As I started thinking about my story, I felt that God wanted us to think about the whole concept of life as a story & how our lives are part of His great story.
This is not an original thought:
Max Lucado has launched a book entitled ‘God’s story, your story’
John Eldredge wrote another book ‘Epic-the story God is telling’
These books explore the concept of how our story intersects with God’s grand epic of everlasting redemption. They look at how this narrative we call life- from time to eternity, reveals God & His ways.
It’s not a new idea. In the 1800s Hans Christian Andersen wrote:
‘Every person’s life is a fairytale written by God’s fingers’
I’m sure some of you are thinking, “My life is definitely not a fairytale!”
But think about it, fairytales aren’t all sweetness & light & ‘happily ever after’ For every damsel in distress, & prince that’s trying to save her, there are witches, dragons, wolves & allsorts of darkness lurking!
Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid- had to deal with a Sea Witch stealing her voice & adapt to life on two legs on dry land when her heart belonged in the sea! While Cinderella had ugly stepsisters, never-ending housework, midnight deadlines & lost slippers!
Fairytales begin traditionally with ‘Once upon a time’-whereas life’s story started with ‘In the beginning, God’ (Gen 1:1) God is before the beginning, & after the ending! He is the Author of life.
David the Psalmist wrote ‘You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed’ (Psalm 139:16)
Life’s story is of course true & real, fact-not fiction. Our story may at times seem simple, yet at other times be hard to tell. Words of wonder & happiness are interspersed with words of challenge & grief.
Our real story begins, when we truly start living, when we trust Jesus as Saviour- for He says in John 10:10 ‘I came so they can have real & eternal life, more & better life than they ever dreamed of’ (MSG)
If you don’t know Jesus, the Bible says that you haven’t started truly living yet- Ephesians 1:11 says ‘It’s in Christ that we find out who we are & what we are living for’ (MSG)
I have to say the start of my story was quite like a fairy tale- I became a Christian aged 14 at an Easter youth weekend. I went to Dundee to study medicine- & met my ‘Prince Charming’ Rob there. And of course I also met my own real life fairy-godmother!
Rob & I married in 1997, one week after graduation. We both got work over here & settled down the Ards Peninsula. We had our daughter Caris in 2001 & I can remember feeling like our whole world had turned pink! Pink teddies, flowers, balloons, clothes surrounded our baby girl! (Now a teenager, Caris would say that I overdosed her in pink!)
In summer 2002 we went to Lake Orta, North Italy for our holidays. ‘Ciao bella bambina!’ the Italians called to our blue eyed blonde haired toddler. At the time, I was 6 months pregnant, & felt very happy & blessed!
It’s just as well I couldn’t read the next chapters of our story at that time!
Ethan was born in Nov 2002. His birth was straightforward- but there was an eruption of stress in the days before his birth. I didn’t sleep at all in the days before or after delivery. My mind was on over-drive filled with crazy, racing thoughts. After a week I was diagnosed with postnatal psychosis- the most severe form of postnatal mental illness. Rob was looking after me, a new born baby, a 1 yr 9month old toddler, & working fulltime!
I would have been admitted at that time, but instead we moved in with ‘Grannie Annie’ my Fairy Godmother for a few weeks & she looked after us all (& continued to work!) My sisters-in-law Sharon & Linda were both at home at that time, & they even had a rota for bottle-feeding Ethan through the night.
Medication meant that the racing thoughts subsided relatively quickly, but months of depression followed. Chances are, statistically speaking, that more than a few of you reading thiswill know what I mean- when I talk of days of living in black & white rather than colour. Days of existing without truly living. Doing life with the joy squeezed out of it. Having ‘eyes without sparkle’ as one writer put it.
I went back to work in May- on hindsight much too early. Before long, I had symptoms of anxiety. I’m sure some of you can identify with heart-racing, sleep robbing anxiety (& I didn’t even have any thing to worry about!)
My story hit rock bottom on 16th June 2003- my 29th birthday.
For 16th June 2003 was my worst birthday, in fact it was the worst day of my life so far.
On that day, I was admitted to Knockbracken– a psychiatric hospital. At that stage, I had been struggling with severe mental illness for seven months. I was anxious, depressed and even suicidal. I felt so alone. Rob was at home with our two small children, trying to explain,“Mummy’s gone to hospital because she’s lost her smile.” Most of the family were away in America at Sharon’s wedding. I felt so low as I looked around the grey walls of the ward, wondering how I was ever going to get out of this place. For the first time in my life I felt abandoned by God. The words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” echoed through my mixed up mind.
