Jeff Short chats to Lizzie Lowrie about her new book sharing stories about infertility, miscarriage, childlessness and faith.
Jeff: As a book, it was quite incredible for me, I mentioned
as we spoke earlier. I read it, as I would watch Doctor Who as a
child, from behind the settee looking through my fingers. Would you
like to lead us gently into the book and tell us what people can
expect when they open that front cover?
Lizzie: My book is called Salt water and Honey, which hopefully explains the balance of the story that I tell. I think all of us have those moments in our lives when it feels it feels a bit like salt water and honey; there are moments of joy but also moments of pain. And it's working out how to still believe in God when life doesn't look like you expected it to be. It's a book I really wanted to write because when I was going through a deep struggle and for me my story is one of recurrent miscarriages and infertility and childlessness, I found that a lot of people wanted to tell their stories when everything was ok, like when they had got the ending they were hoping for. I was looking for stories that were told from the middle. The book is written in the present tense. I did it intentionally to say that I wasn't giving all the answers, I was trying to find God in the midst of my pain. And trying to trust in him.
Jeff: It was like a cliffhanger at times. My honest response is I look at a chapter that starts with a positive pregnancy test and I said oh no! Because you've gone through loss and I said please don't hurt this child again. And I'm thinking this is me, miles remote and there's you right in this pain. But it's also this faith under the microscope. I had a son die at 11 months and people said to me is there anything that would stop you believing? I said no, but there are an awful lot of things that would stop me speaking to God.
Lizzie: Yes, definitely.
Jeff: That comes through with you; the struggle you've got to even talk at times.
Lizzie: Yes, I think a lot of my story, like half of the book, takes place while my husband was training to be a vicar. So it kind of felt like that pressure, that expectation to have a really strong faith and work out what God was doing, and where God is when life is really difficult. It felt very acute because you're surrounded by all these Christians and people that are going to lead churches and I was going to be a vicar's wife and you feel like you have to have all the answers. I think people also think that church leaders and people who are professional Christians sort of thing that they've got it sorted and I hope the book will say that we don't have it sorted at all. We've got just as many questions as people who are new to faith as well. I think that's just the life of a disciple, as a follower of Jesus. It's just trying to seek God and find him in the messy places as well. Sometimes it's a choice; and it's not easy to keep believing.
Jeff: There are many things that you wrote that I have already quoted; I've had the book for a week. You talk about the beauty of the back pew in the church because it doesn't judge you when you cry. That's an incredible line. The thing that really hits me is there isn't this happy ending, that we're going to come to the end of the book and everything has suddenly, miraculously gone right. You talk about writing a blog and people being put in touch with you. A couple who have had a couple of miscarriages don't want to get in touch with you because it's too painful to think there may not be this happy ending that Christianity sometimes in some forms tells us to expect.
Lizzie: I think we all grow up kind of hating certain fairytale bits of our lives. I know a lot of people that would long to get married and that doesn't happen and it's not their fault; they just didn't meet someone. Or they didn't have kids or they struggle with their health and they don't get healed. There are those amazing stories of healing and God does heal but even when Jesus was on earth there were lots of people that didn't get healed. And when you're in that tension how do you live a life that still has great value? I wanted to finish the book when there were still questions because I think as a Christian, when you have faith in Jesus, it declares that suffering will not have the final say. No matter what happened to you in your life, it doesn't mean your life is over. God declares hope and redemption over your life, no matter what it looks like. You are actually part of a bigger story. In the book I talk about how at the beginning I have quite a small story that I was longing to live out - get married, have kids. And at the end that didn't happen but I realised I was part of a much bigger story and that was God's story. And it was better than the one I had started out with. It was a real journey of discovery.
Jeff: What comes through as well is there is a split how people respond. It starts with you sadly losing a business that you've invested so much emotion into and people coming up to you and saying well, you must have misheard God. That must have been like a knife into you at the very start of the journey.
Lizzie: The book starts with introducing the theme of loss and loss is something that is throughout the book. But it's not depressing; it's like finding God in the loss. My husband and I met, we set up a mission, we set up a coffee shop for people who weren't interested in going to church. It was a coffee shop where we could gather and tell people about Jesus. It was working; people did come to faith but we ran out of money. Again in mission, people serving God, we always hear about the success stories. There are people who take risks for God and it doesn't look like a success from the outside but it's not wasted. At the end of the book I talk about how we got a letter from this guy a few years later. He said he'd become a Christian through this coffee shop that we set up and that's where he met his wife as well. We never knew. Sometimes you take risks for God and I thought everything will be ok. When you look at the stories in the bible a lot of people lived for God and took risks for him and it did not go to plan but he still used their stories. I think I just hadn't ever appreciated how rich the bible was with stories of people messing up but God still being present in it.
