I know I haven’t written anything this year but thats because my Dad died at the end of January and the build up was intense and then afterwards I have been focussing on trying to function and catch up with the lost work and college from January and February. Bless my Dad he really was one of a kind. Miss him terribly, so many people loved him. Some reflections on losing Dad: I didn’t realise how losing one parent would impact on my grief of losing my Mum in 2006 but when you have lost both parents it it is another ball game entirely. Mother’s day this year was one of the worst for me!. Obviously I have thought about John a fair bit too which leads me onto something else…
A while ago in one of my blogs I talked about how I had been looking down at my wedding ring and feeling increasingly frustrated as I no longer knew what it meant. I commented on the time how at one point it was the closet thing I had to John, but actually it no longer stood for being married to him in a present sense as ’till death do us part’ and all that. I am in a widowed young support group on Facebook and the topic of wedding rings regularly comes up and like most things it is up to the individual whether they take it off, when they take if off etc. I had assumed that just like my Gran who lost her husband young I would never take it off, especially since I enjoy wearing rings too, so would naturally just wear it regardless. I remember in the early days of losing John watching an episode of Lewis who had been widowed and someone asked him about whether he should take of his ring and he said ‘That one stays.’ However, today feels like the day where I will take it off. This feels like a huge event and a non event all rolled into one. Questions that abound to me straight off the bat is: What are you saying by removing it? Are you forgetting John by taking it off? Will you feel guilty by removing it. That one can be answered fairly easily as if what I’m saying by removing it is I am no longer married (which duh!) BUT I’m open to something or someone else happening then John would want me to take the ring off as he always said if anything were to happen to him he wanted me to find someone else. He would even try and make me promise but I could never even contemplate that at the time. I could move it to the other hand but it would need adjusting as its shaped to fit my engagement ring and I already where my mum and grans wedding rings on my other hand. I’m aware I might take it off for a bit then put it back on or off for a few months and then put it back on again and I know none of it really matters in the grand scheme of things. But do ever wonder if part of you is further on that you are and the rest of you needs to catch up. Hmmm… something to ponder about anyway.
It’s been a rough couple of weeks with my Dad, it would take far too long to write all the drama thats happened with him, but something has gone on every single day for 10+ days solid. My sister Keeley is exhausted and as Dad is now refusing all help, we have reached the point where there is nothing more we can do. But he is very unwell physically and mentally and frail. I am most distressed by this as it feels like a replay of what happened with my Mum. She refused all help and declined and then died alone, and it appears that is what Dad is doing too. I don’t think I can go through all that again though. Keeley has said we just have to let him get on with it as he says he doesn’t need our help and go and live our lives! Easier said than done though right? But all this has made me think, what does it mean for me to go and live my life? It’s quite a bit of a deep question really and one that could be answered in a variety of ways. Firstly it’s impossible to just forget about Dad and not worry about him, so firstly thats not gonna happen anyway. What I have realised however is since John died I have deliberately and consciously held everything very lightly, so that my hopes are never dashed. Whenever I feel I am getting too invested in anything or wishing or wanting something to really happen I immediately pull myself back and make myself hold it lightly. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing cause as I have said before I am an ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’ kind of girl, so once I’m in I’m all in. What I haven’t articulated till this evening thinking things over is how exhausting it is to hold myself back from really wanting anything or really desiring anything. Apart from finishing my degree I don’t actually have ANY dreams for the future. How sad is that? Gosh, I could almost cry. It makes me wonder how fragile I might still be after losing John and that annoys me, cause I don’t want to be fragile. It’s a tiring thought for me. On one hand I am like, “Nothing can hurt worse than losing John, so bring it on! I have a deep resilience!” and then on the other hand I can’t even let myself hope for anything good to happen in case it doesn’t and it makes me sad. It’s a little crazy as I cannot protect myself from getting hurt, thats impossible and the nature of life is that we will be hurt. I’ve recently found myself wanting to have hopes, dreams, desires and being invested in things. And I’ve found myself wanting to throw caution to the wind and risk being hurt. I’m also aware that my life does feel quite open at the moment, like I could take it in whatever direction I want to. Not sure how based in reality that is though. I make myself laugh when I do let myself half wonder about the future cause I switch between ‘Life is short and we have to do what we have to do while we can’ and in the same breath, ‘Woooaaahhh this is the whole of the rest of my life we are talking about!’ Why am I so complicated? Why is life so complicated? Where’s God in all this? Good question. Sadly I have no idea and weirdly I’m not too worried about that. I think it is just the season I am in. Everything feels in the air (not just with me but everyone due to covid!) I just wish somethings would start to land, and I would start to have some hopes and make some decisions. Still, chin up Vickster, onward!
