On chickens pushing shopping trolleys and flowers in dresses: Guest Post by Connie Hunter

I am honoured to share a guest post from Connie Hunter as part of this series exploring small things. The series is a collection of stories and voices paying attention to ‘small’, in our culture of ‘Big’. Connie writes from the hard place of unexpected loss.  You can read more of her words and thoughts on grief at her incredible blog Faith & Fortitude. Her writing will make you ache, think and even smile.

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When someone dies, there is a culturally accepted notion that certain events will be a real struggle for those left behind. It’s a no brainer. These times are significant for a reason, so it stands to reason that they be met with a certain amount of trepidation and a sense of bracing oneself.

So what do I know of this? My husband Craig died very suddenly in December 2014…he was just 30 years old. His unexpected departure would eventually be classified as Sudden Adult Death and our little family was turned upside down in an instant. I was 16 weeks pregnant at the time with our second child—we already had a 2 and a half year old daughter.

Suddenly, I was hurtled into a timeline of “firsts”: Christmas Day (a mere 5 days after he died), New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, the birth of our son (!), our wedding anniversary, our daughter’s 3rd birthday, and so on. Today, 24th August, is his birthday. I still await my own 30th birthday, and the anniversary of his death.

I faced (and face) these days head-on, fully anticipating how difficult they will be. The gravity of these kind of days will always mean that my friends and family stand closely with me, anticipating the difficulties that may come. Very often their support is what carries me through those days.

And yet, while those days are very tricky…they’re not the moments that take your breath away, because the pain is anticipated. For that particular emotional sensation, we must look to the small things.

The seemingly insignificant moments that cannot be prepared for. You can’t arm yourself against these times, because by their very nature they are uneventful, not very important, ordinary.

The first time I signed a birthday card with just my own name after a decade of our names being side by side. A letter that comes through in the post addressed to “Ms” instead of “Mrs” (ouch), having to tick a box that declares your relationship status as “widowed”…these are all the firsts that I was so very unprepared for. No one warns you about these moments.

Even something simple like doing a food shop could render me utterly flummoxed, as I tried to reconstruct the eating habits of a decade…it turns out cooking for one is far more complicated and cumbersome than cooking for two (let’s not get into our picky eater daughter in this post). What used to be a delight, transformed into a chore. No one warns you about these moments.

Watching a tv series that you both enjoyed and realising that its plotline is fairly complex and requires a bit of chat-along (“Who is that guy again? Is that her dad? Do you think he’s bluffing?”)…turns out… another small thing that hit me hard. I would find myself texting friends saying “Please tell me you’re up to date with <insert tv show> because I need to talk about it!” No one warns you about these moments.

How silly they are, compared to weighty days like anniversaries and birthdays.

But they are the everyday reminders of the new world order. A new world order where everything sucks. Chinese Water Torture of the heart, because these things don’t stop. And they will keep on coming for the rest of my days.

I could spend my time living in fear of these “small” moments…sometimes they can have the power to propel my thoughts to quite dark places.

I tick “widowed” in a box and suddenly I am transported to how I’ll be lonely forever, how my children won’t have a father, how much I miss him, etc. How will we survive, practically, emotionally, spiritually? What do I need to do to make sure my kids are ok? How can I make this better?! Frenzied thinking…all inspired by a moment of beurecratic box-ticking. This was just supposed to be the simple task of filling out a form!

My daughter loves a particular story in The Jesus Storybook Bible – it’s called The Singer, an interpretation of The Sermon on the Mount, from Matthew 6, 9; and Luke 12. She calls it the chicken story because there are some pretty nifty illustrations of sparrows pushing shopping trolleys (forgive her lack of ornithological knowledge, she’s 3).

The heading of the actual Bible passage, and the jist of the story is “Do Not Worry”. Of all the tales in that Bible of hers, this is the story we must read over and over on her request. For her innocent little heart, it’s for the bird pictures and the absurdity of the part where it talks about flowers wearing dresses. But I like to think that The Spirit prompts her to request this story again and again because it’s the one her mummy needs to hear, on days where she is weary from all the small things heaping on her heart so heavily that she can’t bear to even read the Bible herself. To hear the Creator say “Do Not Worry…do not be afraid, I’ve got this”. I’ll not put that down to a coincidence.

