Learning through Life

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Hampshire, United Kingdom
I love how our day-to-day life can teach us lessons to help us understand our past, challenge our today, and inspire our future. We can learn through experiences, situations, conversations, songs, books, nature ... the list is endless! Live with eyes ready to see, ears ready to hear and a heart ready to be touched.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Please Let me be Me

Ten years after this was originally written - I still think its important to understand and put into practice. It is because of this that I have decided to share more of myself than comfortable with, and post here!

Please Let me be Me

Recently I watched a programme about Kings College Hospital in London with great interest.

You see, last year I was a patient at Kings College (Harris Birthright Centre, a hospital specialising in difficult and unusual pregnancies and births).  I had been referred there by my doctor when I found out I was expecting my third child. The year before I had been looking forward to the arrival of my second child, thinking of names, getting excited, preparing myself to be the mother of a new-born again, but when I was 16 weeks pregnant all my hopes and dreams were shattered. The bottom of my world fell out.

Strangely enough I had always felt that something wasn’t quite right, but put it down to paranoia. Why would things go wrong?  I already had a healthy baby and the pregnancy seemed fine, so why would this be any different?  I don’t know how, but I knew.  At 16 weeks I developed a pain around the area of the scar received after an emergency section with my first son.  I went to the doctors, and was referred to the local hospital for a scan.

As I lay on the bed preparing for the scan, fear took over me.  I somehow knew that a bumpy ride lay ahead.  However, nothing could prepare me for the next half hour.  The scan commenced and an uncomfortable silence filled the room.  The silence fled as the sonographer told me that there seemed to be quite a lot of fluid under the babies skin.  All I heard was things weren’t right.

I was left alone as the senior sonographer was called.  During this awful wait, I lay there looking at a still picture of my baby on the screen.  I knew it and loved it.  I wanted this baby so much.  As I stared at the screen I can remember praying, not that things would be okay strangely enough, but thanking God for life, and dedicating the life inside me back to Him.

My baby had a thorough examination, again in silence, and I finally heard the words … “There is a very serious problem ...”  That was all she said at first, I guess to give it time to sink in.  This annoyed me … I wanted to know more, what was wrong, what was going to happen etc.  I forced it out - 'So?' It was explained to me that the baby had a lot of fluid under the skin, all around, but the major concern was the large amount of fluid around the brain. This baby was very unlikely to survive the pregnancy and if it did it would almost surely die at birth.  I sat myself up, and waited for a consultant to come and speak to me. I was in shock.

Once the consultant started speaking, I wanted to know everything.  I asked questions and went through various scenarios.  Yes, I was terribly upset, but I didn't fall apart, I needed answers.

I was offered a termination that I refused. I believe God gives life and I couldn’t do anything that would take it away.  I was told that it would be hard having a baby grow inside that I would probably never see alive.  I knew, but I would cope, I had to.  Several times the termination was offered and in the end I felt like it was being pushed on me, so I made sure that 'Will not consider a termination' was written clearly at the top of my notes.  I would leave it with God.

They wanted to see me at the hospital once a week to check if my baby was still alive.  I was warned that I might miscarry at any time.  I didn’t. I carried on at home knowing that it wasn't the same as most pregnancies.  There would be no baby to bring home at the end.

I tried to carry on as normal.  I was scared and hurting.  I didn’t understand.  I just somehow managed to cope.

Two weeks later I felt my baby move its last.  The following day at the hospital they confirmed my baby had died.  In a way this was a relief,  especially when I thought that the baby would no longer be struggling.

The consultant talked me through the next events.  I would go back into hospital the next day to have labour induced.  They warned me that even though my baby was still quite small, it would be very painful.  I went home, told a few people I wouldn’t be about the next day and prepared myself. I had to think about whether or not I wanted to look at my baby, hold it, give it a name … such a lot to consider.

In hospital the following morning several people explained what would happen. The hospital Chaplain also visited to discuss whether we wanted a service, burial, cremation etc. I made as many decisions as I could and labour was induced.  I won’t go into detail of the next bit, but after over twelve hours of labour I gave birth to a tiny baby boy.  Alfie.  He was taken away for a while as I had to go under general anaesthetic to have the placenta removed.

When I returned and was fit enough, Alfie was brought into me in a tiny Moses basket.  He was beautiful.  I looked past the obvious swelling around the head and saw my little baby.   Our Pastor and close friend visited us, and before Alfie was taken away, we held a short service for him.  We gave thanks and said goodbye.

The purpose of sharing all this?

We all know we are unique and cope with things in different ways, and that includes how you deal with the loss of a child.  I found losing Alfie the hardest thing I have ever gone through, grieved him immensely.  However, during all that time I didn’t cry.  I am not super human, neither am I hard and unemotional.  I hurt, my mind was a mess, and I needed support from friends and family ... but I didn’t need to cry.

I found it very difficult when my close friends and family told me I needed to 'stop bottling it up and let it out'.  Hadn't they been listening?  My feelings weren’t bottled up, they just didn’t come out as tears. I wanted to talk about Alfie.  I didn't cry, but this in no way meant it wasn't difficult, or that it wasn't a big deal for me.

If you ever have to offer support or friendship to someone in a similar situation then please just let them be themselves.  They may need company, or they may prefer solitude.  They may need to talk, or they may prefer silence.  They may need to cry, and probably will and if tears fall, let them.  But if, like in my case, the tears don't come, don't make things worse by trying to force them out.  It might not be what they need for that time.

It is also important that you are yourself as well.  One of my friends would walk away when we were talked about Alfie, because it made her cry and she didn't want to cry in front of me.  Her crying helped not hindered.  I wanted her to be herself too.

To this day I still haven't cried about it.  I often think about him and question why.  He is still in my memories and I wont forget him.  Tears haven't fallen, but this doesn't mean he isn't missed.

Alfie had Downs Syndrome, and had he survived would have been seriously ill with no quality of life at all. I don’t know why things like this happen, and don’t pretend to have the answers.  I just know that when things like this happen, people grieve in different ways.  Be sensitive, listen, and let them be themselves.

Jan 18, 2002

Monday, 2 April 2012

The one where I 'come out' (Part Five)

*This is the fifth in a series of posts explaining how and why I decided to 'come out' as an Egalitarian.  This post will make a lot more sense in light of the first post, second post, third post and fourth post'*

... As I tried to tell myself that the title didn't matter - I realised that it was no longer about me.  It was about the experience of all women.  If I continued to keep quiet, could I expect anything to ever change?  How many other women would walk a similar path and end up unable to fulfill God's calling on their lives?

I knew I had to say something, and this time it was obvious a little whisper would not be enough...

For two weeks I experienced a deep rooted sense of unease.  My heart hurt.  I prayed for peace, but it failed to come.  I tried to live out Philippians 4:8, and think about all things noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy - but my soul found no rest.  A battle fought within and I longed to experience the respite of a victory on either side.  But it remained relentless.

A PA.  It's only a title.  A PA?  It's only a title.  But, a PA?!  I wanted to be able to accept it, to let it go, and to move on.  But I was torn.

What did it matter?  Did the title actually create any barriers to stop me doing the work I believed God had called me to do?  Not really.  So why did I still feel unable to let it go?

What was really at stake here?  Had my pride forced its way to the surface, forcing discomfort and unrest to propel rebellion?  Had I developed an enlarged, unrealistic and unhealthy view of myself? Had I lost sight of the things that mattered to God, in favour of what was important to me?

'He must become greater, I must become less.'  (John 3:30)

Yes.  God, you must increase, and I must decrease. 

I laid my frustrations down.  It was about Him, not me.  As long as I continued to serve, the title was of little importance.  And yet, still no peace.

But why?  Accepting the title of PA would have no impact on my ability to serve God in the way that I had been.  So my distress had to be founded elsewhere.  

Could it be that this was something God actually wanted me to fight for?  Was this why I had not found rest?  If so, would I be brave enough to do it?   I was doubtful.  I feared confrontation.  I feared being seen as a status seeker.  I feared becoming a trouble maker instead of a peace keeper.  Then, with all these fears floating around my head -  I realised that I had made it about me.

If this was something God wanted me to challenge, then I would do it, and face any consequences afterwards.