As I have mentioned previously time is such a strange concept this year. While chatting with my therapist last week we talked about how time is going fast and yet slow in equal measure. I cried a lot about John last week and mentioned this in my session. What I hadn’t anticipated was my revelation about how I have been thinking a fair bit about my wedding ring. My eye has fallen upon it a number of times this week, and I sobbed as I told my therapist “I just don’t know what it means any more.” This is such an alien thought to me. It used to hold more meaning than possibly any other material object I own, and so to find myself questioning its meaning only under lines my heartbreak over being widowed. I can’t stop thinking, “Till death do us part” and its has. Because of death we are apart. The marriage is over. Obviously I know this, but sometimes I really have to remind myself. So do I stop wearing it? Do I swop it to the other hand? What does it mean not to wear it? Am I in someway giving up on my memories of being married? Am I somehow denying what I had with John? What will other people say? How is it going to look? I don’t suppose it’s any surprise that the CEEC video that was released last week would stir things right up for me about everything, but I hadn’t realised how it would make me think through different parts of my life once again. My therapist said to me, “Well Vicky, like everything you do, I’m sure given the amount of thinking time you have in lockdown it will all have been well thought through.” I find myself once again, trying to hold everything in balance. I need to remember, things are not black and white. Things can be both/and. They can and more often than not, they are.
The other day I did something really scary. It’s something most Christians would never admit to doing. They wouldn’t admit it to themselves that they actually found this true let alone anyone else. After everything I have been through with the Lord, all the things that have happened in my 24 and a half years of being saved, it’s only now I have finally admitted this to God. It’s been coming for a while. But it’s reached its peak. It’s probably taken all these years for me to admit it to myself let alone God. A few days ago I came home after walking the dogs, I dropped to my knees at the side of my bed, burst out crying and I tried to say the words out loud, but for a long time I couldn’t. Even now thinking about it I want to cry. It’s so sad. And I so don’t want it to be the case. But it is. It just is. I managed through sobs of tears to tell God, that because He isn’t physically present, despite how many times I have claimed in public and through worship, actually He isn’t enough for me. Whether it is right or wrong that I should need a physical presence to keep me sane and ok, I don’t know or care, but God is not a physical being who can be with me (I feel like this is blasphemy just thinking it let alone writing it). He can not hug me when I need a hug. He cannot speak to me audibly when I’m lonely. He cannot provide the physical touch I need. AND I HATE IT. I acknowledged that I still believe in Him as much as I ever have done but I have to be honest. Technically He made me this way to be a tactile person and to need physical touch. Not that He is to blame for me not having it, but more an acknowledgement of that is how I am. I have asked Him kindly to be gracious to me. I’m grieved that I cannot find some resolve in me that God can be totally my everything, as I have sung and said many times. Honestly I have been worried that this acknowledgement might be the beginning of the end of my faith, and I pray to God it is not. The truth will set you free right? I did feel much better after I had cried to God about it. I feel better for having said it. Finally something that has niggled at me for years I’ve admitted. God cannot physically provide the touch that I need to be able to function at my best capacity and I don’t know what to do with that. I don’t know what admitting that means. Does it have to mean anything? I don’t know. I spoke in my last post about how I wondered what the effect of lack of physical touch is having upon me, I did not see this coming though. It’s a horrible thought for me that God Himself cannot somehow make that need go away. I don’t know what happens now. As I previously said I talk to God all day long but in another sense I feel I might have distanced part of myself from Him, cause I just hate the fact that He can’t “meet my every need” like is so often repeated. AT THE SAME time however, I recognise The Lord Almighty is not a genie to grant me all of my desires and needs when and however I want them. I know I am blessed to have shelter, clothes, food, a job, health and I’m grateful for all those things. If this is just “a season” then I’m sorry, its too long. I can’t do it. And if this is “a test” I’m sorry I’m gonna fail it one way or another. I know God is gracious and compassionate and will have mercy on me if, no when, I do fail and I don’t want to take that for granted or use that as an excuse. I also realise that I am so focused on me and my needs at the moment I almost feel like I’m teetering on the edge of hedonism. Maybe I am. This is not easy. I can’t stand it when I struggle with my faith, it drives me up the wall. As if I need this at the moment. As the tears fall as I write this..I know what I want….and it’s not what God can give me. Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy, You are the only hope I have.
