2 Cor 12v9

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Happy Father's Day

As soon as the Father’s Day paraphernalia appeared in the shops a few weeks ago I couldn’t help but wonder how it was going to affect our family this year - where we would be up to, and whether we would get to celebrate Father’s Day with Richard in the hospice or at home or not at all. Of course, it has turned out to be the latter, and so straight away I knew we had to be prepared for this day just three weeks later.

And, as always, God has dropped thoughts and reminders in my mind that would turn out to be significant and give us the hand holds we need to get through it.

One of the hallmarks of the last couple of months has been bear hugs and offers of practical help around the house. I don’t think I’ve ever stopped and taken stock before of how many incredible men there are in my life. Before that gives out the wrong impression of me ;) it has reminded me over and over again of what an amazing man my husband was.

So many of my female friends have given tribute to him that he was a great guy to be around. He was fiercely protective of all the women in his life, from relatives to teenagers in the youth group. I remember years ago at a camp he saw a guy from another youth group pick up one of our girls and throw her in the pool. Richard was over there so fast, and without touching the guy or saying a word, he left that guy in no doubt that he was no longer welcome on our patch of turf, and he scarpered in a trail of dust.

Because we were the first in our age group to get married, as each of my friends brought new boyfriends from uni or other youth groups over to meet us, it became almost an unspoken expectation that these guys had to pass the Richard test. If they had a great sense of humour, and treated their woman with respect, and had a good attitude to work and responsibility, those guys seemed to stick around and would eventually become the husbands to our friends. As for the guys who were clearly only into themselves, or were overly flirtatious with other women, or had no drive when it came to building a future - well, somehow those guys always seemed to disappear. (I mean, I’m pretty sure they’re still accounted for, even if several of them have moved far away to other countries by now, but I’d rather not ask too many questions.)

The same was true of Richard’s friends - he was always much quicker to make friends than I am, and so most of our close friends consist of really really good guys who are leading their families well. When Richard discovered great books on manhood or preachers who gave a great perspective on building accountability to keep your marriage pure, he shared them with every guy he knew, and we saw some dramatic changes in some guys as a result of this.

So right now, even though he is gone, I am left with Richard’s legacy of good guys. From friends to brothers-in-law to guys at church, me and my kids are surrounded by great guys, who are fiercely protective and respectful of me, just like Richard was. For every potential problem in my house or car or financial situation, there is someone I can think of who I can ask to help us out. For every hobby or infatuation (good or bad) my kids are likely to be into in the future, I can think of people they can talk to about it, who will be able to guide them through. 

It reinforces the thought that keeps going over and over in my mind - that God knew how long Richard was going to be in my life for, and that I would need him every day during that time, and that when that time was over, He would find another way of providing for those needs. Every single one of them. I hate the thought that I don’t need Richard any more. Right now I’m at the stage where I feel like my inside are being scooped out every day because I miss him so much and I feel like I desperately need him - even to text him to let him know how great these guys he inadvertently placed around me are doing at looking after us - but I know that no matter how I feel, this is the truth. Everything I need is now going to come from other sources, and God has it all covered. 

So me and the kids sat down tonight and instead of writing out one Father’s Day card, we wrote out eighteen of them. For granddads and uncles and friends who are doing life with us right now, to thank them and let them know we see how important they are going to be to our family’s future. How many people get to do that? We are blessed indeed, and will have a very happy Father’s Day.

Monday, 9 June 2014


I think the general expectations of funerals are that they are sad and difficult obstacles that are necessary to hurdle over in the first few weeks of grief, but I love that real church life is counter-cultural to the rest of the world. Today has been a day of huge highs, as we got to gather and exchange our stories and gratitude for a man who has had a big impact on our lives. 

This morning Richard's body was laid to rest - and oh, what a mercy that phrase is after seeing up close what it went through. No more pain or distortion or brokenness for him anymore. Although the processional side of funerals is so foreign to me, the dignity and respect shown to him in this last act was a real blessing, as loss of dignity was such a factor for him in the last three months of his life. The funeral directors went above and beyond as my mention of his love of Duck Dynasty resulted in a coffin branded with the logo and the official DD duck camo that he loved. A florist friend had also taken my off-the-wall suggestion of a beard of flowers and actually made it happen, and it was a beard to be proud of (for a man who, when he lost his actual beard to chemo, kept it under a glass jar for weeks afterwards and threatened to market it as a relic which could be sold off strand by strand).

