and I weep bitterly,

so great is my loss.

Please don’t turn away

or tell me to move on with my life.

I must embrace my pain

before I can begin to heal.

Companion me through the tears

and sit with me in loving silence.

Honor where I am in the journey,

not where you think I should be.

Listen patiently to my story,

I may need to tell it over and over again.

It’s how I begin to grasp the enormity of my loss.

Nurture me through the weeks and months ahead.

Forgive me when I seem distant and inconsolable.

A small flame still burns within my heart,

and shared memories may trigger

both laughter and tears.

I need your support and understanding.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve.

I must find my own path.

Please, will you walk beside me?

-Jill B. Englar

Quite frankly, I don’t think I’ve seen it put better anywhere else. So thank you Ms. Englar for articulating what so many people who have loved and lost are trying to navigate through.

Urgent Prayer for Oliver

Hi Everyone,

A bunch of us just got a message from Oliver’s parents.

There is a big change in him today: he is pale, sick and sleepy – the nurses are with him, and a consultant is on his way to see him. Andy & Jennifer (Oliver’s Mummy & Daddy) ask that we would pray that he would not be in pain.

We believe in a God who heals, and as always, we pray for that healing to come on earth.

You can leave messages for Andy, Jennifer & baby Oliver on Oliver’s facebook blog.

Prayer for Oliver

A friend of mine from uni became a Dad earlier this year – only to find out that his precious baby boy had cancer. Oliver has been doing amazingly all through the treatments, only to find out last week that his expected surgery would not happen. The tumour had grown, the cancer has spread to his lungs. Chemotherapy is no longer working, and his little 4 month old body cannot withstand radiotherapy treatments.

Oliver’s Mum & Dad are now asking:

“Please EVERYONE pray for a miracle and ask everyone you know to do the same. We don’t know if it will happen but we do believe in a God with whom nothing is impossible. This is not over yet and we refuse to even begin to try to accept that it is, unless we know that we have done everything we can for our gor…geous Oliver. We don’t just sound desperate, we are desperate…..we need everyone to pray and to pray hard. To many of you we might sound crazy but this is what we believe and we know that if it is in God’s plan it can and will happen.”

You can follow ‘Oliver’s Blog’ on Facebook by clicking here.

 

Supernatural Healing

More than a year ago, back in the days of participating in Sunday Scribblings, I wrote about healing.

I’ve experienced healing myself (most notably when my addiction to self-harm finally broke), and also seen healing while praying for others.

And other times I’ve prayed, begged and cried out for healing for myself or others and no healing has happened.

The best teaching I’ve heard on this topic has been from Ellie Mumford. I actually ended up hearing her give an almost identical talk on this subject at the weekend to the one I heard her give at Momentum in August. I was so thankful, as I wanted more people to hear it! (and I think I heard the Mike Pilavachi talk I missed because I was asleep in the caravan totally wrecked from lack of sleep & working in the marketplace when my friend got healed).

Ellie talks about being in a spiritual battle, and the fact that we’re in a weird sort of limbo of the ‘now’ and the ‘not yet’ of the Kingdom of God. Jesus won the battle on the weekend He died & was ressurected from His tomb, but victory for all the earth is still not here quite yet. She used the analogy of the end of World War II – essentially victory in Europe was assured on D-Day in 1944, but between then and the official end of the war on VE Day 1945 there were a huge amount of casualties.

Though Jesus’ death & ressurection has ensured victory, we are still waiting for His return which will be like a VE Day  for all the earth!

And so as we pray for healing – we live in that tension. Some people we pray for get healed immediately. Others don’t. And we don’t know why.

It’s like that whole premise of Pete Wilson’s book – sometimes God doesn’t show up the way we think He will (or the way we think He should).

But for sure we see God do miracles – the testimonies in the bible, but also some of the miracles we see when we – His people – pray with faith, knowing that an authority to be instruments of healing has been given to us.

