For the past few years, I’ve been unwell over the Easter period. Because Cystic Fibrosis is degenerative, every year I experience death that little bit more. This year in particular I’ve found myself often straining for breath, muscles tense, oxygen levels lower than normal, exhausted, everything in me crying out that this is not how life is meant to be. These past weeks and months have been a season of dying, a season of emptying, a season of letting go. And I know there’s more to come.
When I go through difficult patches, sometimes I find it hard not to feel fed up and, quite frankly, a bit cheated. Self-pity parties are all too easy. Suffering is painful and unhealthy inward focus comes naturally. And so I’m sure that it’s no accident that I’m often ill over Easter. Good Friday comes around and Jesus’ suffering is impossible to ignore. It only takes half a second to be reminded that I don’t suffer alone, that my suffering is nothing compared to His, and that He suffered so that one day I won’t have to suffer any more.
On that Friday afternoon, Jesus gave his all.
He was lifted up on a cross so that I could be lifted out of the bog of my sin and become my Father’s daughter.
He cried out ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ so that when I cry the same question, I can receive the answer, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’
He took His last strained breath so that when I take my last breath it won’t be the end of my life but a glorious beginning.
He died in darkness so that I can live in light, both now and forever.
One day this season of dying, of emptying and of letting go will culminate in the death of my body. But because of the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, I hear the ‘It is finished!’ cry of Jesus echoing through the ages and heralding the end of sin and suffering forever. What a Saviour!
Just over three years ago I was filling in application forms for my Blue Badge. It wasn’t the most pleasant of processes and I thought to myself, ‘At least I won’t have to do this again.’ I was pretty unwell and it seemed very unlikely that I would outlive my Blue Badge.
A few weeks ago my Badge was about to expire and so I sat down and filled out the forms for the second time.
And last month I celebrated the 10th anniversary of the day I was told that I’d probably live for another two to five years.
I’ll be honest, there have been several (OK, many) times throughout the last few years where I’ve thought that it would just be easier if I popped off (and it probably would have been). But here I am, 26 years old, with 22% lung function, able to live most of my life without extra oxygen and continually surpassing what I’m ‘meant’ to be able to do.
That, my friends, is called grace. God continues to be faithful and loving (despite how infrequently His plans for my life match up with my own!)
I am grateful indeed.
It’s been 4 years now. I think I’m meant to say that it’s all flown by so fast and I’ve loved every second. But you know that’s not the truth. In many ways these last 4 years have felt so long. I look back at our wedding pictures and it amuses me to see two very young people. I know that we are still young – at 25 and 26 years old we’re hardly ancients. But things are different now. We are older. I’m a lot more tired! We’ve read books and learned together. We’ve changed our minds on various topics and sometimes changed them back again. We’ve lived through better and worse, richer and poorer, sickness and health and we love and cherish so much more because of the journey.
I love learning with you. But I don’t have any easy answers. In fact, often times I have no answers at all. You know that. You’ve asked the questions and heard my silence. For me, learning that there aren’t very many easy answers was one of the hardest things about the last 4 years. It’s taken me years (and I’m still not too good at it) to start understanding that the silence and the ‘I don’t know’s are themselves valuable. We’ve sat in hospital rooms together in silence not knowing what to say or why this is happening again and yet some of those moments are among the most precious memories. In the silence and in the emptiness we have been filled. We’ve been poured out but God has never left us empty.
In my experience, the rain never quite stops. Sometimes it comes in tumultuous downpours and the sting upon sting of hundreds of raindrops hurling themselves at you feels like insult upon insult and just as you think that you can’t stand it any longer, the raindrops become tiny and the pitter patter of the shrunken droplets on your skin feels refreshing and almost comical. In that moment, don’t forget to look up because it’s then that you see the rainbow. That’s something you’ve taught me. You dear, oft-unrealistic optimist. ‘Hey Ruth, look at the rainbow! There’s always a rainbow.’ And you’re right. There is always a rainbow. There is always a promise of God. Creator God, Sustainer God, Redeemer God, Eternal God. Always a plan. Always a promise. Always a rainbow.
