Tag Archives: Bible

Veil of Tears 86: Second Fiddle

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“Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, “It is because the LORD has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.” Genesis 29:32 NIV

Yesterday we talked a little about polygamy, and the misery it caused to so many biblical women. One of the reasons of course is that it hurts to feel you are less than someone else, particularly to feel less loved. This happens in the sibling rivalry we have also looked at, and in every possible human relationship and community there is potential for someone to feel overlooked, second best, last in the pile.

One of the wonderful things about knowing God is that he loves us all with an equal fervour. Like the portrayal of God in William P. Young’s book “The Shack”, where the Lord  speaks of each person mentioned by saying, “Oh yes, I am especially fond of x.” God has no favourites in that sense, she is equally besotted by each one of us, exactly as it should be (and hopefully usually is) with the way parents love each of their children.

Where this goes wrong, and there is a favourite, or where a husband or wife prefers someone else (or even some activity) to their spouse, there is a deep soul-wounding that is very hard to heal. Adultery is incredibly painful for the one cheated on. It is an action that says, “your pain means nothing next to my pleasure” and that is horrendously selfish. Marriages can recover of course, but trust is a terrible thing to break.

A golden son or daughter overshadowing another sibling and being treated very differently affects self-worth in terrible and long-term ways, resulting in spoiled narcissists on the one hand, and those who will struggle all their lives with believing their own worth on the other.

Positive mirroring, love, valuing and treasuring is what we all need, from parents and spouses, and what we all equally need to give out. We do not need to be “top dog” or the alpha male or female, just to know that we are enough as we are and beloved without having to compete with anyone else for the honour of affection, or the keeping of vows.

With the Lord, we only have to be, and this can give us the confidence we need to worry less about our place in anyone else’s esteem or affections. It doesn’t necessarily stop those situations like Leah’s being painful, but it does mean that there is a deeper and more reliable love that can be a big part of our lives, helping to heal the pain of feeling second best.

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”1 Peter 5:7 NIV

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

Veil of Tears 85: Polygamy

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Abraham had taken another wife, whose name was Keturah.” Genesis 25:1 NIV

Whatever you may think of the furore around same sex marriages, there is huge precedent in the Scripture for polygamy and if we stuck to the Old Testament patriarchs we wouldn’t have too much trouble arguing for its return. Joseph Smith did exactly that of course very successfully within Mormonism. So many of the men in the Bible took more than one wife, and the richer they were, the more they had, as though women were indeed chattels, possessions, trophies. Solomon in his wisdom had over 300 wives and concubines, but more often than not, it was two or three.

The trouble caused was endless and deeply painful, and quite clearly patriarchal, for there are no instances of women taking more than one husband. It begins, as every mistreatment of a human being or animal, with those with souls being taken for things. In Genesis 2, when the human being (“ha’adam”) is created male and female, Adam and Eve recognise one another as equal halves, as one flesh, neither one subordinate to the other.

Under Mosaic Law, adultery and coveting of another man’s wife are both such important rules for living that God gave two of the ten commandments over to them.

But when a people or an entire gender become seen or defined by those who enforce the rules as less than, other, lower down, not as human, they can be used, manipulated, abused, downtrodden, and even made to partake in their own oppression. If it serves the purposes of men, women can become disposable, replaceable or even part of a collection. More offspring, more pleasure, more variety, more power, these are strong motives to bend or break God’s moral code.

But over and over again we also see the pain and confusion of women feeling as though they need to compete for the love of their husbands. That was never part of the plan. It leads to a smaller existence for both man and wife, than God wanted for us. Thankfully, monogamy has long been the accepted norm in western society, but there are far more “open relationships” and certainly serial relationships now, and in many other cultures, such as tribal Africa, it is still commonplace for a man to take more than one wife as a sign of status. I come at this from my own cultural and religious standpoint of course, and I am sure a lot of those wives are happy and would defend the system. But I see from the biblical accounts that this causes deep jealousies and competition between women, often sisters, and that seems humiliating and wrong from my belief that men and women were made for equal partnerships.

