Memories, painful, therapeutic or both?

War memorial on Cumbrae

Memory is such a powerful but mysterious part of our minds and our souls. We all remember in different ways, sometimes we are good at remembering numbers, or names, or faces. Sometimes our memories are coloured by subsequent happenings, and so are hard to work out. Memories can be strong or fuzzy, or different for different types of experiences. So much is inexplicable.

This season of Remembrance is vitally important. The principle of remembering those who gave their lives in the service of their country, along with those who returned, and thinking of their families is part of being a compassionate society. When people have sacrificed so much for the sake of others, they should be honoured and remembered.

The nature of the remembering is more tricky. Everyone has their own individual experiences and perceptions, so the overall experience can be varied. It can be hard to have balance- one veteran remembers with great thanksgiving the life of a fallen comrade, whilst another is lost in the traumatic memory of a grenade exploding. Remembering is poignant.

Sometimes we want to try and forget, to repress difficult memories, but then the danger is that they bubble back to the surface after doing much damage. So we need to remember, even tough recollections, so we can process them, and become more healthy. There are many therapeutic ways of doing this, if you find the right person to be supportive. All too many veterans come back with ptsd, and need specialised support and don’t always have access to this, causing damage to self and to others.

I think of Jesus at the last supper, saying about eating the bread, and drinking the wine ‘ do this in memory of me’. He wanted his friends to know that he was willing to lay down his life out of love, snd to keep this love central in the life of the community, by continuing to celebrate this sacrament. Remembering had a sad dimension, but also had an aspect of hope.

This Remembrance Sunday, I pray that no one is struggling with dark and traumatic memories of conflict and war alone. I pray that everyone would have a safe person to be supportive, and when relevant, to signpost them to effective help. In a day of powerful emotions, may there even yet, be a sense of love, and the possibility of hope.

Creator God, You created human beings to be so amazing, and to be so beautiful, yet we can also be so conflicted and damaged. Lord Jesus, thankyou that You suffered on the cross, and that You understand our struggles and traumatic and painful memories. May the light and love of Christ dissipate the power of experiences of darkness and violence. Bring healing to all who suffer the vicissitudes of war, so that each one can find peace and meaning. May your holy spirit heal our memories, so we are free to breathe and live once more, in Jesus name, Amen.

Fireworks and a broken ankle!

Beautiful but problematic…

It is the season of Fireworks here in the UK. Guy Fawkes day and the 5th November are here. People often go to events where fireworks are let off, and make gorgeous colourful patterns of light in the sky. They can be spectacular!

However the other side of this, is that the noises and loud bangs can cause many problems. We know that for many dogs and cats, they are nervous or frightened, and they need a lot of soothing to get through it. There are music channels for pets, and sometimes they need medication.

For some humans too, firework season can be a nightmare, especially for veterans. My late husband Colin was a veteran, and the loud bangs and noises from fireworks could make him think he was under attack. One time, many years after his active service, he went to put the bin out, and the noise of a firework made him hit the ground fast, and he broke his ankle as a result. We sometimes forget that our traumatised veterans can be adversely affected by the sound of fireworks.

It is good to pray for all who are nervous or who have suffered trauma, in the days round about Guy Fawkes and around Remembrance. There are so many triggers, and difficult memories. We pray for safe places for people to talk, for effective therapies and understanding communities, especially for those who are distressed or have experienced trauma.

The verse from psalm 9 verse 9 seems appropriate: ‘The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, and a stronghold in times of trouble.’

Gracious Lord, You see all those who are struggling this day, pets who are worried and anxious because of the noises, veterans startled and hypervigilant because of the sounds of fireworks. Lord Jesus, may people choose to use silent fireworks, so that others are not harmed by the noise. And may You protect people and be their Stronghold, especially veterans in this season, and may the balm of Gilead bring them healing and peace. May pet owners make special provision for their pets also. May your holy spirit be at work in ways beyond our imagining, to protect the vulnerable, and to comfort those who are troubled, In Jesus name, Amen

Sticky toffee pudding brings comfort!

Sticky toffee pudding and ice cream!

Today I was offered sticky toffee pudding and ice cream! It was difficult to resist, not just because of the flavour, but because of the memories.