And so I reflect back a year ago, in South Africa. When I tried to walk back to my friends after being prayed for and realised I couldn’t put weight on my right leg because of the pain in my knee. A consultation with the Team Nurse declared I’d pulled tendons in my knee during the prayer ministry time (I have NO idea how to this day). Me & my roommate prayed and it seemed to get better. Then it would come back.  Over the last year it has flared up again on many occasions – particularly when I’ve been driving longer distances.

It flared up again while driving to Aberdeen. After a few  standing for a few worship songs I was limping around church on Friday night. It had settled a little by the Saturday. But then Ellie teaches, and then decides that we should all have ago at this healing thing. Does anyone in the room have any words of knowledge about physical healing (ie God telling them about someone in need of healing for a specific thing).

Of course the first guy to speak up says “I think God is saying to me that there’s someone in the room who has a problem with their right knee“. I turn to look at my friend Tanja, she smiles. I sheepishly put my hand up…I think that might be me. Thankfully someone else had a knee issue, so there was you know…doubt, and being that I don’t like getting prayed for (in the being there in person sense) I thought – phew! maybe it’s not me! yay!

Until someone else says ‘I think there’s someone in the room with a problem in their left wrist’. And someone else says ‘stigmatism‘.

By this point, I’m sinking lower and lower in my seat, embarrassed. But knowing it will encourage the people that had these words, that they were from God – I stand up and willingly get prayed for.

I felt nothing in my knee, but did feel a tingling in my left wrist. So after, I asked Tanja to come out to the foyer with me. I decided to test my knee and wrist out by attempting a cartwheel.

On a stone floor.

After making a fool of myself, I realise: my knee feels a ton better. But my wrist is kinda sore, and it was fine before.

And so I do another attempted cartwheel.

My wrist is definitely now VERY sore.

That night, I didn’t get much sleep as the pain radiated from my wrist up to my elbow, shoulder and down to my fingers. Not fun.

I have no idea if my wrist will get better, or if my knee will flare up again despite the obvious improvement (particularly the next day driving back, I had no pain or stiffness at all, and I usually would). But I still hope, because I know it is possible even though it may never happen. :)

Trusting God

It’s no surprise that after an intense and encouraging weekend with my lovely City Church family, that the week started in a weird way.

Somehow in my mind I had managed to organise my week forgetting key elements that make this week different to my routine weeks.

But add to that the news that my friends’ baby had been rushed to the local children’s hospital and was in an isolation room? Forget it. I found it so tough to concentrate on tasks today. My mind and heart were pure and simple with my friends.

I find it difficult to trust God with the people I care about. I don’t like being helpless, I don’t like it when I can’t fix things and go in their place when they face challenges.

But trust is what I have to do. Have faith that God does listen to our prayers. Trust that God will bring justice. Trust that God will bring people through and out of their pain.

This weekend has also brought out a lot of ‘Sophie-related’ stuff back to the forefront of my mind. One of the speakers spoke about her experience of stillbirth, and how grief didn’t come until she had named their little girl (I can relate!). In brings me great comfort to know that she too thinks of her children in heaven. There was the abortion conference where my old consultant who freaked when she found out about my beliefs and basically refused to treat me was one of the main speakers. The only one out of all these Gynaecology specialists to speak about the emotional side of termination (excuse me while I lift my jaw from the floor…). Not to mention reading a book in my search for a better understanding of pregnancy loss. The book, written by a Psychotherapist from the USA is the first book on pregnancy loss that has resonated so strongly with my own experience of both STOP (that’s medic speak for ‘Suction Termination of Pregnancy’) and being told of my possible infertility.

I’ve actually been pulling away from counselling for the moment, purely because I recognise that my head is pretty out of synch just now. Partly Inter:act, partly the unsettledness of not having a safe place to call home, partly delving into an area of pregnancy loss that brings a lot of emotions in me, partly due to the ‘winter factor’.

And the fact that I am very aware that next year it will be 10 years. Combine with the very weird fact that on 16th January 2011 (what should have been Sophie’s 9th birthday), I’ll be almost exactly the same age my Mum was when she gave birth to me.

But I know God. And since I started working in the pregnancy crisis centres, he has brought such special moments on the 16th January every single year so far. I hold faith that something special will happen next year too, because if I know anything, it is that my God is a gracious God. :)