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Lockdown Blog #19 - 'In a field near Swindon'

Welcome to our 19th blog!

Today I am again sat in my office preparing this weeks service for my church (editing, not preaching. That's next week!). I have on in the background ‘CVM The Gathering’, listening to the seminars happening today. During their morning session (Saturday) they did an interview with Simon Thomas. But first, I am sure you're asking ‘what is CVM?’.

CVM stands for Christian Vision for Men. This organisation started about 30 years ago with its main mission being to bring men, and only men to faith, which they have done very successfully over the years. Part of this is their annual gathering, labelled ‘The Gathering’ or ‘#TG20’ in a field near Swindon.

This year due to the lockdown we could not attend The Gathering and instead joined online at home via Facebook and YouTube. I have been fortunate enough to be able to attend this event in 2015 (#TG15), 2016 (#TG16), 2017 (#TG17) & 2018 (#TG18). I must admit it's very hard to explain what kind of event this is as there is nothing I can compare it to. So here goes: The Gathering is a men's weekend festival like no other!

It's fun, it's life changing, it's THE standout event for guys. Taking place in June in a field near Swindon, The Gathering features:

  • Live comedy

  • Cool cars

  • 5-a-side tournament

  • Bar

  • Live music

  • Walking football

  • Huge inflatables

  • Bar games

  • Volleyball

  • Axe throwing

  • Relevant Bible teaching

  • Great worship

  • Great speakers

  • Life stories

  • Powerful gospel ministry

  • Scalextric

  • Bonfires and loads more …

It's the perfect event for men's groups or individuals and tailor-made to be able to invite unchurched mates to. Every year they see many guys come to faith for the first time. With each year getting bigger and bigger, with over 2,000 guys in attendance for the last few years. I must admit, to experience over 2000 men singing ‘Shine Jesus Shine’ is an experience in its self!

Me and Antony have said it would be amazing to take along some of our older youth/young men to experience this weekend, so keep your eyes peeled those of you who are 18+.

So back to the topic I want to cover today, or I could speak about The Gathering all day haha.

During their morning session they did an interview with Simon Thomas (see this Weeks Resource below). Simon briefly spoke about his life from Blue Peter in the 90’s to Sky Sports News and then onto Football league, moving to the Premier League. He then spoke about his faith and losing his wife after a very short illness. I don’t want to say too much as I would like you to watch his interview. One thing that stood out for me was his honest feelings about God, mental health and alcohol. His honesty is amazing and shows that mental health, loss and addictions affect everyone no matter if you're a TV personality or just a simple shop worker, it has no discrimination.

I have suffered the loss of many loved ones, and with this pandemic we are currently in, so many are experiencing loss for the very first time, lives being cut short far too soon. 

On the 10th November 2011 my father in law went to his GP after suffering with headaches and dizziness that was not getting better after previous visits. The doctors at the start put this down to vertigo but the tablets given didn’t help so he was sent to the local hospital for a scan. A mass was detected in his brain and he was referred to Bristol to see a specialist. He was booked in to have a biopsy, which sadly caused a stroke and Derek lost use of the right side of his body. At his bedside in Bristol he said ‘promise me you’ll look after Liz, Sarah and Brenden’. He, I think knew that he was not going to get through this.

We then had the results of his biopsy and it turned out to be a stage 4 cancerous brain tumour. This was a massive shock to the whole family, to be told the only thing they could do was to try radio therapy to shrink this tumour and extend life by a short time. In February 2012 Derek was admitted to the local hospital, in the cancer treatment centre and later moved to the local hospice. 

On Saturday 24th March 2012 at 12pm Derek, or as I called him pops, sadly passed away with myself, Sarah (my wife), Liz (my Mother in law) and Candy (the family dog) by his side. I have never in my life experienced watching someone die. It was the hardest thing I have ever experienced. 

I loved pops so much, we worked together fitting and fixing windows and doors in his business. Went out on family meals, days out, Christmases, birthdays and even holidayed together. I have never experienced pain like it before. Seeing my wife breakdown and her mum so upset, it's hard to explain it. This amazing man who I had known for 8 years, looked up to and admired so much was gone. I would never hear his voice again, hear him moan that we’ve outstayed our welcome after a meal, listen to him talk about speedway or go out for a pint with. But not only that, he would not see our son grow up.

I could not believe that he was gone. I was so angry, so upset, confused and I was so full of guilt.

At his bedside I prayed to God, asking Him to just take him and not let him suffer anymore and shortly after that he died. I thought I had killed him, I prayed to God and I thought God had answered my prayer. I now know this was sooo not true!

I was so angry at God (don't worry He can handle it), I could not even attend church. I don’t know what kept me from going. I did not know how to deal with all these feelings inside. I could not talk to my wife as she was grieving as well and did not need mine on top of that. But I know now that was not a good move, as we need to talk about how we feel. It's the only way we will make sense of what is happening. I did eventually talk about how I was feeling and it helped.

It was just 4 months and 15 days from the scan to pops passing. I miss him a lot and still cry today when I think about it (even as I write this I am crying). It was the most darkest and saddest moment of my life. 

There's good news and bad news here. The bad news is that it does take time (sometimes a lot of time), commitment and sometimes money to heal.

One of the myths that we have about grief or mental health is that if we leave it long enough, time will eventually wear down our problems and heal our wounds. According to this myth, all things, no matter how difficult or traumatic, are healed by the mere passage of time. Unfortunately, although time is not a healer it is a factor in healing. Time gives us the ability to come to terms with what has happened and find ways of dealing with it. It will still hurt, It will still make you cry.

The good news is that there are things you can do to make a real difference. One of those key things is to find someone who can actually help you with the problem. Find a professional who is trained to help with problems like this, speak to a friend or speak to a youth worker.

Talking is the first step; it can make all the difference.

“This change is not going happen with the just the passage of time. Time is not a healer; it takes time for change to happen.” Rita Barnett

Am I healed from this now? The answer to that is yes. I still cry and it still hurts. I don’t think that will ever change. But I have found the correct ways of dealing with it, and it all starts with talking.

Stay safe, stay blessed and remember if something is bothering you, TALK!


This week’s resource...

Video: Interview with Simon Thomas


Book: Love, Interrupted: Navigating Grief One Day at a Time

Can be found: all good bookshops or online (example Amazon £9.99

About: Simon Thomas (former Blue Peter presenter and one of the leading faces of Sky Sports Football) reveals how grief nearly destroyed him in his heart-breaking memoir. When Simon lost the woman he had loved for 16 years, the future he’d imagined for their happy family disappeared for ever. Gemma died from acute myeloid leukaemia, just three days after being diagnosed. In Love, Interrupted, Simon is brutally honest about his journey through grief, and opens up about how close he came to ending his own life. Simon didn’t know how to carry on without Gemma; he just knew that, for the sake of his eight-year old son, he had to find a way … Love, Interrupted is a moving story of love, loss, faith, and family.

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