Friday, October 29, 2021

On Nathanael’s seventh heaven day, we remember his life

Tomorrow would have been our son’s seventh birthday, but of course he was stillborn.

The reality is, seven years ago today we’d known for some time until that point that Nathanael would not survive, and our church had ridden that journey with us, as had our family and friends, given I was blogging about our grief almost daily.  These blogs became the basis of our Memoir to Nathanael Marcus—our Shining Gift of God—published in 2018 to commemorate the fourth anniversary of his passing.

We were on that journey for about four months, from July 1 to October 30, in 2014.

We’ll never forget the moment that it came to become a fact: “He’s gone!”  That moment he’d passed away: Delivery Suite 1, King Edward Memorial Hospital, 6:30PM October 30, 2014.  One of the midwives was doing a vaginal exam on Sarah and suddenly she gasped, immediately her head tilted down, and she just said, “He’s gone!”

A moment that stood still, an horrendous moment, a moment that will for time immemorial stand still.  I didn’t know what to do, comfort Sarah, the midwife, or be in my own shattered process.  Moments like these are pulsatingly surreal.

It was nearly five hours later that we finally got to meet him, and even more surreal to finally hold him, lifeless, yet ours.  How could we comprehend the relief of having him in our arms after such a long wait, mixed with the grief that now he’s finally here, he’s gone?

How did we get to that moment in such a hurry after Sarah spiked such a terrifying fever, that they shoved three intravenous antibiotics and drugs (from memory) through her arm to help her body fight the infection?  For a time, Sarah was so sick she looked barely conscious.

How were we to reconcile that the ‘palliative care plan’ we’d signed off had our son crushed to death by the contractions knowing his hypotonia would contribute to umbilical cord prolapse, and Sarah put at huge jeopardy, when we were told by the Professor managing our case that Nathanael “deserved comfort and respect,” which he did not receive?  We could only see all this through the tragically ironic lens of hindsight.  Then she came in to visit us in the Ward and, just as Sarah said she would, just said, “These things happen” (in other words, she didn’t know what else to say).

There were several injustices meted out to us in that season.

We never forget that we had a son, and his loss has stayed with us in many ways.

Through the years, we’ve followed with interest what would have been his development.  Every year we have a tradition of wearing green stone pounamus and building cubby houses and playing Kristene DiMarco’s It Is Well.

I was also a school chaplain at the time when Nathanael would have started school.  I took curious note of his cohort commencing Kindergarten in 2019.  Every now and then we come face to face with the dual reality, that there are children his age, and he is no longer here.  Like all parents who lose children, the loss is beyond fixing.

Thinking back to that time, it was the strangest season of our lives, the delight of finding out we were pregnant again dashed at the 19-week scan by devastating news.  

~

Some people would think that because Nathanael didn’t breathe outside the womb that he wasn’t a person, but we rode the journey day after day feeling him move and kick and roll, and week after week we saw him grow.

As I watched the launch of Movember at my workplace today, a gentleman spoke of the importance of continuing to remember his uncle and brother who both died by suicide 10 days apart.  His brother Sammy’s legacy is a massive fund-raising effort annually.  He will never be forgotten.

And neither will Nathanael.

This night seven years ago we heard Nathanael’s heartbeat for the last time.  Casting our minds back to that time, I don’t think we’d registered that it would be the very last time we’d know he was alive.  It was a precious moment; I just don’t think we realised its true gravity.

With the stress and pain of being hassled in this season of loss by the leader of our church behind us (people thought they knew our pain, and really, they didn’t, and we were powerless to help them know), we did still had another pastoral dilemma to face on that huge October 29, 2014.  It started innocuously enough; a shoe date with my second daughter.  But when we heard a knock at the door about 11am we had no idea what curly situation we’d end up in.  Before we could be admitted to the maternity hospital, we had to take a person I was mentoring and caring for to another hospital in the opposite direction.  I was so proud of Sarah, full-term pregnant, struggling to move and breathe, doing pastoral work I was (for this situation) ill-equipped to do.  What an adventure those few hours were!