In these ways and in many others, you have been a beautiful picture of Christ’s love for his church. Your love for your broken bride is astonishing and wonderful. You are kind, gentle, giving, loving, godly, strong and your jokes are hilariously awful.
I never thought we’d be celebrating our 4th wedding anniversary. And yet, here we are. Praise God!
I love you, David.
In recent months I’ve read a fair number of blog posts extolling the beauty in ordinary moments. I’ve written a few posts in the last couple of years along those lines myself. But I’ve been finding that, in my own life, ordinary moments often don’t feel special and sometimes I struggle to find loveliness in the mundane goings on of life.
Cystic Fibrosis is not a lovely disease (what disease is?!). My daily physiotherapy is distinctly unlovely as I have to clear out whatever mucus there is in my lungs. My posture exercises are to stop me from becoming even more of a hunchback than I am already. And you should see my purple face after a violent coughing fit! Those are not moments to pin on my Pinterest board. No filter is going to make those into Instagrammable pictures.
Let me make myself clear. I wholeheartedly approve and applaud the attitude behind the ‘ordinary is beautiful’ movement. I’m a card carrying member of that community. There is nothing inherently wrong with blog posts, Instagram accounts and Pinterest boards filled with gorgeous images of simple things and descriptions of ordinary moments. But personally I find that those beautifully arranged vignettes and eloquent word pictures can make me forget something very important: Ordinary is allowed to be just ordinary. Yet in my pursuit to celebrate the ordinary, I sometimes fall into the trap of not actually celebrating the ordinary but celebrating the edited version of ordinary that I’m comfortable with sharing on Facebook.
The beauty in the mundane is very real. I can vouch for that. It’s found in accepting a calling that won’t make you wealthy or famous. It’s found in being genuinely thankful for your day’s food, whether it looks good through a camera lens or not. It’s found in knowing that there is a God who has planned your life such that where you are right now (be it awake in the middle of the night, clearing up after your children yet again, in a hospital room, all alone somewhere etc) is the absolute, number one, best place for you to be. But when I feel inadequate because ‘her’ mundane seems so much more beautiful than mine, I’ve missed the point of it all.
It’s a simple task to love the lovely but maybe your ordinary seems just a bit too, well, ordinary. That’s ok. Put down the camera and stop looking for the short term, little picture beauty. You might have to look at this ordinary moment in a long term, big picture way. You might not see the beauty until you look back from the New Creation. That’s ok. Sometimes we have to learn to let the ordinary be ordinary.
I came across this homily of Toby Sumpter’s when looking for something to read today. It is astonishing. Please do take 10 minutes out of your day to be blessed and refreshed by it.
Here’s a taster:
‘And do you remember that day when our God stood in our place? Do you remember that day when our husband received their taunts and blows? Do you remember when He stood there for us? Do you remember when they lifted Him up, when they drove stakes into His hands and feet, when then crowned our King with thorns? When He hung there looking at us like a knight, like a hero, like a bridegroom watching His bride come down the aisle?
And we beheld Him, despised and rejected, and we hid our faces, hating Him. Surely He carried our sorrows. He was wounded for us. He was afflicted for us. And He did not open His mouth. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
This is God our Lover: the God who is Love, the God who ever loves: the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. He is the overflow of love, the excess of love, the triumph of love. How do we say that? How do we say that love? How do we sing it? How does His song go?
It’s something like this:
My song is love unknown
My Savior’s love to me
Love to the loveless shown
That we might lovely be.’
Today, I feel empty.
As I’ve become more unwell I’ve gone from having a fairly busy life to a very quiet one. There are lots of things I’d like to do to fill my time and my mind but my body simply won’t allow it. I used to enjoy my job, my friends and my ability to go out and do what I liked. All those things form a part of our identities. And when they are stripped away, I feel as if there is nothing left.
Emptiness is a feeling to which I’ve become accustomed. I often sit in my living room wondering what I’m meant to be doing. What is the point of all this? The BBC adaptation of ‘Wives and Daughters’ has one of my favourite quotes: “I try to say ‘God’s will be done’ but it’s harder to be resigned than happy people think.”
It’s ok to feel empty. It’s not pleasant. It’s not the way things should be. But it’s not necessarily sinful. The important thing is to remember and believe that you won’t stay empty. Our God is not a God of emptiness. He’s not a God of vacuums. He’s a God of cups that overflow and life lived to the full.
You may be looking toward this Christmas with a sadness or an emptiness. But know this: Jesus came down to earth, he emptied himself, he became nothing so that we don’t have to stay empty and so that we can be somebody. I don’t know when and I don’t know how but I can promise you that if you give God your emptiness He will fill you up in ways you’ve never dreamed. And if you give God your feeling of insignificance He will remind you that He loved you so much He sent His beloved Son so that you could bear the very name of Christ.
Emptiness is not the end. It may be part of our story but we have been given this emptiness so that when we are filled, we will know Love more deeply than ever before.
Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but emptied Himself,
taking the form of a bond-servant,
and being made in the likeness of men.
Being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled Himself
by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
For this reason also, God highly exalted Him,
and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow,
of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:6-11 (NASB)
It’s been a while. I’ve been touched by how many people have noticed my blog absence and asked how I am. Thank you.
Truthfully, it’s been an odd year.
I’ve asked so many questions and received very few answers. I’ve realised yet again that even without answers, questions still need to be asked. God gave me a brain and He wants me to use it.
I’ve listened to so many sermons and lectures and read so many books. I’ve realised yet again that while I love book learning and facts, they aren’t the answer to everything. I don’t think that I’ve learned a lot about things over the last year. I don’t know that many more facts than I did this time last year. But I think that I’ve learned more about how to be me.
My calling and role over the last few years has been hard to define. It’s been a mixture of doing without things I would like and having to deal with things I would rather not have to. I suppose I would now attempt to define it like this: My calling and role is to learn how to live by being rather by doing.
There are two Ruths. There’s the real one and the pretend one in my head. The pretend Ruth is awesome. She has boundless energy and is super productive. She has a thriving career and her house is always clean and tidy. She has a brilliant memory and can discuss any subject with knowledge and ease.
And then there’s the real Ruth. She becomes exhausted by having someone over for coffee. She is 25 and career-less and her neat-freak tendencies are constantly frustrated by mess and dirt. She used to have a brilliant memory but she can’t remember where it went. And as for discussions filled with knowledge and conducted with ease, she’s scared of talking to more than two people at a time.
If I could do things, if I had enough energy, I might be able to become someone more like the pretend Ruth. But my job is to be me. The real Ruth. The Ruth that God made me to be. The Ruth that I am. I’ve been learning how truly to inhabit the real Ruth. Learning to understand my motivations, my desires, my loves, myself. It’s not easy. The grass really is always greener. But I think it’s necessary. If I’m going to understand my role and my calling, I need to understand and to accept who I am. I need to learn how to be me.
Today is being difficult.
I’m just small me.
And I’m finding today a struggle.
It’s not even lunch time and I just want to give up. I wake up tired and spend hours doing the things I have to do just to keep on living. It seems like a cruel irony that the life I gain by doing my treatments, taking my medications and eating well just gets spent again on those same things. Round and round. And for what?
I’ve read about joy in suffering and living with a bright sadness and it sounds so good. But often the people who write these things forget to tell you about the days when it’s just too hard. The days when you sit and wonder why this is a good idea. The days when the sadness seems darker than anything you’ve known before. The days when you’re living the middle of the Psalm and the praise of that beautiful last verse is so far from your lips. Those days are so real. Pain is part of the package.
One of my favourite film quotes (from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) says, ‘Everything will be alright in the end…and if it is not alright, then it is not yet the end.’ It’s not meant to be Christian but it fits perfectly.
Today is not alright.
But today is absolutely not the end.
There’s more to come. There’s better to come. There’s joy to come.
And that’s enough to keep me going.
For most of my life I didn’t think I’d see a day of marriage let alone two years of it. It’s funny how wrong a person can be.
I was never into the idea of being in love but that goes to show how little I know about real love. Love is not about the moments that will move an audience to tears on a big screen. It’s not about the pre-packaged hearts and flowers. After all, the greatest act of love was a poor man dying on a cross.
This year, more than any before, I’ve seen the beauty of love that persists even in difficult and dark places.
The port, the PEG and having oxygen have been different challenges than we had before and yet David’s love for me has seen past those.
I can do less and less and simple things tire me faster but David has adapted to that. Instead of the active things he would like to do, he chooses a film or something that I can easily do. As he put it, ‘It’s ok because though I’d like to do something more active, I want to do what you can do.’
I’ve been blessed with a man who not only loves me but wakes up every day and chooses me. Jesus said that to find your life, you need to lose it. David’s choosing to love me is a giving up and a losing of his earthly life. My health affects so many things for us both. I was given CF but David chose it. And as we lose our lives, as we go through life with so few of the things by which people measure success, we find life in places we never knew it existed.
This year we’ve been able to count CF among our blessings. This year we’ve learned that God really does work through people who are weak. This year we’ve fitted our God-given roles that little bit better. This year we’ve grown-up in ways we didn’t even realise we could.
Our third year starts today and we trust and pray that, over the next 365 days, our marriage and our lives will yell ‘Jesus is King!’ louder than ever.
I love you, David.
My attitude to Cystic Fibrosis has changed a great deal over the past few years. It’s been influenced by the questions that people have asked me, the way I’ve seen others behave, the assumptions that people make about disabled people and through my deeper understanding of the gospel.
I used to think of CF as an evil, external thing. But I don’t think that’s helpful anymore.
I need to be able to see it as a result of the fall.
But I also need to see it as a gift that was chosen for me before time began and was given to me by the Father who knows how to give good gifts to his children.
I need to see it as one of the main shapers of my life.
I need to see who I might have been without it.
I need to see how it has helped to change David for the better.
I need to see the eternal perspective it has helped us live with.
I need to see the people we’ve been able to meet and chat to because of it.
I need to see the lessons in patience and trust and many, many other things.
I need to see how many times CF has forced us to our knees in prayer.
I need to be able to thank God for CF and mean it.
Of course, CF and its implications often make me and my family very sad. That’s ok. CF is not going to be in the New Creation. It’s a result of sin. But it is a very real part of me and who I am today. And having had it in this world, it will affect who I am in the next.
I think it is so important that I don’t see CF as this thing that my doctors and I are fighting. That image takes away all of the good things. It changes me from a suffering person, helpless and needy before my God, to a person who, empowered by modern medicine and my own strength, can make it through illness.
I pray that I would get better but my job is absolutely not to spend my life fighting to keep my earthly body alive as long as possible. It is to spend my life in a way that shapes and beautifies my eternal soul. Of course, my body is important. David and I do make decisions that mean a longer life and more suffering. It’s against the gospel message just to give up. But the longer I live, the more I am convinced that an aggressive attitude to our illnesses and diseases is not a faithful one. When I am aggressive towards the tool in the hand of the Master Craftsman, then I miss His ultimate vision, I forget the necessity of every blow and I also fail to see the kindness in His eyes.
Living with a disease is not easy. I’ll be the first to admit that. But being able to focus on the life-changing work that God is doing rather than on the body-destroying decay that disease brings is vital.
If I see CF as an enemy, that attitude is not only likely to stifle my thankfulness but also to turn me away from the gospel path of rejoicing in weakness. I want to spend my life learning ever more that strength truly is found in weakness and that, thanks to God and His use of CF, I get stronger every day in the ways that really matter.