Yet even in this deeply dark time, God’s still small voice reminded me that Jesus knew how I was feeling. For on the cross, the cry from Jesus’ anguished heart was “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) On the cross, to a much greater extent than we will ever know, Jesus felt abandoned by His Father God as He took on the sins of the world. And at that time, in the middle of my deep depression, I could take comfort from the fact that Jesus understood, that He could sympathise with my weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15)
I spent that summer in hospital in Ards. Slowly over the months with help from family, friends & my psychiatrist & of course God, I felt that I was recovering. Then, just when things were becoming ‘normal’, my mood went very high, & I was admitted for another 2 months- another summer.
I consider those times as dark, difficult chapters in my life’s story. Obviously not everyone will go through severe mental illness- but all of us have difficulties & times of awfulness.
The relative calmness of our normal everyday life can become instantly stormy-by just one phone call, letter or doctor’s appointment.
The dark chapters in your story may include illness, eating disorders, loss, divorce, cancer, death, unspeakable betrayal.
Perhaps no-one else has read the dark chapters of your life. Others may know your name, but not your story. Others may know what you’ve done, but not necessarily what you’ve been through. But God knows all about it-after all He IS the Author of life.
In these dark chapters, remember:
You are not alone & this is not the end of your story!
No matter how hard life gets, no matter how down we feel, no matter how much we feel on our own, we are never alone. God is there with us – in the middle of our troubles, heartache and despair.
‘If you are heart is broken, you’ll find God right there’ Psalm 34:18 (MSG)
Nothing can separate us from God’s love.
Throughout the storms of life, we are held by God- firm in His unshakable grip.
No matter what may happen, He’ll never let go of our hand!
God’s love reaches down to where we are, wherever that may be.
Those hands that created the universe, that carved wood, those hands with the nail prints are holding us.
There are some things that can only be learnt in the middle of difficulties. When our backs are to the wall, we tend to fall to our knees. Our heart cries out to God and He hears us. There are treasures of darkness – times of feeling God close against the odds – character building, spiritually defining times.
Chesterton wrote: ‘Fairy tales are more than true, not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten’
With God’s help & strength, we CAN defeat our dragons-whatever those dragons may be.
God says in Isaiah 43:2,3(MSG):
‘When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.
When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you’re between a rock & a hard place,
It won’t be a dead end-
Because I am God, your personal God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.’
Often, the dark chapters of life are followed by a very long chapter entitled, ‘Why?’
‘Why?’ –a short word that can contain vast amounts of pain & hurt.
Many times, especially during my second admission, I asked “Why? Why me? Why again?”
I’m sure many of you have asked “Why?”
During my second summer in hospital, I read a book by Sheila Walsh entitled ‘Life is tough, but God is faithful’ Even the title speaks volumes- life IS tough (no-one ever said it’d be easy)- but God IS faithful.
In the book Sheila Walsh retells the story of Job.
For 37 chapters Job & his friends discuss & debate. Then eventually, in chapter 38, God speaks out of the storm:
‘Were you there when I laid the earth’s foundations?
Have you ever commanded the morning to appear?
Where does the darkness go to?
Can you guide constellations of stars across the heavens?
Can you shout to the clouds & make it rain?
Can you show the lightning where to strike?’
These rhetorical questions prove that God is so much bigger & higher than us.
I don’t actually think God minds us asking “Why?” He is big enough to deal with our questions.
Yet, in most instances, I don’t think that knowing why would help us or make things easier to deal with.
The conclusion of the book of Job (& Sheila Walsh’s book) is:
Knowing God is better than knowing the answers
But, although God is higher than us, He is not remote & removed from our suffering. He is Imanuel- God with us.
For months after I was discharged from hospital the second (hopefully final!) time, I felt so hurt by God. I wondered what He was doing with my life, what His plans for me were.
One Sunday morning during the ‘Why?’ chapter we went to a friend’s church-Woodlands. During the praise time we sang ‘Who can sound the depths of sorrow in the Father-heart of God?’ That phrase ‘the Father-heart of God’ struck a chord with me. I realised that God is our Father- the Perfect Father. Just as we are upset when our children are hurting, or sick- so God cares deeply when we, His children suffer.