And so when I feel like small things may drown me, God edifies other small things for me. A simple bedtime story is transformed into a powerful message of encouragement over all our lives from the Creator of the universe. “Do not worry…do not be afraid, I’ve got this.”

Perhaps the next time one of those small things threaten to take my heart captive, I will think of chickens (“chickens”) pushing shopping trolleys and flowers wearing coats and remember that God is Lord over all of these things. He cares about how I feel in those moments and he wants me to come to him, to seek first his kingdom. Easy, it will not be. But it’s an offer that I’ve been given, and I want to take it.

connieConnie Hunter is mum to two little ones, and graphic designer/branding consultant at Studio Stereo, the company she founded with her husband Craig in 2008. She is (unfortunately) a member of the very niche group of people widowed under 30, as Craig tragically died in December 2014. She blogs about her experiences and living with grief here.

[Read the series so far here]

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The Song of the Blackbird

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Liv and I dander home from the park, and the ice-cream shop, and on days like this it seems to me like nothing’s changed.

There is something about their childhood that makes me feel like I am going through mine again. But this time, I know to pay attention.

It’s a little bit like that film, About Time, where Tim lives his day over again. “The first time with all the tensions and worries that stop us noticing how sweet the world can be, but the second time noticing.”

*

There is something about the dandering. Something about the dandelion and daisy collecting, the hopping up and down curbs, the having to walk along any wall (or cobbled edge that passes for a wall) that makes me feel like nothing’s changed.

*

I go for a walk with my mum along the towpath and the teenagers who emerge as we enter are a flash back to my youth – faded black jeans and checked shirts and nirvana t-shirts, boys with scruffy fringes poking out under black beanies.

Along the towpath it could be 10, 20 years ago. I know we have iPads and Amazon Prime in our homes, but you can’t see them here. I know we are filled with dispirited nostalgia sometimes, convinced that everything’s changed. I know our landscapes often seem unrecognisable, but not today.

“Hear that sound?”, mum asks. Blackbirds singing.  “It reminds me of when I was a girl, walking in Barnett’s Park on summer Sunday evenings after church.”

Along the towpath it could be 10, 30, 50 years ago.

*

“Tig, you’re it!” they shout as they emerge from the door of nursery, dancing around each other’s feet, bonding through those ancient words we once shouted too. After Liv has chased her chums to their cars we go for a walk among the allotments. A dander. Interspersed with bursts of Tig. The girls are sweaty and grubby and beautiful. There is a blog post forming in my head, I should get a picture of them here in the long grass and the buttercups.

I think of these places, these little pockets of grass and wild yellow flowers, where it feels like nothing’s changed. I think of these places where I feel the gift of childhood all over again, and I realise I don’t need a photograph.

These sights and smells and sounds and songs get captured anyway. I let them run, like my mum let me run, no camera in sight. I let them be wildly beautiful, just for me.

I let them be.

*

We are filled with dispirited nostalgia sometimes, convinced that everything’s changed, maybe ruined. But do you hear that? The song of the blackbird. Let it remind you of those summer Sunday evenings, but also, listen to it now. We can’t travel back but we still get to live, to dander, on these extraordinary, ordinary days.

“And in the end I think I’ve learned the final lesson from my travels in time; and I’ve even gone one step further than my father did: The truth is I now don’t travel back at all, not even for the day, I just try to live every day as if I’ve deliberately come back to this one day, to enjoy it, as if it was the full final day of my extraordinary, ordinary life.”

[Tim, About Time]

Small Things: Self-Pity Bender

I love Tory Stirling‘s voice – both at my kitchen table and on the internet.  Tory responds to life with her whole heart, and mind.  I was so glad when she started writing earlier this year – I see so much of myself in her honesty, yet Tory doesn’t leave you in her messy kitchen or anxious mind, she is always listening to what God would say, instead.  And I always need to hear that.  I’m excited to share this post from her for our ‘Small Things’ series:

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My mum called round quite early one morning this week. Two of my kids were sick and so she kindly offered to take my eldest girl to school. We were enjoying some idle chit-chat when my little boy Noah knocked his bowl of CoCo Pops right off the table. It smacked against the wall and hit the floor with a splat. Chocolate milk and little smushy puffs of wet rice – everywhere.