I’m feeling the need to blog, however I am very tired, partly because I stayed up till 4:30am watching the America Election results and partly because of every other part of life since 2017…. so what comes out next might be interesting, might be total drivel….
Manchester hasn’t really been out of lockdown since March, unlike other parts of the country. This for me personally has been really difficult. I have had 3 hugs since 23rd March and I am THE hugger. Living alone and working from home at the minute means spending so much time alone that I sometimes feel I’m going slightly stir crazy at times. The lack of physical touch for someone who is tactile is excruciating. I often wonder what effect it is having upon me. Don’t get me wrong I am incredibly blessed to have my Yorkshire terriers and I know my mental health would be much poorer without them. But it is not human touch. It is not the tiny miniscule interactions with human beings. What I would give to hold someone’s hand. Just the thought has reduced me to tears. I also think this is having an effect on my focus, I thought it might be just that there’s loads going on in the world and living through a pandemic and my Dad being so poorly, but I’m more and more convinced lack of human touch is affecting my focus as well subconsciously. I have had to fast forward or turn the channel on TV when I see people hugging or kissing, cause I can’t cope seeing it but not experiencing it for such a long time. One of the books I pre-ordered back in the summer arrived and even though it is essentially a murder mystery it has been described as ‘ravishment vs restraint’ and honestly, most disappointingly, I cannot bring myself to read it…
Twitter, I love Twitter, honestly to me it’s brilliant. It keeps me occupied and interested in a whole range of topics. Granted like any social media platform it can be a horrible nightmare but I seem to have set it up well so I mostly miss a lot of the nonsense. Anglican Twitter..erm…moving on swiftly….
The latest essay I wrote even though it was sooo hard to write with everything going on and a lack of focus (I’m dreading writing one in lockdown 2.0) I actually enjoyed what it forced me to think about. It made me think through how women have been and are treated in different arenas in life. I got to read some good books and I also got to think about women oppressing other women. That is something I have never thought about before. Essays like this are difficult cause the answers are sooo big and things need to change so badly that little me writing an essay from her flat in Reddish seem of very little consequence. I am grateful for my theology degree though, its a source of inspiration and an anchor in choppy waters, and my college is beyond wonderful.
Last night as mentioned I stayed up to watch the US election results. Not a lot happened and even though I write this 12+ hours later no winner is declared and may not be for days and possibly weeks. Via the wonders of technology I got to “spend the night” with someone else as we watched the results from our own homes, and they were able to talk and explain everything to me. I really enjoyed it.
This week very unexpectedly someone new has jumped into my life. And really I shouldn’t be writing this, but also I feel it’s important to document it somehow…. though why I can’t just write it in a notebook on my desk I don’t know…. especially as my blogs not a secret… and they could read this….anyway, enough. I know if they do read this they will say this is a wrong reading of them but I don’t care, cause actually I think its the real reading of them. I think it would be fair to say there are not many people like them. They have thought a lot of things through. They help a ton of people. They are intelligent and funny. They are respectful and kind. I know life has hurt them a lot, but yet they remain open to people. They are a big deal in their area and rightly so. I have known about them for a while but actually knowing them in person for the last week I have learnt loads. I have been able to be completely myself with them even though we are relative strangers. They have confirmed things about me I have spent a long time wondering about. And considering there’s a pandemic on and we can’t meet for coffee and all the normal things you would when you were meeting someone new, it’s been good.