How can it be right for a male chief to take a teenage bride in addition to the wives he already has? What possible hope is there for the redemption of God’s Edenic plan for two halves to become one where that kind of inequality is ingrained and implemented? There will always be a Leah who is heartbroken, a Peninnah who is jealous, a Hannah who feels less than whole, an Abigail (clearly David’s equal) who deserves better than to simply become another of the King’s concubines.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

 

Veil of Tears 84: Unfairness

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“..that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Matthew 5:45 NIV

It’s not fair! We shout out more often than as adults would care to admit, albeit often silently and to ourselves. But a lot of our prayers, whilst they may be couched in other language, are about telling God how he isn’t treating us fairly. Lord, I really really want to be able to afford a holiday, we say whilst behind gritted teeth we are thinking, why can so and so have a holiday and not me, I’m just as good a person as them, why do they get all the good stuff. Am I doing something wrong? It’s so unfair.

And of course, we do the same with more serious problems too. I do it myself. I wonder why other people have been healed from M.E. and I haven’t yet. I wonder why other people have found a job after redundancy, and my husband hasn’t yet. I wonder why a family member has been diagnosed with an illness I can do nothing about, and everything in me screams, IT’S NOT FAIR!! But fairness is not a kingdom concept. We only have to look at the parable of the vineyard workers to see that God will have mercy on whom he will have mercy. God promises to be just, he does not promise to treat us all the same. And there are reasons for that, and the main one is that we aren’t all the same.

I read a book about counselling once, and the writer told an anecdote about a home for boys who had been expelled from (usually more than one) public school (my friends across the pond, read private school). These were kids used to privilege but often lacking in emotional support. The writer witnessed what seemed two strangely different encounters of boys with the very wise founder of the institution. One boy came to him distraught because his piano was not performing adequately, pleading for a new one. The request was granted. Then another boy came in asking for a new football because he’d lost the old one. The request was denied. When the boys had gone, the writer said something along the lines of, but that’s unfair, the cost of a football is so small, and you’ve said yes to ordering the other child a Steinway!

But the first boy was a musical prodigy whose whole life and future was centred around playing the piano, he practised diligently and he was genuinely distressed that his instrument was not pitch perfect, unlike his hearing. The headmaster recognised his request as a genuine need. The second boy had kicked about ten footballs over into the neighbour’s garden already, and was only asking for a replacement to get attention so he could do it again. No, said the master, the boy must learn that this is not acceptable behaviour.

When it comes to prayer requests, God deals with us likewise as individuals. Even when our request seems reasonable and for our own good, the timing of the answer must be entrusted to the one who knows us best. I believe God wants me well. But I have to trust that he wants to journey me to wellness in his timing and his way, and that this is also best for me. I want healing now, but I will never accuse God of withholding anything good from me, it is not his nature. Nor will I lay on myself the burden of the lies of unworthiness. It is simply that God know me best and he knows better. And I will trust him, and I will wait, and I will try my best to silence the voices that tell me it’s not fair, because I know my Lord is just and he is kind, and that in this temporal realm, we all have to deal with the weather, come rain or shine.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

82: Bullying

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Because the LORD had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the LORD, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat.” 1 Samuel 1:6-7 NIV

It seems right to think about yesterday’s text from Peninnah’s point of view as well, since we might argue that being a bully is just as much a way of suffering in our human condition as being the victim of such behaviour. Bullies are suffering in a way that causes them to inflict pain. More often than not, I wonder if they feel disenfranchised or impotent in some way, so that they desire to gain power or a sense of belonging. Bullies often work in groups, as a gang of cruel girls did to me at school, and are also very ego-driven, building themselves up by bringing others down.