And I tried really hard not to freak out or go mental, because my mum was there and I want her to think I’ve got this, that I’m in control.  I want her to think I’m not a nutcase who wails like a banshee at her kids first thing in the morning. But it’s really hard. Because I’m tired, my very bones feel sore from lack of sleep. There’s runny noses and coughs and dirty school jumpers and sticky floors and my slippers have giant holes in them…

And that’s when I hear it – perhaps I feel it – the darkness settling into my heart and mind.

‘Is this really good enough? Is this the best you’ve got? This job you are doing, this morning, today – it’s not really good enough is it?

And yeah, my husband is a fireman, which in the most part is really great. The shift work means he’s off a lot and we have time to hang out. But the pay-off is the night shifts.

There are times I really enjoy the quiet and the space and my own company.  But mostly, I sort of hate it.

I miss the presence of having another adult in the house. I miss the noise he makes (so much noise!). And sometimes when his night shifts approach I feel a fear creeping up on me. It’s not really a fear of intruders -after seven years of weekly night shifts I am kind of over that now.

It’s actually a fear of having the three kids on my own.

See, I worry about them wakening up. And never going back to sleep.  I worry they’ll get really sick and I won’t know what to do. I worry they’ll have a full hissy fit or total meltdown during the night and wake up our neighbours. I worry about how all this lack of sleep will ruin the next day and how it’ll all be my fault.

I have a fear that anything less than a full night’s sleep will mean my performance as a mum is flawed, rubbish, poor.  So I need everyone to sleep.  All night. Which, based on the ages of my three kids, is a tough order, not to mention absurd! I know this!

But when you start to believe the lies that fear and insecurity whisper in your ear, this is what happens – you go a little bit nuts. Rational thoughts leave you and they are replaced with the crazy.

Whilst out running the other day (totally! – it’s like Forrest Gump with pink Nikes and a swishy ponytail) I saw this billboard for McCain Oven Chips with a tagline reading ‘Teatime – where the good stuff happens’. There’s this teenager whispering something to his mum at the table and the scene looked quite jolly and meaningful and civilised. And as I ran on I thought – Mr McCain, teatime in our house is NOT where the good stuff happens. Teatime is often a battleground, willing everyone to just stay on their chairs or eat just one more pea. It’s where the main aim of the evening becomes keeping our juice in the cup or to just stop the banging, stop squirting red sauce on absolutely everything, stop spreading dinner on the table, stop making each other cry.

And yes, of course I know the reason for this behaviour. I know this is not a reflection on my inabilities as a parent. I know ‘this too shall pass’ etc etc.  But still, the fact remains, as I ran along that road these are the words I carried with me – ‘Teatime in your house is not good enough’.

So these little events seem like nothing but actually they culminate in a self-pity bender and I wind up thinking like this;

I am only as good as the teatime bliss I can pull off.
I am only as good as the peaceful night’s rest experienced in my house.
I am only as good as my accident prone son allows me to be.

The question ‘Are you good enough?’ can really mess with my head. I can literally wake up in the morning and feel the weight of it. Before I even put my feet on the floor. On the outside, I look no different. But inside, in my innermost being, there is a battle taking place, where the darkness is trying to wipe out the light

I’ve heard the question enough times now to recognise it, I know it’s out to steal my joy, stop me from flourishing and destroy me.

And it seems like there’s a choice. A choice to agree with the darkness or to choose to walk in the Spirit. It’s a Spirit of love and power and freedom. When I walk that way, there is such light and God reigns supreme and even at my very worst, when the failure and flaws are so very blatant and ugly – God says I still belong, God says I am held and loved and this, my friends, can outshine any darkness. The words of God can speak louder than any of the lies I encounter.

The words of life and freedom are spoken over me everyday.

But often I have to make a choice to lean in and listen. I have take steps to cultivate a rhythm that enables my heart to be receptive. And this is the tricky part, there is no doubt. Some days it’s like a fog descends and it’s lonely, stumbling around and straining for the truth. But even then, I’m not on my own- the Spirit always comes, always whispers, is always for me. And this is the heart of a Father who loves his daughter, in all of her mess– relentlessly whispering the truth, repeatedly extending His hand of grace and lovingly inviting her to walk with Him.

What good is this truth if I don’t choose to embrace it? In James 2 he talks about learning all the right words but never doing anything, ‘just merely talking’. I read somewhere that most good things have been said already- you just need to live them.

I don’t want a faith that knows the light, has experienced the light and yet allows the darkness to get a foothold. I don’t want a faith that reads the books, writes the articles, listens to the podcasts and just absent-mindedly nods along.