Knowing our Father God is better than knowing the answers. In our darkest hours, he is not remote & removed looking down from afar off in heaven, He is God with us, carrying us through in his everlasting arms.
When life hurts, when it feels that life as we know it has been pulled from beneath us and we are free-falling, helplessly, we are held, and He’ll never let us go. Like the footprints poem reminds us, in our darkest hour, when there is just one set of footprints in the sand, we are not alone, God is carrying us.
‘Like a shepherd, he will care for his flock, gathering the lambs in his arms, hugging them as he carries them’ Isaiah 40:11(MSG)
The God of all comfort, comforts His weary, hurting children.
Sometimes, in life, we keep on re-reading the dark chapters, & the “Why?” chapters. But, you can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one.
Isaiah 43:18 (MSG) has been very relevant for me recently: ‘Forget about what’s happened, don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new’
So, stop re-reading previous pages!
‘Move on. It’s just a chapter in the past but don’t close the book. Just turn the page’
Other people’s stories
Sometimes, too we miss the new chapter because we’re too busy trying to read someone else’s story. Their story seems so much better & much more exciting than our own! Maybe it has a glossier cover & seems easier to read! But if we could truly read their story, they’re probably fighting their own dragons too- dragons that we certainly wouldn’t want to face!
Ripping out the pages
Sometimes we feel so upset & hurt that we wish we could just rip out all the pages of the hard heartbreaking chapters in life.
I read this in Streams in The Desert recently:
‘Sorrow causes deep scars, & indelibly writes its story on our suffering heart. We never completely recover from our greatest griefs and are never exactly the same after having passed through them’ (JR Miller)
Yet, God the Author of life, is such a skilful writer, that he can create vividness & brightness in subsequent chapters, arising out of dark words. He can make our story beautiful in its time. Indeed, after some time & reflection, we may be able to trace His fingerprints even the dark chapters of our story.
‘Sorrows come to stretch out spaces in the heart for joy’ (Streams in the Desert)
It’s probably easier to identify with the sentiments of the first two words than the rest of the sentence. ‘Sorrows come’ –sorrows do come- & sometimes it doesn’t seem too long since the last dark chapter-too soon for another one!
Sorrows came unexpectedly for us at the end of a sunny care-free day on 11th July last summer. One phone-call changed the course of the rest of 2011. The words of this song ‘Blessings’ by Laura Story became an anthem for me:
‘What if your blessings come through raindrops? What if your healing comes through tears? What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know you’re near? What if the trials of this life are your mercies in disguise?’
These words are written from experience of dark chapters. Laura Story (who also wrote ‘Indescribable’) was dealing with her young husband’s diagnosis of a brain tumour.
I should have said this at the outset. But in case you hadn’t realised, in our story, we are NOT the main character. God is!
Ultimately, it’s His story!
‘There is an invisible God at work in our ordinary lives to achieve extraordinary things. Our story is part of a bigger story. God is not just at work in our story. He is putting ours to work in His story-for His glory’ (A Roycroft)
So what about the rest of the story?
We do not need to be afraid of the futureor the next chapter- for God has already written it & He is already there!
And He will be with us from the deepest depths to the highest heights of our story. (Isaiah7:10)
[Not] The End
When I’m reading a book, I often wonder how the story ends & I’ll flick to the last page before I even start. (Often it spoils it!) I never read the Chronicles of Narnia as a child, but over the last year or two I’ve read them with Caris & Ethan. Last week I ordered the last book entitled ‘The Last Battle’ I flicked to the last page. I was so happy to read familiar words from C S Lewis. These words t give me goose bumps every time I read them. This is the last paragraph & the conclusion of the epic seven book adventures in Narnia & also a lovely picture of the end of our story:
‘And as He [Aslan] spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world, and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no-one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before’
If we know the Author of life, as our God & Father, we have this sure hope- of the ultimate happy ending, in fact more accurately a happy never ending! All our life in this world, is like the title & cover page of the Great Story that no-one on earth has read!
The dragons of death, illness, sin will be forever defeated. Tears will be wiped away forever. All things with be worked together for good. And we will be forever with God, the Author of life and eternity.
So, whatever page you are on just now, remember, you are NOT alone- & this is NOT the end of your story!
Remember, whatever chapter you are at just now,
You are encircled in His love. You are held in His grace
Our God is All-sufficient
Soli Deo Gloria
‘Life as a fairy tale’ was originally posted on http://www.blessedme.co.uk & published in Wider World magazine in 2011