Grateful to be re-appointed as deputy church warden at my beautiful church but seeing as I haven’t been going for a myriad of reasons to do with covid and rules and the like, and now its shut for 4 weeks plus, it feels weird. I am missing church. I am a little worried about me spiritually because I am so alone, but on the other hand the Lord is all I have, He’s the constant one. I talk to Him from my waking minute to my going to sleep so… Granted a lot of my prayer life is currently manifesting through 90’s songs but my spirit is just connecting with certain lyrics so…
I was gonna have a rant about loads of things but honestly I don’t have the energy. All I’ll say is…no can’t even do it…too tired…. just be kind… thats all I’ve got.
So Wednesday 4th November 2020 eve of English Lockdown 2.0 what will the next 4 weeks hold? I can honestly say I have no idea whatsoever.
My Dad has been very poorly and was in hospital for 5 weeks. He is out now…apart from the hospital losing him for 2 hours over the weekend when they took him back in briefly. If I’m honest I don’t think he can live on his own any more. I try not to admit that but I’d be lying if I thought he was getting on ok, cause hes very confused, and I don’t think he is coping. The next few weeks we shall find out but that is not helping my mind’s focus on tasks. I did go and see my Dad on Sunday. When he came out of hospital last week I was very tearful that day as I was so relieved and so I was pleased I was getting to see him. I have been so worried about him. When I walked in one of his carers was there. I greeted Dad and then immediately introduced myself to the carer Dave, at which point Dad interrupts me loudly with “Don’t you (meaning me) dare speak to me about religion!” I was taken aback. I NEVER speak to Dad about anything to do with religion, cause I know he doesn’t like it. I dare broach the subject. I have never (and would never) tried to convert him cause the moment I talk about what I’ve been doing if I even mention anything to do with church he makes a hissing sound at me. (Once when I was about 17 he said to me ” Can’t you quit this religion business and just be like everyone else and smoke and drink?” and at his 80th birthday party just as the room hit a quiet lull moment his voice carried through it with “When are you going to pack this religion business in?” Thankfully one of his friends jumped to my defence as I was mortified with “Leave her alone, it’s not doing her any harm.”) He continued, “DO NOT talk to me about religion I don’t want to hear it.” Dave the carer looked stunned and embarrassed. I felt like I’d been punched. Dave the carer made a swift exit. I sat on the sofa and waited for Keeley to arrive. The air was uncomfortable. I tried to make conversation but Dad wasn’t having any of it. I love my Dad I really do, so to have him react to my physical presence in such a way was really difficult. Especially the amount of time and energy I (and the beautiful wonderful friends and people in my community and twitter community) have spent praying for him. I am doing my best to be forgiving and not be bitter about what happened. I know he has not been well and I know he’s confused, but that hurt.
I should be cracking on with an essay, but I am too distracted. Distracted by everything. The ridiculous events of the world in the current pandemic and the stupid situation Manchester finds itself in with being locked into an argument with the Government about what ‘tier’ of pandemic level restrictions. I honestly don’t know how that will resolve itself but its exhausting listening and watching it all get played out. I am excited about writing my dissertation proposal and I’m excited about the reading that is required for it, but I haven’t had the mental focus to do it. That is frustrating me. I’m really really tired. I either lie awake all night or sleep but wake up feeling like I’ve lay awake all night. Nothing I do makes any difference whatsoever. I have been very lax with my discipline of morning and evening prayer which probably hasn’t helped me as I enjoy the forced rhythm it gives to my life. I know this is going to sound woo woo but bear with me.. I asked the Lord a question today and he answered via Katy Perry lyrics…. surely not I thought. But then actually yeah, He would have to speak to me through that medium as I haven’t given The Trinity space to speak to me any other way the last week or so!