My late parents in law loved sticky toffee pudding and ice cream. They so enjoyed offering it when you went round for dinner, and the way they said, made you think there could be nothing better! It was heated of course, with the ice cream melting all over the place. There are so many loving memories around this desert. My late husband loved ice cream too, Scottish tablet ice cream and raspberry ripple were two of his favourites.

In the midst of grief processes, it can be lovely to suddenly remember something nice, a lovely meal, a meaningful ritual, a sentimental moment. It reminds us that these are still memories of something that was real and had significance. Sometimes their intensity fades a little over time, but remembrances of these tiny moments are so comforting and healing.

Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God as a mustard seed, and said in Matthew 13: 12 ‘ it is the smallest of seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants: it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in their branches’.

Small things can be so significant, whether it is the flash of an old memory, or sharing a cup of water, or a prayer said under our breath. We long for better days, a new kingdom of healing and light, hope and justice and love. But meantime we wait, and are grateful for small moments of consolation.

Gracious God, You long for all people to come to You, and to find healing and peace. Sometimes we are battered by life’s storms, but memories and beauty remind us of what is truly significant, and are so healing. Thankyou Lord Jesus, for all your blessings, big and small. Holy spirit, heal our souls, remind us of the good, and show us how to work for a better world, in Jesus’ name, Amen

Healing on a grey day.

Rain again….

What I have noticed is that when there are blue skies, golden autumnal colours and bright sunshine, I love a drive. Give me rain, deich skies and blanket shades of grey, my spirit fades a little. While the rhythm of the windscreen wipers may be comforting, the puddles and surface spray are not.

Yet on a grey day, when I spend more time inside, I have to face some of the stuff I might otherwise ignore. On a sunny day, I can distract myself with the gorgeousness of nature in both colour and form. On a grey day, I hear the rain battering the window, and am challenged to find the good.

This week I have been reading Karen McClintock’s ‘ When trauma wounds pathways to healing and hope.’ It is a great introduction to different forms of trauma, and different strategies to find healing. It is written from a theological and counselling perspective, and advocates a trauma informed approach to individuals, to life, and to church. It works by giving a number of case studies, and relates what helps people find their peace. Sanctuaries where people can tell their story in safety, is part of that healing process.

It was the battering of the rain, that led me to read, to have space and time to consider this topic. It is a difficult area to explore, and I am still only learning, but it seems so important to integrate pastoral and trauma informed insights, to enable people to find lasting healing. I need to explore it further, for my heart’s desire is to see people have opportunites to heal after trauma and emotional woundedness. Bessel van der Kolk speaks of all these techniques being summarised in the word ‘love’ but it is how to love people well and wisely, so that they can heal that is the challenge.

On grey days, may we take time to do some reflection, and ask God to bring deeper healing to our lives. May His holy spirit guide us, so we can experience healing, and in turn can bring grace to others.

‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts and encourages us, so that we will be able to encourage and encourage those who are in any kind of trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.’ 2 Corinthians 1: 3-5

Creator God, on a grey day, we can be restless and unsettled, our mood a little flat. Yet even these days can be used by You, so we look deeper into our souls, and notice the murkier and darker areas. Lord Jesus, at times in your life, you too were confronted with the truth of the human condition, and the cruelty and darkness of the world. Forgive us for all the hurt and trauma we cause others, and bring healing pathways for the broken and the wounded. By your holy spirit, give us courage to keep travelling, even when the journey seems grey and relentless. May we trust that the sun can shine again, and bring love, joy and peace, Amen.

Repeated rainbows!

In the lashing rain…….

Sometimes we go though periods when everything seems to be going wrong, when you forget something, you get an unexpected bill, or a friend is ill. And then it can be one of these days when you get soaked to the skin by very cold rain, snd the rain is so heavy it runs down your back, and your feet are drenched and frozen.

I was in the middle of such a day, when I saw this most beautiful rainbow. The colours were so vibrant, and reminded me of everything that is beautiful and full of hope. My dilemma was do I stand longer in the howling wind and rain to take the picture, or do I hurry on? I needed to take the picture, even though I became even more soggy doing so.

In Genesis chapter 9:12 God says to Noah ‘this is the token of the covenant which I am making between me and every living creature, for all future generations.’.