Peninnah feels threatened by Hannah’s piety, and by her husband’s clear preference for his other wife. Perhaps it is hardly surprising that she lashes out at her rival for his affections. Doubtless she is frustrated and feels powerless to change anything about her situation, so she uses the one thing she can lord over Hannah, the fact that she has had children. When we are hurting, and we feel the need to lash out, we use the weapons we have to hand, and the weaknesses that are in plain sight, rarely considering the pain we might inflict.

We also pass on traits from one generation to another, and I believe this fact of life is what the Bible calls curses “from generation to generation.” And we also learn behaviour from our parents and guardians. If we have been abused or bullied at home, whether by adults or siblings, we are far more likely to become bullies ourselves. We’ve learnt that this is the way to get what we want, or to feel empowered. As one of my favourite tv comedies, Blackadder, would have it, the Prince insults the butler, the butler kicks the cat, the cat chases the mouse, and the mouse bites Baldrick.

I remember that as a child when I was going through a phase of having spats with my elder brother, I used to take this out on the boys at school, karate chopping them at every opportunity in the style of Miss Piggy. It made me feel like I had some power in a situation where I didn’t, because my brother was much bigger than I was. Fortunately, I remember one of the boys sticking up for himself and asking me how I would like it, and then showing me how much it hurt! Perhaps if he hadn’t made me stop and think, I might still be being a Muppet.

Adult bullying of course is harder to change, since those opportunities for mind-changing are tougher to bring about, and the behaviour is ingrained. “I’m hurting,” says the ego, “and feeling small, so I’m going to take it out on other people and make myself seem bigger than I am.” Bullies do need to be held accountable. It’s the only thing that will help us, in the end, to see the error of our ways. Truth is our way to freedom. But they also need to be heard. Perhaps expressing themselves in a free and non-judgemental environment where anger and frustration are given space rather than immediately condemned, might be helpful. Of course not everyone wants to give that space, and not every bully would be able to take advantage of it, nor are many people prepared to change. But accountability done with love feels like the way forward. “What is this really about?” and “How are you feeling?” can be powerful breakthrough questions asked from a place of generous vulnerability and grace.

Perhaps if Elkanah’s two wives had sat down and had a real heart to heart, they might have discovered that their common enemy was the patriarchal system they were enduring, and helped one another somehow to bear their various pains. But injustices, like stones dropped in water, send out many ripples, and it is only grace that can truly heal such wounds.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

 

Image used under creative commons as advised by Yahoo image search

81: Bullied

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Because the LORD had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the LORD, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat.” 1 Samuel 1:6-7 NIV

How to talk about the hideous pain of bullying? It is one of the worst things a human being can do to another, because it singles out a specific weakness or area of hurt, which it then needles over and over again until the wound grows and festers and becomes unbearable. When we talk about bullies, we usually speak of children taunting one another in the playground, but whilst it certainly happens there and in increasingly terrible ways, we should not for a minute imagine that it is left behind in the schoolyard.

Some of the worst bullies run workplaces, stand for political office, become teachers, seek out seats of power (however small) and attempt to make certain people’s lives a misery. They are nearly always out to get those of whom they are jealous, or whom they secretly admire. This also happens in the dating game, so that the little boy who pulled plaits when a youngster, will negate and bully women he finds attractive. This, as I know you can imagine, leads to some horrible, unbalanced and abusive relationships.

Bullying, like all abuse, is about power. Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah, knows that her only claim to status is her children, and that it is also Hannah’s one weakness. A careful reading of the text, seeing the word “rival” and how Hannah is so loved by her husband, getting a double portion of sacrifices, and clearly has a close relationship with the Lord (it is not a coincidence that Peninnah’s worst bullying happens whenever Hannah goes to Temple), shows us that there is a nasty jealousy present. Polygamy is such a bad idea (more on that later) and causes deep and dreadful competition. Peninnah buoys herself up and knocks Hannah down, the best way she knows how, by taunting her about the one thing she has that Hannah does not. The bullying is so painful that Hannah can’t even eat.