With a surprising surge of boldness I arranged to see the Elders.  That was easy.  The difficult part came a few days later when we sat together to discuss my role.  Despite knowing this was something I had to do, I felt sick. 

The conversation started and on the surface all seemed fine.  Discussion flowed easily around pay, hours, expectations etc.  I spoke at speed and kept the conversation going.  Perhaps then 'the' subject wouldn't come up.  However, I knew it must.

Whilst my mouth engaged in conversation, my thoughts were elsewhere.  How could I bring the subject of my title up?  Would the words come out?  More importantly, would I be able to contain the anguish that thrashed inside?  I am not an 'emotional' person usually, but this went deep.  I feared releasing the pressure on the valve, and an ugly and uncontrollable wave of emotion flooding out - (potentially confirming the theory that 'women are too emotional to lead').

As fear engulfed, I wanted to run.

'God's not given a spirit of fear, but of love, power and sound mind.' (2 Timothy 1:7)

I had to do it.   

'Can we discuss the title?'

It was out.  I half expected to be sent out of the room like a naughty child.  I shook, if not physically, emotionally.  I searched for a place to hide with embarrassment and shame.


Could the beating of my heart actually be heard in the room?


I don't remember the exact words that followed, but as I began to off-load my thoughts, a peace began to fill the space they previously occupied.  I felt able to express my concerns with honesty, clarity and sensitivity.  A sound mind.

'Do you think a guy would happily accept the same title?'

That was the issue at the root of it for me and I was pretty sure I already knew the answer.  In fact, I seriously doubted whether PA would have been suggested in the first place.  My suspicions were confirmed.  Gender made a difference to the proposed title.  In both cases the actual role and responsibility would be the same, and yet the title different.  This was injustice.  Sure, the title would have no impact on my ability to work, but what would accepting it without question say?  That it was acceptable to call a woman a PA, but not a man?  That a man fulfilling the same role should have a more appropriate title, but it was safer option to use PA for a woman?  I knew I had been right to challenge it.

With the question that followed I realised I hadn't actually considered anything beyond querying the title.  'If not PA, then what?  I thought about it ...

I had Probationary Minister's status with the Assemblies of God (training for full status) and had completed a degree in Theology.  I led the youth work, ran the women's ministry, gave significant input in the running of the church and served on the Pastoral Team.  A suitable title?  I knew what I thought, what I hoped for ... but dare I speak it?

And then, somehow, in the midst of the awkwardness, the word 'Pastor' was spoken.  Who spoke it first, I don't actually know.  Perhaps it was me?  Perhaps not.  But what did it matter?

'What is the work you actually do?  It is that of a Pastor.  A Pastor who assists the work of the Senior Pastor.  An Assistant Pastor.'

It was agreed and I allowed myself to relax.  It was going to be alright. 

Two weeks later came the official announcement at church.  I was called up to the front and the Elders prayed for God's anointing on my life as I served in my new role as an Assistant Pastor.

Although I felt a peace, I knew that for some in the congregation this announcement may cause a degree of concern.  Perhaps concern is too strong a word.  A questioning?  A woman serving as an Assistant Pastor? 

No one spoke up or walked out in objection.  In fact, after the service and during the weeks that followed, the comments I received were encouraging and supportive.

I thanked God for his faithfulness and strength through the storm, and gave my all to the work he had called me to do.  Training with AoG continued, and my ministry developed.  I loved it.  I knew I was in the right place.  I felt his presence, power and peace. The journey was exciting and fulfilling.

I enjoyed calm seas for a while, but storms were building in the distance, and it wouldn't be long until I once again found myself in the middle of them.  Jesus never promised a smooth journey did he?  But he promised to stay with us through it. This encourages me to keep going.  At times giving up does sound tempting, but I know that God has called me to push on through, not only for my sake, but for those that follow.

When the storms subside, I will continue to share my journey with you, but for now it would be both insensitive and painful to do so.  Through it all though I know that God is good and faithful and knows the plans he has for me, for good and not disaster, to give a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)

For all those riding the storm at the moment - hang on in there - you are not alone.

You may also like:
Part One in this series
Part Two in this series
Part Three in this series
Part Four in this series

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