The rainbow is a sign of God’s faithfulness, that there will never be another flood over all the earth. I love how even after the heaviest and darkest storm, a rainbow so often appears, a sign that God is watching over us, and wants to bring us hope.

So I must have been having a bad week, or maybe it’s just that I keep forgetting, but God has given me so many rainbows in recent days, sometimes even two a day! Now I do know I live in Glasgow, and it is one of the wettest cities, but I have loved my rainbows. They just remind us all that God never forgets, and that even after the worst of times, there is hope. Whatever our situation might be, God loves us, and wants to bring a message of grace and the possibility of new beginnings.

Creator God, thankyou that this world is so incredible, varied in form, colour and texture, with creatures of all kinds on land and in sea and air. Yet we so often choose to be selfish, and we hurt each other and we cause such pain to our planet.Forgive us for our apathy and carelessness. Lord Jesus, inspire us through the rainbow, so we can start again, to know it is worth it, and there is hope. Holy spirit, speak to us all though these arches of colour, reminding us all that are still possibilities of vibrancy and inspiration in life even after the most dismal of days, thankyou Father, Amen

Nowhere to go back to….

All change!

In my youth, I  spent 18 months supporting people with epilepsy getting back into the community. It was very challenging, but taught me so much. It was a privilege to support people, some of them with very complex medical conditions and behaviours, and trying to bring understanding and hope. I did encounter much prejudice and fear about epilepsy amongst some local people around, and that was unsettling. It brought realism to my understanding of the indignities and barriers people with debilitating disabilities can experience. I greatly admire those who live with intractable epilepsy, and their families, for it can be a hard road to travel.

At the weekend, I had the opportunity to go back to the place where I worked. I walked up the steep hill, and when I got to the top, I found that the whole building had been demolished. There was nothing left, and a very expensive new house was built in its place. Of my memories and experiences, there was no physical reminder left. It was all gone.

Sometimes when we look back, we see the past with rose coloured glasses, and we think we would like to return there. Yet the truth is that there is no going back, which at times can seem very stark.

The work of prayer is to ask God to guide us in the present, so we can start looking forwards. We take what we have learned from the past, and we ask God to use it for his purposes, so we can build for the future. This can be quite daunting, and takes courage. Sometimes rather than embracing the new, we want to run away. Yet every memory and experience that we have, had to start somewhere. And so we need to be willing to begin again, with an open mindedness and positivity as to what new possibilities might look like. It needs a period of grieving, and a change of mindset, a new way of thinking.

I remember the words from Colossians chapter 3, to leave behind dark things from the past, and to have a new start, to begin again. The writer speaks of it being like putting on new clothes, and in the Message paraphrase it says:

‘ chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you, compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offence.’

It is an encouraging thought, that every morning we spend time with God in prayer, asking him to equip us for the day, and to put on the spiritual clothes God has picked out for us. Then we are equipped for each new day, and for whatever we face on the path ahead.

Gracious God, we are thankful for the past, both light and dark, brightness and shadow. In times of transition and change, we like to look back, at what was familiar and comforting. Yet Lord Jesus you call us to live our lives each day. Take away our fear, and may your holy spirit enable us to walk forward in freedom and expectation. May we do so with creativity and vision, expectant at what You can do, in Jesus name, Amen.

Circle of prayer

Storm clouds looming.

I was out for a walk on a beautiful calm reflective day, when the water was like crystal. However in the distance storm clouds were moving, and soon were overhead bringing a deluge of rain. The contrast between the dark menacing clouds and the softness of the light on the water was dramatic.

I think this is a metaphor for our lives- where there can be so much beauty and light, but there are also threatening things on the horizon- pressures and worries about finance, health and the wellbeing of others. We always seem to be walking a line between light and darkness, good and evil.

When I was mulling on this, I remembered the old celtic form of prayer, encircling prayers, where we pray for a person or situation to be encircled in the love and care of God. It seems such a powerful way of praying in a life where there is so many disturbing and unsettling news.

There are so many verses in the bible that are prayers for protection against danger.

‘ Have mercy on me O God, for in you my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings till danger has passed’ Psalm 57:1

‘ The Lord will fight for you- you need only be still.’ Exodus 14:4

Just knowing that on difficult days, God is protecting us, and even fighting on our behalf is such an encouragement. We need to trust, and stay close to Jesus.