Against all the odds, my wife was a fully pregnant hero, showing up every single day, despite the ongoing intensity of the grief, the disregard we were shown by those who put on a show of care yet not only had no shred of compassion but hassled us, and this other unique pastoral situation.  It was a triple-whammy, yet God was faithful despite the insanity of this threefold disaster situation.

Finally in the car headed to King Edward Memorial Hospital, we were admitted to No. 1 Delivery Suite.  Sarah was to be induced early the following morning.  It was literally the calm before the storm.

The previous day, Sarah had had her eighth and last amnioreduction procedure so her womb wouldn’t rupture in labour.  Many of those days in that four-month period we were in that hospital ward, or at various specialists’ rooms, doing our own research, reviewing and signing palliative care plans, etc.  That season was exhausting, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, yet we just felt we needed to keep going.  I truly felt we were, led by God’s Spirit, on a stopwatch each and every day.  In that season, there was just enough time to do all we could.

Listening to Nathanael’s heartbeat was important at the time, but with the benefit of hindsight we’re so glad I recorded it on video.  It wasn’t long after that that we went to bed for an early start the next day.

The following day was a marathon.  Part of that story, and the story overall, are contained in the following articles:

Remembering How Nathanael Changed Our Lives 1 Year On

Our Shining Gift of God In Our Arms

Real Experiences Series – Meeting My Deceased Son

~

This article is about remembering the tremendous impact Nathanael made on many of our lives even though he never breathed a breath.  So many were encouraged by our faith, even if they didn’t and couldn’t know the full story.

As I wrote mostly daily about the side of our loss we were at liberty to share, we not only found a way to give words to the grief—finding healing through facing—but we made our son’s case well known, and through social media, we had a few thousand people praying for us.  Each day we found ourselves carried by the prayers of the faithful, just as our faith was buoyed through a spirituality you must be spiritual for to believe.

And still, it’s seven years since that day that started out by a simple induction of Nathanael’s birth yet ended in a way neither Sarah nor I could predict.  That long 21-hour day started with a simple drip for contractions at 6 AM and ended at 3 AM the following morning after I’d bathed his motionless body.

This time seven years ago he was still alive.  We heard his little heartbeat on a monitor for the last time seven years ago.  The video of those few minutes remains one of our most precious memories.  He will be forever missed.

~

This is my last article.

For over 14 years I’ve been writing online articles and over 9,300 articles later, I’ve devoted 20,000 hours to this craft.  I’m off now to write more substantially, and to invest in the more basic things in life.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Hope for the Anguished, the Aggrieved, and the Aggressed


When you’ve suffered in life, and you don’t know what response will work, because every response so far has seen you strike out, there is still one response to try: a decidedly spiritual response.

At this point, try to unknow what you know, try to ignore everything that comes up as a reaction, and try to be open to that which seems foreign.  But do all this without trying.

These ideas only make sense in the spiritual realm.

Stay with me because what I’m suggesting works, and it’s possibly the only thing you can do to make sense of where you’re at.  We only reject this because we’re so inculcated in the world’s way of dealing with pain.

But the world’s way doesn’t work; it only increases the pain.

When you’re living a life where hope faded long ago, or perhaps the impossibility of your situation is only just now dawning on you, it makes sense to reach out and try something different.

You know how it is.  You’ve tried a particular formula for responding to certain situations.  The formula has always seemed right and just.  But years down the track you’re sensing it hasn’t taken you far—not as far as you’d have hoped.  Perhaps you realise it’s taken you nowhere.

Welcome to the place you’ve been drawn to by your experiences.  Here it is.

Every hurt you’re carrying, every grief, every heartache and broken dream, and especially everything that seems more unfair than it ever should have been—you know, those losses that cannot ever be recovered—are the KEY to this method.  That’s right.

This is where God comes in.
Some of you may think, “Well, you’re losing me.”
Just wait a second.