Power games seem to be less frowned upon in the west than they used to be, at least for adults, but whilst bullying in schools seems to be taken more seriously, it is certainly rife and far more about sexuality and bodies very early on, and this is extremely worrying. Difference is the thing we always pounce on. Any sign of oddness, of wavering, of feminine in the masculine or vice versa, and there is perceived a vulnerability, an uncertainty that can be pounced on with fierce mockery.

Valuing difference, embracing the whole spectrum of humanity, gender, shape, colour, culture, history, intelligence, the way we process the world, is the way forward. Our God is one who clearly loves great ranges of difference. He made us all unique and if we foster and husband that amazing truth, we will be well on the way to talking down the name callers and being an integrated and whole society where everyone is deemed precious.

Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” Isaiah 64:8

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

If you are a victim (of any age) of bullying in the UK, you may find this website helpful: http://www.bullying.co.uk/

 

80: Misunderstood

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Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.” 1 Samuel 13-14 NIV

We’ve all been misunderstood at some point in our lives. Being taken the wrong way, heard wrongly, taken amiss, these are things that happen in every human relationship. If we are married, we’ll more than likely be very experienced at having the person we love most hear something quite different from what we actually thought we said. As writer and speaker Brene Brown often explains, we are always telling ourselves some kind of story in our heads and if what we think we hear feeds into that, we reinforce that often twisted version of the truth. In those kinds of cases, working through our defence mechanisms and being honest with ourselves and God will hopefully help us dig our way to the truth. But what about other kinds of misunderstandings, like poor Hannah here, pouring her very heart out before God and yet being accused of drunkenness?

Somehow being misread by an authority figure, perhaps especially a priest, is a double injury. When we were trying our best to be authentic and the very representative of that authenticity is scathing, that is a deep and difficult wound to bear. Fortunately, in Hannah’s case, it was quickly set right, simply by her pouring out yet more honesty. But in so many situations like these we can clam up, stammer our way out of the building or just burst into tears at the unfairness of it all.

The worst kind of being misunderstood of course is when the other person claims to know it all, or doesn’t take the time and trouble to find out the truth or to listen. Sadly this happens all too often in church, particularly if it is about an issue, such as marriage difficulties or sexuality  where the answers seem to be not only written in stone, but doled out with about as much warmth. Gender divides are one example, where a woman might be trying to express her desire to practice a particular gifting, and yet be told that she is not allowed to because of her sex. “Because the bible says so” or “Because that is what we believe” is not an adequate answer in and of itself, especially where it is given with no compassion or attempt at explanation. “Because it is what we have always done,” is perhaps more honest but also no help. At its best, being misunderstood feels shameful and frustrating. At its worst, it can be dangerous, as any spouse sent back to an abusive partner “because God hates divorce” well knows.

Hannah’s husband, Elkanah, doesn’t understand her either. She weeps because she has no children, and he says, “Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” When we are not allowed or unable to articulate our pain and be heard, we suffer from being misunderstood, and it can eat away at us and our sense of self. The cure is often as simple as being given time and space. Patience and understanding are invaluable gifts, and listening a powerful and much underrated ministry. But Hannah knows of course, that the one person who will truly understand is God, and it is to him that she pours out her soul.

God will not only hear us, listen and understand, but he will know more than we can say and care more than we can imagine.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

 

79: Sibling Rivalry

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The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD.” Genesis 25:22 NIV

Brothers and sisters who become jealous of one another and can’t seem to stop infighting or competing are something of a motif in the Old Testament. Right from the off, where Cain and Abel eye up each other’s sacrifice to God and end up becoming murderer and victim, it continues on in a sometimes vicious enmity. We see the troubles between Joseph and his brothers and half brothers, between Rachel and Leah, between Jacob and Esau. Robes, husbands, birthrights and even lives are stolen.

In a way, it is a picture of the way the whole human race competes and fights, even though we are all brothers and sisters under the parenthood of God. The Pharisee looks down his nose at his brother the publican, the well-to-do despise the tax collectors and sinners, we all watch and count and judge.

Suppose that instead we decided to watch one another in order to celebrate the good things that we see, to encourage the gifts that each one of us carries, how might that look? Suppose that all the churches did that too, so that from Evangelical Protestant, through Episcopalian and Catholic right across to Greek Orthodox, we looked at one another to see what is wonderful in one another’s traditions, instead of imagining that the Father loves us best, we are doing it right, and the birthright belongs to us alone. What might that be like? Perhaps we might ask one another valuable questions and if we actually listen, learn a new tradition or practice that will help us know Father God better.

To be truly equal, loving brothers and sisters, children of God knowing our value both to him and to one another.

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 NIV

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

78: Unattractive

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Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful.” Genesis 29:17 NIV

Unusually, I wrote this piece before I had a Bible verse to illustrate it. Normally I start with the verse and let it speak to me. But maybe this was providence, for I could not find a single reference to a person describing him or her as unattractive, ugly or not beautiful. Isn’t that wonderful? There is a lot of sexism recorded in the scriptures, and yet women’s beauty is never doubted. Even here, where one sister is preferred over the other, weak eyesight is the worst thing that can be levelled at Leah. In our appearance obsessed society where women especially are taught to constantly find fault with the way we and others look, I found this refreshing.

Feeling unattractive is a horrible thing which can affect anyone, and an insecurity that billion pound industries rely on to feed their unrelenting pockets. If we feel unattractive, then we feel unwanted. We think that no-one will have us, will want to partner us in life, or that the partner we do have is just making do with us, as indeed was Leah’s pain, and we’ll come back to that another day. It feeds fears and jealousies and inadequacies that ruin lives and make us ill.

The world has become so intent on marketable outer beauty now that we tend to forget how to see other ways that people are good to look upon. Some people just shine, whether it is with gentle quietness or raucous laughter, with softness or sassiness, with joyful exuberance or calm delight, with graceful elegance or sweet stumbling clumsiness, there is no end to the ways that real beauty presents herself, regardless of gender.

A voice and how it sings, the way a lock of hair persistently falls over a forehead and will not be tied back, the mole at the side of the mouth, the crow’s feet that crinkle up with every grin. These are the things that endear us to people, their idiosyncrasies, their differences, not the things that we all have in common and certainly not some awful Stepford Spouse homogeny that insists on boring symmetry, flatness, paralysed muscles and careful lack of feeling. A face and a body are places to live out our character, our sex appeal, our true selves, the expression of who we are. Our integrity is what draws people to us. If we imagine that reaching for some marketed ideal of size, shape and smile is true attractiveness or true beauty, we are living and believing a lie.

True beauty is slightly off centre, a little skewed, a bit cracked, lived in, enjoyed. It takes up as much room as it wants to and it sashays or slinks or skips, depending on how it feels. It does not pander to the beholder, nor does it realise how wonderful it is. True beauty lives and moves and has its being in the Lord, in freedom, in being itself.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

 

77: Overwhelmed

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“From the ends of the earth,

I cry to you for help

when my heart is overwhelmed.

Lead me to the towering rock of safety,” Psalm 61:2 NLT

 

We’ve mentioned being overwhelmed by problems, horror, and things that annoy us. Perhaps now is a good time to talk about emotional overwhelm. Those times when we feel so much that it is like we are just gasping for a breath when another wave of sorrow or shock rolls over us. Grief is a lot like that, and if you are a highly sensitive person, watching the news can have a similar effect. As I write, the western world is still reeling from the Orlando killings, and a Member of Parliament, Jo Cox, has been murdered here in the UK yesterday.

We can feel, in the aftermath of such events, completely adrift in a sea of unfamiliar or difficult emotions. We can’t imagine how horrendous it is for the families involved, but even at a distance we feel swept out of control by our feelings of sadness and disbelief that these things can happen. When these are the stories in the media, even the small disturbances in our own lives can send us into heights of anxiety and depths of despair, because we were already hurting so badly. Writing (and reading) about the dark things of life as we have been doing, can also be too much. This blog has even been rather intense the last few days. I will try to space out the really tough stuff so that we can stay on an even keel.

Sometimes, even good things happening can feel utterly overwhelming. I have a book coming out soon and that is great, but still a strain on a person with delicate health. There are days when we feel that the mixture, or juxtaposition of good and bad, joy and sorrow, can itself feel like a seesaw we are incapable of coping with, a rollercoaster we just do not feel capable of riding.

What does the scripture advise us to do at such times? To cry out to God. To know that in him we can find (as most translations put it) “the rock that is higher than I.” Our God is higher ground, a safe place, a tower or a plateau where we can get our breath back and get our emotional spirit levels balanced. Let us then, make the time to rest in him when everything around us is too much and our racing hearts are struggling to beat with his.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

76: Wanting to Die (Trigger Warning)

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I hate my life and don’t want to go on living. Oh, leave me alone for my few remaining days.” Job 7:16 NLT

In my own experience, determining to end your own life is such a traumatic place to be that it does not last long. You either take action, or some level of hope or love intervenes so you don’t go through with it. Having made the decision one way or another for sure is in itself fairly liberating. But choosing life is a big and brave thing to do. It means that you decide to carry on knowing that it is going to be painful, and this is incredibly tough.

Most people who go the other way and fail in their attempts are glad to fail, and frequently see life as gift from then on, but having deep compassion on souls whichever way they go having reached rock bottom, is really important. Knowing what it feels like to want to end everything, I have nothing but empathetic heartbreak for those in that position, and do not presume to judge.

I do counsel continuing because I have faith. Not that life will miraculously turn around and be suddenly wonderful, but that time is indeed, however worn out the cliché, a great healer, and the smallest amount of love, when you are able to either give or receive it, can make life worth living again, in, through and despite any other pain.

In my own life, it was, strangely, the numbness and emptiness I felt at that “now or never” point that made me stay. I was free in that moment to make my own decision. Angry at God for not coming to my rescue, I found that he was trusting me to choose life for myself. And I’m very glad that I did. One of the things that brought me back from that precipice was knowing that I couldn’t hurt my parents like that. Because of course, every untimely death has other victims, and the nightmare of the “what if?s” and the “If only we’d s” will likely plague those who love us for a very long time to come.

But after that decision is made, the really hard work begins. Discounting suicide, we may then have to come to terms for quite a while with living even though we feel like we want to die. We feel hopeless and disconnected to life, cut off from joy and completely unable to see any viable or worthwhile future. It is incredibly tough. This kind of overwhelming depression can last many years, as it did for me, and it is usually healed by small degrees. But take heart my friends, because it IS healed. God may not arrive in a thunderstorm as he did in the face of Job’s utter hopelessness, but he will arrive if we ask him to, and he may be so gentle with us that we do not even realise he is there for a long time. But I am quite sure that he was for me. Every buttercup that summer was a bright sign of his love, and every worried look from anxious parents a mirroring of his care.

When we are broken at the core, the work of holy restoration takes into account our fragility, and takes its own sweet and kind time. Meanwhile, we breathe in and out and we pray, and we hold on to anything around us that is good, knowing that this is of God. I have been rescued by inches, as if pulled slowly from quicksand, and the ground feels a little more solid now, enough to share these things with you, and to know that I am, as we all are, loved beyond measure.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39 NIV

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

If you are feeling suicidal or just finding it all too much, please do ring the Samaritans in the UK on their free to call number: 116 123   They are fantastic listeners and there for you if you are having a tough time. You can also email or write, check out their website here http://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help-you/contact-us

 

Photo from Pixabay