Circle me Lord, when the storm clouds roll in, Lord Jesus, keep protection within, and danger afar, when life feels disturbing, keep peace within, and dissension away. Lord Jesus, encircle us in your light, and love and beauty. Holy spirit, may we find shelter in the storm, encircle us in your care and keeping till the morning light breaks, and all is calm and tranquil. Then may we give thanks, and seek to go on our path of doing your will once again, with trust and confidence, Amen.

Extraordinary peace.

A butterfly basking in the sunshine!

Over a very emotional weekend, I had the opportunity to sit in the warm sunshine for a while. And while I was there, a stunning butterfly came and landed on my knee. It was just enjoying the warmth.

It sat there for about 20 minutes, and this was so good for both of us! Being still was so healing in itself, and having this beautiful creature to study was all absorbing. From the movement of the antennae to the fluttering of its wings, it was so interesting. It seemed so fragile, yet it had such a strong life force, choosing to sit in the sun.

Not to be dramatic, but it felt like a gift from God! A time of gratitude and awe and stillness that I really needed, a gift of peace and wonder, that has stayed with me, and given me strength.

I remember the verse from Philippians 4:19 ‘God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus.’ God is so often gracious, and blesses us with an encouragement and inspiration, just when we need it. May God meet the needs of all of us, when we cry to Him, and may we receive His message of love.

Gracious Creator God, we so easily become downhearted and unsettled, weary from too much sadness. Even in bleak times, open our eyes to the beauty around us. Lord Jesus, grant us moments of such awe and wonder, that we find healing and deep peace. Holy spirit, may we each receive the blessing You have for us, and find renewal and strength for each day, Amen.

A torrent of tears.

So many losses…

There are days when things feel better, and there are signs of hope. And then there are other times.

For me, I have had a difficult couple of weeks. It all started with the death of Mikhail Gorbachev about ten days ago. I had watched the poignant Storyville interview with him, a few years before his death. When he led the USSR through glasnost and perestroika in the late 1980’s and sought to act amicably on the world stage, he changed the course of the world for good. Yes of course he was flawed, but he was courageous and advocated free speech, reform and often championed non violent solutions. He has been blamed for the collapse of the Soviet empire, and he didn’t get a state funeral. Yet even at the end of his life, he retained a vision of what he was trying to do, and why it was important. He stood by his convictions, and greatly suffered as a result.

And then this week, there has been the death of HM Queen Elisabeth. Whatever your views on the institution of the monarchy, she dedicated her life to serving her people, and for over 70 years sought to fulfil that promise, whether it was though her travel through the Commonwealth, her thoughtful role at state events, and her listening, encouragement and insights shared with so many. We all saw her in the photos on Tuesday inviting Liz Truss to form a government, just two days before her death, with the Queen looking frail but dignified, deeply engaged in what was going on, and very much at peace in her surroundings. Somehow these pictures made the news of her death on the Thursday much more shocking. We have lost now just our Queen, but the stability and continuity she represented, and that feels so emotional. Between the impact of the pandemic, the war in the Ukraine, and the worry about the cost of living crisis, the amount of profound changes we are living with keep stacking up, and are disorientating and unnerving.

For me, yesterday was also my late husband’s birthday, and that too was gut wrenching. It brought back memories of tines when we had tried to make his birthday special, but he was too unwell to always enjoy it. I was often so helpless to support him, as his ongoing health deterioration didn’t ameliorate for special occasions.

The tears have just flowed- not just for all these losses, but because of what they represent. We seek to honour flawed people, and we are all deeply flawed, but people trying to do their best, showing extraordinary courage in very different contexts. We lament, as we also give thanks for their lives.

I remember the verse from psalm 126 verse 5 ‘ those who sow in tears will reap with joyful song’. At the moment, that feels difficult to imagine, yet we trust………

Eternal God, from the rising of the sun to its setting, Your name is to be praised. We go through seasons of loss and heartache, where our tears are so raw, we can no longer discern the specific cause, as loss piles upon loss. Maybe part of getting older, is witnessing all the changes in the world, and learning to find acceptance and peace. Lord Jesus, you look upon people with compassion, You see our earthly struggles and our many tears. Not a tear falls, that You do not see. We give you thanks for the richness of life, for the inspirational people who seek to do good. