My wife has suffered through many things- and I will be the first to admit some of that suffering must be as a result of being married to me! Nevertheless, she has been able to turn those trials into something good - in fact one has been turned into something quite beautiful.
Many of her recent trials have had a medical root after suffering with symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD) with our 3rd child. Women that suffer from SPD experience severe pain around the pelvic area, making it extremely difficult to get around.
It didn't seem long after she had recovered from that before she was struck again by stomach issues. The net result being she started to lose weight at a rapid rate. There was constant discomfort and she could not maintain any weight. At one point I would leave her with an extra-large bar of chocolate and demand that it was eaten by the end of the evening I can truly say that genie is out of the bottle now. Consuming whole bars of chocolate is no longer a trial for her and I have joined her with some gusto!
Unbeknownst to me, at this low point she started to plan for death. She felt that her body could not continue to cope and that whatever this illness was (we were never totally convinced we found out) she wasn't getting any better. She feared she would not see our family grow up and secretly became convinced she would not see our children reach their 18th birthdays - so she started to plan a video message for each of them. It pains me to know that she was going through this, unable to tell me or others she was close to.
When you lose weight at such a rate your energy drops and you get stuck in a fug of sorts. On reflection, we now recognise that she was depressed. As is so often the case, poor mental health and poor physical health are easy bedfellows and it is sometimes hard to recognise which is the cause and which is the symptom. It's embarrassing for me that I did not recognise the signs. It is a particular embarrassment as my day job meant that I was working around health policy and the issues of long term illness and mental health. I feel that I should have known what was going on under my nose. But I suppose that is just it. When a physical health issue is so abundantly apparent it can crowd our attention away from mental fragility and mean that we don't put in preventative measures.
After a while a concerned friend sent her a simple craft project: sew your own bag. One particular day Heidi looked at this and thought 'I can at least do that'. It went well and by the end of the week she had designed and made a number using her own design and pattern. She started reflecting on the nature of creativity and, as a Christian, on God's creativity. Further inspired she talked to a friend who prompted her to start writing down her journey. She began reflecting on the path she had been led down and saw an opportunity for growth within the suffering she was experiencing.
Photo by Daniel Singleton
Key phrases such as "broken not rubbish" started to illustrate her journey
Soon she was asked to lead a course for vulnerable women - which became Peaced Together- Five years on the award-winning course is being franchised across the UK and overseas and really encompasses Heidi's own journey. She says that it is humbling to see how your own painful journey can be a balm for others who are hurting.
The course offers a safe environment to reflect on life, exploring different topics such as 'beauty from brokenness' and 'treasures in the storm' using creative projects such as mosaics and weaving with remnants which would otherwise be discarded.
Suffering can lead to personal growth when you face it in the right way. Friends, faith, creativity and craft are components that lead to a hope and a positive future. .
Brokenness may be a chapter in your life, but does not need to be the end of the story. Peaced Together encourages participants to face the next instalment with hope and courage, while making peace with their past.