I also have a really good idea for a niche book, however, I wouldn’t be able to write it alone, I would need expert help. And I can’t tell anyone cause they very might take it and run with it. I know there is an audience. And as far as I know (well have googled) no one else has written on the subject… so I’m in a cul -de-sac with that.
I also have a new Twitter crush which this time I am not going to tell them like I did my last one….. (silly girl!). It will all come to nothing and I think is just part of the distractions…. but it’s made me think about my life and losing John and do I actually want another relationship as it will be complicated cause I’m widowed and I’ll never stop loving John and the other person will have to accept that and why should they, and how would I stop myself comparing everything to what I had with John… and on and on and on….. and then the low self confidence kicks in with what would anyone see in me anyway, I have nothing about myself, I have nothing to offer and on and on and on….
So I’m going to go back to my desk and try and read and write for my essay again with out letting all the distractions overwhelm me.
If you haven’t read it basically I am cynical and scathing about the video that was released by a coalition of Churches across the UK. I bemoaned the fact that people thought it was a great move of God….
Well… let me just say, some of the things I said I stand by. Particularly when it comes to who certain churches would welcome and bless, however, having just listened to it played by the worship band at my online residential course for my Theology degree, the song broke me in a way it hadn’t earlier this year. I realised that at this specific moment I need a blessing. I need to hear that God is for me, and many other people need to hear that message, most desperately. I could see at the time how it could bless people but I understand it more thoroughly now. Do I think it brought unity….umm no I still don’t really, do I think God used it, yeah I think He did and is. People need to hear that God is for them, cause so often they have heard the opposite of that. So does this mean I am not as cynical as I think? The jury’s still out on that front.
This week has been one of those where I’m left wondering about so many different things. Have I got everything wrong? Do I know anything at all? What if I am wrong about certain things? What would that all mean? Since John died I have been uncertain of myself, but it would be wrong to say I wasn’t before he died. I have always been uncertain of myself. I have struggled with self confidence all my life, and what I have found this week is I have not come as far in that area as maybe I thought I had. Often I feel I am a walking bunch of contradictions. I think one thing and then consider the opposite and finish with ‘I don’t know!’ For some reason at the minute I can’t seem to ‘pin anything down.’ If you ask as me my opinion, I’m probably going to give you a unsatisfactory answer. Believe me, I am as frustrated by it as the people I am speaking to must be. I am so unsure of myself and I’m not sure (funnily enough!) what’s prompted it or where it’s come from. Or maybe I’ve always been like this? See, I don’t know anything! I really don’t know what I think! And may I add, its exhausting always considering everything, constantly and never reaching a decision or conclusion about anything. I just wish I could settle (yes my maiden name was Settle….its not funny). Or maybe I’m not meant to settle on anything but surely that can’t be right, you have to know what you think about somethings? Maybe that is what’s knackering it up for me. For a good few years I thought I knew what was right when I was happily married and life was good and then all that got up ended. What if it is fear holding me from knowing my own thoughts, incase when I do my world gets turned all inside out again and I’m left wondering? Suffice to say… I don’t know!
Having real problems sleeping at the moment, I know that some of this is grief, as it has been the run up to and the 2nd anniversary of my sister’s suicide plus what should be John’s 40th birthday is starting to loom large in my mind and heart. I always have a poor sleeping pattern around anniversaries or when my grief is teetering on the surface. One thing that has kept me awake and generally been in the background is the realisation and acknowledgement of the years of self torture I have put myself through. I know the human psyche is a very complex things and I have no knowledge or expertise whatsoever into it, I’m just recounting my own experience…
This picture is of my homework diary from when I was in year 10. 1998. This is a visual representation of what was going on inside of me. Up until then I guess I had never really thought properly that the same feelings I had towards men I had had towards women too, and I couldn’t possibly admit that it was true. I’d become a Christian in the summer of 1996 and thought I knew all about what Christians said about people who had same sex attraction and what the Bible said as well. Even though I was definitely attracted to men it was unthinkable that I should be attracted to women too, and yet when I thought about it properly I knew it had always been true, from when I was very little. Some people think you can’t possibly know how you feel when you are young and while it’s true I didn’t quite understand it at the time, I do now. That bubbly feeling whenever I saw a certain person in the TV show House of Elliot, that one friend I thought about much longer than I should have, and the girl I cried over and I realised I probably shouldn’t be. But back in 98, at least where I grew up, you were either straight or gay, and I didn’t feel I fitted in either of them, and I knew I didn’t want to be gay, plus I fancied men so I couldn’t be right? I had heard the term bisexual but no one really talked about it seriously. So with all that in mind I refused to accept my attraction to women. That was the only answer where everyone wins, God wins cause He’s cross about the whole thing anyway and I want to please Him more than anything else and I win cause I don’t have to deal ‘with it’ or so I thought…..
How silly, cause I realise the moment I started pushing it all down inside, what actually happened for the next 3 years was I was constantly ‘dealing’ with ‘it’. I was so worried about it all the time, it was all I could pray about. ‘Make it go away God, make it stop.’ The amount of nights I cried myself to sleep is such a sad thought now. One of the lowest points was crying myself to sleep on my birthday, after hours of prayer for it all to stop and be over. I remember walking to church and my heart breaking cause I felt I couldn’t be faithful to God and like women as well as men, and I didn’t understand any of it. I just knew I loved the Lord and He meant everything to me and I was nothing without Him, so the only choice I really had was to walk away from Him or bury it and police it incase it ever came to the surface.
And thats what I did. I, as the picture shows, refused it. Once I had recognised it and rejected it I started to police myself with an aggressive strictness. I couldn’t let it get out, ever. It simply could not, because otherwise me and the Lord were over and I knew it, and I was not under any circumstances going to let that happen. So I closed that part of me down, down completely. I had to. What other option was available? I had told my mum one night and she had told me not to be stupid and slammed the door never to talk about the subject ever again. I’d read what (I thought) the Bible said. I’m an in for a penny, in for a pound, kind of girl, all or nothing, I mean it would be so much easier in one sense if it was all men or all women but it was both and I mean that’s not easy for anyone to get their head around is it? Especially not when your 15/16/17 years old. I’d told my best friend and I’d told my youth workers and while they were accepting of me and didn’t judge or condemn me, they didn’t have to, I had already done it. I was judge, jury and executioner. And while at various stages of those years I had gone a little back and forward over it, by the time I was 18 the decision was made. It was a source of shame and will never be mentioned and any time it appeared in my thoughts would be shut down completely. Zero tolerance. I hadn’t noticed how exhausting that whole thing is till recently. Policing yourself 24 hours a day 7 days a week for decades on end. The slightest hint and internally I would slam myself with shame, condemnation and judgement.
Waking me up in the middle of the night recently is the question: in the times when I wasn’t consciously ‘dealing’ with ‘it’, what if I had gotten so used to shutting myself down that I no longer recognised I was even policing myself? At first glance it would appear as though I had specific times in my life where I was bisexual, and times I wasn’t, but that’s nonsense, it’s not a phase. You can’t drift in and out. It was always there, it’s just at times I wasn’t able to keep it as far down as I would have liked. For instance when I first worked for John Lewis, that time was so hard… I can’t believe I am gonna write something I haven’t even told my therapist yet (although hopefully by the time I actually publish this I shall have told her..) I had gone on secondment to another dept and it was my time to return back to where I came from. Returning, however, would mean seeing the woman I liked again, and so in an attempt to not go back to my department, one night I got a hammer and I repeatedly smashed it into my hand… that is why if you look at my palms side by side you will see one is slightly more raised than the other… it also hurts when its cold. I did go to work and I didn’t tell a soul what I had done as how could I explain it?? But when I was offered the chance to move departments I jumped without thinking. There were certain songs I listened to when I was at school during those years that I couldn’t let myself listen to ever again because they reminded me of that time. I feared (this is so irrational…) that they would reignite whatever it was within me that had liked women so I avoided them like the plague. I would walk out of shops if they were on. If I was in a restaurant and they came on I would break out into a cold sweat.
When last summer my attraction to women resurfaced I began to realise exactly what had been going on when I didn’t have the inner strength to police and fight it. Even though for the last year I have been accepting of my bisexuality still I find prayers for God to take it away start up with in me. Still I wake up in a cold sweat cause I’ve had a dream about a woman or I’ve realised I like someone. Now I try not to fight myself over it. It’s hard not doing automatically what you have done for years, and yet so unbelievably freeing. It’s difficult to describe. The relief that comes when I remember it’s ok. I’m not bad. There’s not something wrong with me. I’m ok. I’m not horrible. I’m still loved. Jesus is still with me. Huge waves of relief wash over me and often I find myself smiling. I’m ok, and I’m going to be ok.
Why am I saying all of this? Why now and why publicly? Because I don’t want anyone else to go through what I went through. I don’t want anyone to spend years crying night after night, I don’t want someone to take a hammer to themselves, I don’t want someone to feel rejected by God especially, if like me growing up, that is the only thing they have. I acknowledge that had I of come to terms with this sooner, I may not have had some of the life experiences I have done, but I must also face the pain and the hurt I have caused myself over the years. I see, know, and have experienced what homophobia causes when you internalize it. Internalized biphobia is real and causes terrible suffering to people. I most definitely did not choose to be bisexual, not in the slightest. I just always have been, and there really is nothing I and seemingly God can do about that.
There are some people who say, well that’s fine but don’t engage with that part of you. ‘Leave it alone and crack on with life.’ But wasn’t that what I had been doing? People like Jackie Hill Perry et al are not helpful to me as I know I would slip back into harmful ways if I followed what they say. Maybe it does work for them, but not for me. I need to be gentle and caring with this part of me after the years of denial and damage I have done. When I let my sexuality be what it is and engage positively swathes of freedom and enormous relief wash over me, which constantly surprises me. I never thought I would feel like that, ever. It has taken a lot of work to get to this place but I can truly say I’m grateful I’m here.
I’ve written a couple of times about how my faith has changed since John my husband died and then my sisters suicide a year and half later but I’ve been reflecting on it recently. I find myself thinking about how the Lord kept it alive when really it was just embers at one point. Before I start I need to let you, who are reading now, know that I am going to mix metaphors and swop in and out of them repeatedly because I am talking about faith and my experience of it which is hard to describe with language (I know there’s a word for that but I cannot for the life of me think what it is.)
Faith for me since I became a Christian when I was 13 years old has been of utmost importance. It has been a living, breathing element to my make up. It has been the filter through which I have ran everything, every thought, every word, every decision, every instance really. So when John died it felt like I stopped breathing. I remember the exact moment, it was a few minutes after John had died, the room suddenly felt like a vacuum and my breath got taken away literally and figuratively. I sat shaking, outwardly and inwardly. Everything that I had known, loved and was sure of had gone. Even though I still believed in God, the part of my faith that was active, inside of my very core, had vanished. The part that was the eb and flow of me had ceased. And the struggle began. Before there was an inner dialogue of constant communication between me and the Lord about everything, big things, little things, worries, concerns, a few questions but not too many, but it was there always. Now there was nothing but silence, and the occasional few questions of how? and why? and what do I do now? The next time I took a breathe was at my theological college residentials, and I thanked God that even though it was small, it was something and I was grateful. Somehow faith was still alive albeit surviving on shallow breaths that came with long gaps in between them never knowing if there would be another.
In the 6 months before my sisters death I had been introduced by a college lecturer to ancient Christian Spirituality, and various teachings from people throughout the centuries and this allowed me to take in tiny miniscule breaths. I knew my pentecostal faith was well and truly over cause when I tried to interact with it, I felt as thought the shallow fleeting breath I was managing was being whisked away everytime. What’s curious about all this, which I have articulated recently, is how years ago I would have completely written off these people and writings. I had been taught, and yes I had actually been taught (I won’t name and shame) that anyone not of an evangelical faith was to be viewed with suspicion and disregarded as Christians. Especially Catholics! I even witness someone shout in a Catholic person’s face that they were not ‘saved’. The person was devastated and they were so kind and gentle, its heartbreaking to think of it now.) I don’t think I had even really heard of Eastern Orthodox, but they would have got lumbered in as well. Latterly I even threw in the Anglicans too, which was nonsense cause my faith was deeply rooted in Anglicanism as they had taught me the faith when I was young, and I knew there were genuine ‘spirit filled’ believers amongst them. (Can you hear the separating out of who was christian and who wasn’t in that last statement?) Nevertheless to my shame now, I genuinely didn’t listen to anyone who I felt didn’t ‘cut the mustard’ of “true faith”. How foolish I have been. How much I have missed out on! My therapist who I had began seeing from 3 months after John died was a practicing Catholic and when I first starting seeing her I did, to my regret now, disregard anything she said about faith, no really I did. I kind of tried not to talk about my faith at first with her as I thought ‘she wouldn’t understand cause she’s a catholic and not a Christian’ but that was impossible to do if I was going to be open and honest with her about everything. My faith was and is such a big part of me. She was always encouraging and warm when I spoke of my faith and my struggles, and when I asked she would tell me a little of her own faith. I began to see she did have a faith that I could recognise. So when I also discovered ancient Christian spirituality and how it helped me breath I was more than taken aback…. could it be that these people who I believed were not Christians, could actually be and have something very valuable to teach me about God? Dare I imagine they may hold some of the keys to breathing freely again? And if they did and can, who else might that I have disregarded?
After Paula had died and my faith took another battering my ‘breathing’ became shallow again. I didn’t know when or if the next breath was coming or where from. It was then I found myself led to a little church about a mile and half away from mine and John’s house. It was an Anglican church and not even that, it was what could be described ‘high’ Anglican (although I’m aware not everyone likes that language)… everything I had despised and disregarded years before. And then I learn that they were inclusive of LGBTQ+ people. The only way it could be further away from the beliefs I had held about non-evangelical people was if it had been catholic, and then I find out the Vicar is gay and from the Catholic tradition. Surely not, I thought…really? This place? Nevertheless they welcomed me and I went in and during one of the services in a moment of quiet I took a big deep breath for the first time since John had died. I felt God’s spirit again. I felt the closeness of Jesus. I felt like I had been put on a life support machine and that this was the way to help me breath on my own again.
Of course God was always going to use the things that I thought foolish to confound my perceived wisdom. And I am so glad Father, Son and Holy Spirit have smashed my judgements, opinions and general ignorance. The very people I had written off and disregarded have helped me beyond measure. It was their writing, their wisdom, their faith, their hope, their conversations, that the Holy Spirit is partnering with to get my faith breathing again. The amount I have learnt from ancient Christianity, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans and LGBTQ+ Christians is immense. I tried to resist it at first but I could not, cause to do so would mean to be untrue to myself, my faith and the way I encounter the Lord.
Now, however, I’ve found the pendulum has swung the other way… now I find myself not trust Evangelicals. I have to fight myself to not disregard what they say. I have to remember that the very people I disregarded in the past are the very people God has enabled to help the relationship between Him and I. Also Evangelicals basically grew my faith, I wouldn’t have a faith is it wasn’t for the way God partnered with them in the first place to reach me and teach me. I can still tell by the way I talk about my faith how much is influenced from evangelicalism. And if I’m honest the whole thing makes me a little sad. I don’t want to be suspicious of Evangelicals, I really don’t. I just can’t hack the kind of faith that they have anymore, or the way they articulate things and say things (even though I still articulate and say somethings the same way!). I try to remember not too long ago I was one of them. One day may be in some way I might again. What am I now? Good question. Should I get into labelling myself and my faith? I’m not sure. I know my faith is richer and broader and more robust because of the people and different areas of faith I have included rather than excluded. So for now I’ll call myself an includer. If you have a faith I’ll include you in my thinking and my listening. After all, it is the people I excluded that God is enabling to help me have a living breathing faith once again and for that, I shall forever be grateful.