God’s not allowing suffering for any other reason than this:

Every flickering, prevailing trigger,
every unmistakable regret,
every painful moment you bear,
every horrendous reminder you cannot deny,
every nudge of enduring dread,
every reality that is too hard to stomach,
every single one no matter how insignificant,
especially in every impossible situation,
... is a debt we don’t owe,
and we transfer it to God.

Pain is a debt we don’t owe, because whether we caused our own pain or not, we, in and of ourselves, are totally ill-equipped to deal with it in the world’s way.  There’s only one method that works.  God knows how frail we are, and what trauma does to us.

Pain and trauma herald the need of God.  Nothing else works.

This is to go beyond the pains of past and choose for intangible blessings—they never fail and they’re always there.  Something the world cannot give, but that which only God can.

Suffering is the invitation into the only thing that will make sense of it—the spiritual.

Suffering is something the world and tangible and material things cannot touch.

Suffering is a doorway, and if only we’ll take the ridiculous risk of walking through it, we’ll find there’s another way to a far deeper life that is ordinarily totally hidden from us.

But in the spiritual, suffering finds its way to peace, and such a thing cannot be conquered.

This is not quackery, or a lie, or anything else that it’s not.  This is the most resonating truth of all.

You may still think this is madness.  Simply give up everything you can’t keep and embrace everything you cannot lose.  Then you see with the eyes of your heart what you can never unsee.

This truth will hold you in correct stead all your life long, so long as you don’t pick up and grasp and hanker over the world, the tangible, the material things—things we covet.

By faith, there’s nothing that can be taken from any of us that, in God, won’t be given back.  In transferring every debt life owes us to God—and God knows every single one of them—God saves them up for us and enlarges our eternal account accordingly.  Again, by faith.

How can we know this?

Think about these things that are by faith self-evident truths:

Life is real, and life is hard,
God is good, and God is a guard,
Pain is certain, and pain is torrid,
The way is spiritual when life is horrid.

I can do nothing about those who won’t hear this message spoken through the truth of reality throughout eternity.

Peace is possible in pain as we release our losses to God by a trust that every grief will be redeemed.  Because they are.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Even intimate relationships need peacemaking


So very many relationships don’t last the distance.  The all-too-common saddest situation is in the dividing.  Many of these broken relationships feature people broken by the conflict that shatters that once strong bond.

But it could be a lot different, if only one, to begin with, sees the value in peacemaking.  But the other must reciprocate for it to work.  Relationships work through reciprocation.

Peacemaking is the commitment and capacity 
to make peace in the presence of conflict.

~

Conflict is inevitable,
especially in intimate relationships.

Only by peacemaking is there hope to negotiate conflict directly.  And there’s only one way it works; through doing the inner work of honest reflection about our own contributions to conflict.

Where two people do this in any kind of close relationship, hey presto, there’s union of mind and heart!

CONFLICT AVOIDANCE AND AGGRESSION

Most people avoid conflict like the plague, so they go to many lengths to fawn in the face of difficulty.  Indeed, many fraught relationships are started just this way.  One or both cannot bring their partner or friend to loving short account.  On the other side of a knife’s edge is the other kind of response, where a partner or a friend aggresses, creating the initial cause of the conflict.  Usually, the other either meets the initial aggression with aggression or avoidance.  Rarely is it that the partner or friend can be a peacemaker by neither aggressing nor avoiding but by addressing.

To the original point, 50 percent of marriages end in divorce.  This doesn’t mean half of first marriages, because there are second and third marriages that end in divorce, and sadly more often.  But even within a long, enduring marriage there can still be much discontentment for the dysfunctional way conflict is handled.

NOT JUST MARRIAGES...

But it’s not just marriages that are ripped apart by controversy with disputes making their way into the public square.  Think of business partnerships that end belly up, best-of-friendships that sour, and work colleague relationships that slowly (or not-so-slowly) become toxic.  The closest of relationships bear the clearest risk that a contentious issue might come between them and separate them violently.  I’ve seen it so many times and, possibly like you, experienced it personally.

Conflict is handled by habit typically.  There’s a dynamic that is set up early in our relationships with others.  Those dynamics are tough to shift, because what’s first required is conscious awareness, then the courage to act to set new habits which are difficult to forge.

When you commence a relationship with someone winsome and charismatic, the last thing you expect when the shine wears off is a tyrant.  See how the most promising beginnings can herald red flags?

There is always a romance phase in every relationship, not just in coupled relationships.

DON’T OVERLOOK RED FLAGS – GENTLY CONFRONT THEM

In the romance phase, we typically overlook those things that will cause us concern and consternation when the relationships drops out of the clouds and lands with a thud on the ground.  Many times, the overlooking is hardly seeing it, or seeing issues and viewing them through rose-coloured glasses.

The commitment and capacity to make peace in conflict means red flags aren’t overlooked, but they are seen and gently confronted.  How else are we to know the other person’s responses before we’ve committed to the deepening of relationship?

Many of the most intimate relationships will only prosper if there’s the ability to talk truthfully about conflict.  This is the only way enduring relationships will not only survive but thrive.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

The gem of strength in weakness through honest authenticity


The gem of strength in weakness through honest authenticity

“Like alchemy, when an element combines with another, otherwise corrosive material to form a benign compound, so the very things that make us unapproachable (like rage or addiction) when combined with authenticity, actually makes us more approachable.”
—Peter Randell

Let’s unpick the wise truth set out above.  For those valiant enough to try it, especially those who are leaders, there’s a secret for growth unearthed in the absolutely paradoxical step of sharing our weakness, our guilt, our shame.

Honestly nothing comes close to authenticity for affording strength in bearing weakness.

Think of the sheer strength it takes to confess one’s temptations, fear, sadness, rage, etc.  One before another, as that which is corrosive to you when you keep it in, like poison, when it’s shared in trustworthy spaces, it gives life to the sharer and to the receiver alike.

Indeed, the receiver observes with their own heart, ears and eyes, that which could have eaten them away from inside, but now because of the other person’s authenticity, INVITES them to share also, and freedom is but a few moments away.

There’s no fear for judgement in sharing openly when another person’s gone first in declaring their struggle.

There’s no corrosive value left in a poison of a hidden struggle when it’s neutralised by the agent of truth.

There’s no power then for the accuser to have his way.  Weakness avowed takes strength and the good Lord honours that courage every time!

This brings life to the idea of “when I am weak, then I am strong.”  Do you know who uttered those incredibly bizarre words?  Yes, the apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 12:10.

Here’s where it matters.  When we’re weakest, we’re isolated, and from isolation the mind gets to work, and a sinkhole we begin to sink into.  But as soon as we sense the readiness to connect with another human being, that one also ripe for connection, together with a sprinkle of honest authenticity, that is sharing what is deeply true yet also shaming, life flows in like a river of peace.

What is true in the world of chemistry is also true psychologically through this sociological phenomenon:

Strong acids and alkalis, those chemicals that range to the extremes on both sides of a pH scale, are neutralised discretely by just the right select chemical to produce a harmless compound.

Think of indigestion and antacids.  Relief and comfort come from the sweet authenticity of the truth that’s required.  From the rising pain of the gut up to the trachea comes relief when that acid is neutralised.

Authenticity is the neutralising agent for all manner of maladies.

That’s the power of authenticity.  When you carry truth into your safe conversations, dialogue where truth is welcome, that truth empowers both of you.

One morsel of truth is enough to taste and see, 
freedom’s there in abundance, it’s there for you and me.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

7 Foundational Strategies for Holistic Mental Health Resilience


Before I even get started, I want to say that suffering poor mental health is no shame nor slight on the afflicted.  Indeed, it takes enormous strength to bear such a fierce battle, especially over the longer haul.

Anyone who’s suffered poor mental health (and I definitely have) has the ideal motivation to build upon their mental health resilience.

I’d define mental health resilience as the ability to ride the highs and lows of life in a way that prepares and plans proactively for good mental health as much as possible.

This article is not a definitive guide to mental health resilience, but it’s perhaps one place where a general synopsis starts.  These factors, sleep, exercise, diet, relationships, grief, insight, and faith are a good overall structure that you might find helpful.

I believe these seven factors are the most foundational keys in attaining and maintaining mental health resilience:

1.     Good Sleep

The broader corpus of health and medical science will say nothing is more foundational typically than good, sound sleep patterns.  And our own experiences attest to the value of good sleep.  Ideally adults have 7-8 hours sleep per night, which equals five portions of 90-minutes, cycles of gradually descending depth of sleep.  It’s important that full nights’ sleep are attained consistently, one night after another as a pattern as much as possible, because anytime we’re in ‘sleep debt’ it can take a long while before we don’t feel tired anymore.

Of course, poor mental health is a vicious cycle.  The presence of anxiety or depression usually comes with it disordered sleep/sleep disorders.  I know many people who struggle very significantly with their sleep, and for these my advice would be to learn how to nap and make use of opportunities to nap on a daily basis whenever you feel tired.

Here’s something I wrote years ago on Napping Benefits and Suggestions.  And if insomnia’s your problem, here’s something I wrote through personal experience in developing the technique of relaxing myself to sleep: Beating Insomnia – Getting to Sleep Using Your Mind.

2.    Good Exercise

For so many people, I know this is a truism—good exercise routines alone provide great mental health resilience value.  Exercise is not only enjoyable, releasing endorphins, but it leaves us with a sense of achievement, and the health benefits are vast.  It’s often done with others, too, so it helps us remain connected relationally and emotionally.  It’s never too late to start.  I’ve been a serious exercise devotee all my life, and I know the times I begin to run rough—after I slipped out of the habit of exercise or post-injury.  Vigorous exercise daily or every second day for at least 30 minutes gives best value for mental health resilience.

3.    Good Diet

For Westerners, for those in ‘blessed’ societies, much of the time, we’re cursed by the abundance of food, and particularly when we have issues with self-control, the first thing we lose control of is our diet.  Indeed, we might also give up every other ‘vice’, but we still need to eat, so diet can feel like the last frontier of health.

There is much internal serenity we gain from having a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, less carbohydrates, and pure proteins.  There’s also the issue of portion control, and the practice of eating more calories earlier in the day than later in the day.

It’s a fact that one of the leading causes of good physical health as we age is effective diet, and yet there are many direct and indirect links between physical health and psychological health.

4.    Good Relationships

Phew.  You’ve probably reached this point and thought, “All the above is hard enough, and now you’re telling me I’ve got to do something about this-or-that impossible relationship!”

The truth of it is we can only do what we can do—take responsibility for what is ours to own.  But peace in our relationships carries our mental health resilience to another level, simply because there’s an absence of stress because we’re resolved about how we’ll manage conflict with the persons concerned.

This is where peacemaking in relationships comes in.  Here is a A Flying 7-Minute Guide to Biblical Peacemaking.  The main principle of peacemaking is each person taking seriously their obligation to be accountable for their own contributions to conflict.  It does NOT mean being held accountable for other people’s contributions to conflict.

Wisdom instructs us to avoid divisive individuals, and though we can’t always avoid these people in our families and workplaces, wisdom again helps us avoid pouring gasoline on the flames of conflict.

Who is a divisive individual?  I define them as people who would rather point the finger at others and avoid being accountable for their behaviour than be honestly introspective and own and account for their contributions.

5.    Good Grief

This strategy for mental health resilience is about handling grief.  It’s that capacity to process loss, to face pain, to not ignore it or deny it, to not resent it, but to sit with it, because it can’t crush us.

Grief never feels good, but when you think about it, loss is everywhere, it comes into every person’s life, and therefore it’s unavoidable.

Can grief be good?  I think that when we hold enough space in our philosophy for life that grief might actually be good, we begin to take life’s invitation to plunge deeper into the meaning of life seriously.

I can tell you from personal experience that grief was actually the making of me when I was plunged full force into loss in 2003.  Same for 2014 and 2016.  Indeed, I really think that when grief is good, it keeps us connected to the deeper facets of life, and we can bear a great deal of vulnerability which makes us very much more empathetic.

6.    Good Insight

This is the ability to see the truth, especially our own truth as far as our impact on others is concerned.  Good insight is a blessing to good relationships.  It helps us see the truth others can see and it helps us live a bold life unafraid of the threats and able to embrace opportunities.

Fundamentally put, insight is what separates the mentally healthy of us from the version of us that cannot see all the goodness and blessedness of life.  If we struggle with cynicism, we may struggle with insight, but it’s just the same for people who struggle with idealism.

7.    Good Faith

There are all sorts of faith constructs in life.  The Christian context is one that I would call a good-faith construct in that it delivers to the believer faith in the grace and forgiveness of God, of hope beyond all despair, and of the command to love—an all-conquering love of God that overwhelms our sensitivities for fear, indifference, and hatred.

Good faith helps us in our mental health resilience because it’s bigger than the realities of life that threaten to consume us.  Look at the News, current affairs, social media, and we quickly be drawn into some negative emotional response (depression, rage, disgust, fear).

Simply put, good faith holds us in hope when all we can see is cause for despair.  The truth of it is we need faith in this life to ward against the inevitable stresses all of us face.

~

The fact is, you the reader may not resonate with all of this, but there might be something in this for you.  That’s my hope.  God bless.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

What is a Christian person of peace?


“There is no problem with the wider culture that you cannot see in the spades in the Christian Church.  The rot is in us, and not simply out there.  And Christians are making a great mistake by turning everything into culture wars.  It’s a much deeper crisis.” 
― Os Guinness

Anytime a Christian tells you that ‘you’ve’ got a moral problem, that you’re the one who needs to change, that you’re wrong!, you can know that they themselves are NOT following the God they claim is their Lord.

Jesus was always calling his disciples to humility, to get the log out of their own eye, and worry much less about the speck in the others’ eye.  It was the religious elite who judged everyone according to a human standard of the Law (613 rules), and Jesus condemned them for it, and by way of example, here’s Matthew 23:23 (NIVUK):

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin.  But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness.  You should have practised the latter, without neglecting the former.”

Our Christian world is still so full of teachers of the law and Pharisees.  And it will always be.  These don’t have the Kingdom in their heart, but their own malevolence and schemes.  They turn people away from the love of God.  They are abjectly misled.

Jesus never condemned a person in their struggle, and he deliberately spent time with the marginalised, not just as their teacher, but as their friend.  He overcame all the typical biases that we all struggle with, and only in his power can we overcome ours.

Jesus’ heart was for the lost, and that is each and every one of us, whether we’re ‘saved’ or not.  We never stop needing him.  That’s the point of faith.

The genuine person of faith in God is a person of peace, walking humbly with their God, knowing they’re no more special, capable for God, or learned spiritually than anyone else.

The real person of faith is a person of genuine constant spiritual reflection, continually turning back to God, able to empathise with their own struggles and others’ struggles constantly, and to attribute to those struggles good thoughts that lead to healthy responses.

The wisest of all insist on nothing and are truly at peace with life as it is, accepting that if God would change it, God will.  The true sage demands nothing of nobody, but they’re an instrument of God’s will, so they never need to get upset if things don’t go their way.

Persons of peace are a delight to be around, for they are fertile soil around which to grow, because they themselves are intrinsically and most interested in how God is growing them personally—because they walk humbly with their God.

Be around people who are strongly motivated to look up to the God who would guide, direct, inspire, and admonish them.  Be around people who have the heart to look within for evidence of error—not out of guilt or shame, but motivated and inspired to honour their Lord who they take seriously in following.

If we’re to strive for anything, it is to strive to be a person of peace, a gift of hope to all.