Then we got to the best part - gathering together at the church we met in, and celebrating his life by singing our hearts out in worship to God. The band was made up of family and friends who were close to Richard, and led by a man who has pastored us for years (which makes me so aware that many people have their funerals led by strangers, and how privileged we are). Richard's sister gave an amazingly funny, sincere and inspiring tribute to her brother, and the guys from our church got to stand up and talk about the vision God had given Richard for the church. Our family were prayed for by everybody there, and my kids got to experience over five hundred people showing their love and support to our family. 

I am so glad for all those who came over to say hello and give me a hug and words of encouragement and condolence. Looking over the cards and messages tonight I've realised there were far more people there than I got to make eye contact with, and so many made really long journeys in one day just to be there. I'm so sorry if I didn't get to see you.

I was surrounded by a group that have started to refer to themselves as my armour bearers, and they stayed by my side the whole time, bringing me tea and food and tracking down the kids and looking after things people handed to me. They even came up with a little technique every now and then of falling into a line around me when I needed to take a breather from talking, or to eat a sandwich. It meant I didn't have to do any of this alone and I didn't feel at any moment like I was under pressure to talk to people - I did it because I really wanted to see as many people as possible and they gave me what I needed to be able to do that.

(This group was formed several months ago when Richard was first officially diagnosed with myeloma - God had brought to mind twelve women who have had a huge impact on my life in the last few years and have carried me and strengthened me through my darkest days. I'm rubbish at asking for help, but the whole time we were waiting for that diagnosis, I knew I couldn't face another monumental challenge like this without some kind of supernatural extreme friendships, and so I invited them all to be part of an email group that took turns to send me encouragement every day, and who I could be really open about my feelings with, and they all said yes :) Even though they didn't all know each other, they have formed amazing bonds over that time and today was the first time all of us have been together in the same place. That in itself was a huge blessing for me.)

Tonight I read through the many cards that were sent to us, and through the memory books that people filled with their stories and tributes of Richard. These are incredible and will be so significant for our children as they read them growing up and get to see their dad through the eyes of many different people. If you weren't there today, or have remembered other things you would like to contribute to the memory books, please send me a message and I would love it to add it to the collection.

I really do want to say thank you for today, and for beyond that too - I know it's not practical for everyone to make the journey, but you've still reached and connected with your words online or through the post, and it really has had a huge impact one me. Thankyou thankyou thankyou.

Finally, inside the order of service sheets was part of Richard's story and I wanted to share it here too so that everyone could read it. I hope it is helpful for all those struggling with what has happened to our family:

There is so much that seems unfair about Richard dying at the age of just 39. It looked like he was in the middle of the most productive years of his life - his family are young, many of his projects and ideas are taking shape, and the church he planted is growing in depth and impact as a result of his leadership and vision. Despite the medical and physical deterioration we could all see, none of us actually expected that he would leave us so soon.

But in truth, if there was a time in his life that was more fitting for him to die, it would actually have been about the age of 22. Because it would have satisfied our notion of fairness much more. At 22, Richard was a man who had been given everything he needed to build a good life, to help other people and to make a positive difference in the world. That’s not what he was doing though. For years he'd been using his time and resources to take advantage of people around him, to live for himself and to betray people’s trust. His story was the epitome of the prodigal son - he took all he had and squandered it and was on the way to destroying his own life and the lives of everyone around him. 

Thankfully, we don’t always get what we deserve. Just a year later, when all his friends, money and chances had run out, Richard finally turned his life over to God. He came to the end of himself and he reached out for God’s mercy and found it, and so much besides. If ever there was someone who knew he was not “good enough”, it was Richard. Not just because of those years he’d spent off the rails, but because of his constant struggles afterwards where he tried and failed to perfect himself. When it came to serving others, he was always trying to make up for lost time, and projects and successes could never come fast enough for him. He lived life at 100mph and encouraged everyone around him to do the same. He packed more into those fifteen and a half years of truly living than most people would, and we are left with an incredible legacy to build on.

But Richard’s story is not just one of bad boy turned good. No matter how much he did, he didn’t earn his way back to God and ultimately into heaven where he is now. All he did was understand the grace of God. He struggled every day of his life with wanting to be in control and other selfish desires, like we all do. His story is no different from the rest of ours - not one of us can be good enough to earn the perfect existence we really want. We all need a Saviour who can do that for us. Richard chose to let go of the control of his life, and found a much better life on this earth was waiting for him - a life of purpose and excitement, where his desires and gifts were fulfilled and he found true friendship and family. Not only that, but beyond this life he now is part of a better one where there is no more struggling or striving or illness, and everything finally makes perfect sense. 