Jeff: I've read so much of the book I got stuck when I saw a chapter that said baby coffins because when I see one I see me in a hearse following my son in a coffin. I took a service last year and I saw this coffin again and I was great and the moment the doors shut and back to pray as the family went out I just dissolved. But over a subway this morning I got through and I came to this bit where you got the letter and I cried; God hadn't forgotten you and hadn't forgotten the sacrifice. It's a long journey. There's something about having a fistfight with God and I'm thinking why didn't you give that earlier. But his timing isn't our timing and I know that. I've written down this book specialises in words like pain, pastries, snot, tissues, coffee and expletives in prayer.
Lizzie: That's so true. You've captured it perfectly. There's a lot of food and coffee and the strength of community is something I wanted to highlight. We're not meant to do this journey alone. It takes a lot of courage to share when you're struggling especially for guys. But the Christian life is one of honesty and the community God's given us. We're meant to walk through it together but it does take a lot of courage but there's so much to be found in eating together, crying together, laughing together and praying with swear words. God's big enough to take it. He wants us to be honest with him and with each other because life is so much better when you share it. You're not meant to go through this on your own. At the beginning I was very silent about that story but you see that I had no choice, I had to tell someone. You can't carry the weight of some struggles by yourself and we weren't designed to, I don't think.
Jeff: Some wonderful friends come through in the book but it's a risk to trust and there are some scenarios like at the theological college where it seems everyone is either pregnant or has got a family. It took me back; when I was at theological college I lost my son and we had all-age worship and we were in a circle and a child starts tottering across the circle and everybody is ah and cooing and then there's this awful realisation this child is making a beeline for me. And he's going to stand and prop himself up against me. It was like there a collective sigh of no, please, let him fall over. I found sometimes I had to make the running and go and see people. I had to take the risk. And they'd say I don't know what to say and I'd say good; I don't want you to say anything. When your friends turn up and say they've been to the supermarket and brought you biscuits and pastries I thought why didn't somebody bring me Doritos?
Lizzie: Yes, always bring something to eat. We can be quite British; I know I used to be like this, when people were struggling I'd be so paranoid I'd say the wrong thing, I wouldn't know what to say. A lot of times people keep their distance because they feel worried they're going to mess it up. Something I learned from the people that supported me so well was there's nothing you can really say, you can't change the situation; you've got to sit alongside them and say this sucks. I'm so sorry. Or can you tell me how you're feeling? I can't imagine. Bring food; sit with them. You can feel so isolated in that space. You don't know how to cope with it and no one else does but you don't want an answer in that moment. You just want people to sit with you and grieve with you and that takes a lot of courage but I hope it's something that as communities we can get better at. Now that we lead a church in Liverpool all that experience has really stuck with me, try and create a place where you can express struggle as well as rejoice. It's that balance.
Jeff: Somebody sent me a card, in my loss, saying if they couldn't sit on God's lap and beat him on the chest and tell him they hated him, then he wasn't really father because they could do that to their earthly father. If they couldn't do it to their heavenly father they wondered what sort of father he was. There were times that helped me immensely. Sometimes you're back in the toilet crying again and I thought I can't read the rest of this book. I haven't googled you; I haven't gone to the end of the book I'm there hoping against hope that the end is going to be like the end of the Wizard of Oz or something like that. But it's much better for being honest.
Lizzie: Definitely. It doesn't make your story any less worth telling if things don't work out perfectly and it doesn't make your story any less valuable or precious. It doesn't mean God's not in your story as much if things don't work out. That story changed me in so many good ways and I'm so different and so grateful for how it changed me. One of the last chapters talks about redemption and that was something I'd never really totally understood and it became like the theme: God can bring good from anything. From Jesus' death was the most glorious redemption. Nothing that happens to you is beyond that redemption in your life.
Jeff: People quote texts to you and I think it's Dave's blog where he says he wants to slap them or punch them. But I did hold on to that scripture that says all things work to good and I realised it doesn't say all things are good because they're not. But all things work to good. It's hard to believe but after my son's death six weeks later I was burying my father. He died the day before he had his early retirement so he didn't get his party or his watch, which he would have laughed his socks off about. When I went to pick his things up the secretary (who was a Christian) said we got him in the end. He made a commitment to Jesus in those six weeks. It held me. But thirty years on l light a candle at a service and I see a boy as you may see a photograph and I see a picture in my mind of a little boy with chocolate on his face and the time's gone. So it's not like I am completely through this. Lizzie, I am so honoured that you have come on the program. I keep plugging your book; can we work out a deal? 5% or something like that?
Jeff: Seriously, the book Salt Water and Honey, the two extremes in life, published by Authentic Books, from all good bookshops and we have one in Stoke on Trent, Christian Resources for Life and I encourage everyone to go there and buy your book.
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