I want a faith that when faced with a battle it declares the truth.

I want faith that walks into a room and the atmosphere changes.

I want a faith that lives what it sings.

I want a faith that outshines any darkness.

toryTory Stirling is an ordinary mama finding extraordinary freedom in being honest.  Motherhood has taught her to recognise the value in small things and celebrate the small victories- that maybe a life of faith that finds significance in the small, is no small thing at all. She blogs at shelivesloved.wordpress.com


(Read the series so far here)

Small: Guest Poem

The first guest post in this series is a beautiful poem written by my friend Cherith. It is dedicated to William L. Knipe, a man of few words.

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Small

When your world suddenly gets overwhelming
When small tasks seem too hard.
When the small glimmer of hope you once had has gone…..
and the grasp of his big hand releases, to leave a small hand dangling…..
You
feel
small.
Your heart is smashed into small pieces.
So, you start with the small things,
you get up, you get dressed.
You eat a small bowl of cereal,
have a small cup of tea.
You take small steps.
You claim a small victory.
And somewhere inside your small heart a small voice says…
Small is sometimes doing your all.
Small
is
all
you
have
to
do
today.

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Cherith Boyle has been a music teacher for twenty years. A recent move to teach in Special Education has been transforming for Cherith in deepening her capacity to believe in the impossible and to rediscover the joy of small things. Cherith plays the harp and piano and enjoys writing music and poetry. Her instrumental music has been commissioned for TV and Film and her choral music performed in the UK and Ireland. To date Cherith has written 3 musicals and produced two CDS that feature her own original songs and instrumentals. www.cherithboyle.com


[Read the series so far here]

small things

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Repetition, alliteration, the rule of 3, rhetorical questions, comparatives, superlatives, imperatives, celebrity endorsement, scientific language, facts, opinions.

I am teaching advertising techniques to my year 12’s, all of us students of persuasion.   The terms annoy them, but they get what’s behind them: how to attract attention, be eye-catching, sound better than the competition, offer something people want, at the right price. New! Improved! Don’t miss out!

We are all students of persuasion, not just in the classroom.

Have something to offer, be worth it, choose well, be chosen, be noticed, don’t miss out.

Persuade others (and your own self) of the validity of your career choice, your parenting techniques, your religious beliefs… of how you spend your free time, and your money, of what you read.

Be persuaded – that this is how to live, parent, love, practice faith, organise your day, spend your money, use your gifts, climb the ladder or give yourself away. It’s exhausting.

“Tell me, what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Mary Oliver asks us, and I panic.

I panic and I listen to all the voices, to the imperatives from the pulpit and on the internet and from my great-aunt.

I can’t answer Mary Oliver’s vital question when being shouted at, seduced or rally-called. I don’t do well in environments that praise the Big, the Mega, the Best. I don’t do well when I strive for Important, or measure myself up against it.

This is partly to do with my personality, and we are all different. I have learnt to value ‘small’ in the same way I have learnt to value slow, quiet and gentle. There is something in the word small that makes me feel deeply at home. It is an authentic, honest place where I don’t strive to be someone else. It’s like the E.E.Cummings quote that “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” For me, that person is small (it’s wee frizz).

You may find who you really are represented in another word, but I think there are small things worth valuing for all of us – things we sometimes miss when we’re looking for Big. There are small places that we don’t choose, that turn out to have value in our journey… and there are small places some people do choose that are totally counter to our culture of Big Things, of growth and status and drive.

I thought about doing a Series around this, and then I wondered, is it even possible to have a Blog Series about ‘small things’ ? Aren’t the most valuable small things often hidden, private, offline?

I think a lot of them are.

They are the stories told around kitchen tables, not on Facebook. They are private text messages. They are emails prefaced with ‘this is not for sharing’. They are treasured photographs in shoeboxes under the bed.

They are time spent with the broken, the brave, the dying: time we need to debrief on our own or with a trusted friend. They are glasses raised in living rooms, not stats booming on our blogs.

Much of valuing small, for me, is about valuing life away from this laptop screen.

But I come here, sometimes, to write and I come to the internet, sometimes, to read. And this year, when I do that, I want to explore ‘small things’ and to make space for the ordinary and the unlikely and the  upside down – just the stories we can share.


[Read the series so far here]