He wanted as many people as possible to hear about God and His life-changing power and so that is what today is about - celebrating the life that Richard was given, physically and spiritually. So through our tears and the pain of the gap he leaves, we can choose joy because of God’s incredible grace, forgiveness and plan for Richard’s life, and for ours too.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Never Lose the Wonder

It still all feels completely surreal and I know I haven't hit the deepest part of grief yet. That seems to happen a few weeks after the event, when the permanence of the reality of loss gradually works its way under the skin and through many layers and finally hits your core. That's when you change from the inside and you are never the same again and from then on you have to build a new reality for yourself - a new identity without the person, and a new way of coping with everything without them, and a new way of filing things in your head - the "actual now and future" and the "this will never ever happen again". Right now all those things are blurry and it may as well be that he's just somewhere else while I'm having a few days doing stuff without him. 

But there is peace already, and I've been pondering where this peace has come from, mainly to check that it's not just denial. But I don't think it is - I think it's wonder. And this is where that wonder has come from....

I don't think I've ever hit a point in life where I feel like I was owed anything. I remember as a kid always wondering how come I got to be part of a big family, and get raised in a great church, and was born in twentieth century Britain, of all the times and places in the world to be born. 

When I got married we used to joke that we felt like at any moment someone would come and knock on the door of our new house and say "Hey, what are you doing? This isn't for real, go back to your parents!" I was 20 and he was 25, but we felt like a couple of kids pretending to be real grown ups and playing house. 

When we had children I could never get over that either. Like, do we really get to keep them? Forever? And we get to chose how many we have? And we were allowed to have five when so many people can't even have one, and we didn't have any miscarriages or anything. 

We got to do so much we wanted to. We were allowed to do youth work full time for two years. We got to go to bible college and study our favourite thing for three whole years. We got to visit Haiti, where Richard grew up. We said we wanted to plant a church, and not only did people let us, but they helped to support us finically too. 

And, to top it all, people chose to join our church too. 

I've never got over any of this. How come we got to do so much of it? I'm not saying it came easy - not at all. Richard often worked two jobs at the same time, and studied into the night for college and church. I've had little children at home for over twelve years and sometimes been far from family and familiar friends, while also working towards our degrees or our church plant. But I still never felt like we were owed it. It has still all felt like we have been so privileged to be allowed to throw ourselves heart and soul into stuff we love, and to eventually see rewards reaped from them. Some people never get that chance. 

I haven't exactly been waiting for it to crash around my ears, but I do know I have taken as many opportunities as possible to suck in moments and really appreciate what we've had. It's not usually been the easiest moments that have made me do this - it's been the times when a tantrum is being thrown, or our cash card has been rejected at the till, or I've been so exhausted that I couldn't stop crying. Those are the moments that have made me stop and look at what I do have, and love it all the more, because I know that things change and nothing stays this way forever, so I need to keep walking through that particular season until we come through it and things will change again and I will look back and see it differently. 

Never, ever, have I expected perfection. This world is messed up and I've had my nose in books all my life that show me that there is more to life than my little bubble. Everyone of us goes through hard times, although they all look different. This doesn't have to turn us into pessimists though. On the contrary, it should make us look at everything that happens to us and say "Wow!" It should make us seek the wonder in everything. The only reason we experience loss is because we had in the first place. If we start from a place of gratitude, then we see everything in life as a gift, and we don't begrudge the gifts that slip from our fingers. We are grateful for having it all in the first place, and we know we can trust the One who gives, because He's already shown is how good He is at giving, so who knows what else we will be given in the future?

There are still a lot of tears and anger, and wishing things were different, but right now nothing else is as powerful as the wonder, and I hope that it stays that way. Maybe if my grief increases, then my wonder can too. God is good like that. 

This week the children will go back to school and I will start doing some difficult tasks like ringing insurance companies and banks to change all our details. I'm not doing any of this alone, thank goodness, as I've been given help every step of the way. But I would appreciate your prayers, particularly for the kids as they step back into reality after a week of holidays and sunshine. 

And also as we make preparations for the service of celebration for Richard's life on Monday 9th. It will take place at 12:00 noon at Fulwood Free Methodist Church in Preston, with food provided afterwards, and is open to anyone who would like to attend.

Thankyou again for all the love, prayers and words of support that have been flooding in. It really is amazing, and helps to keep me filled with wonder.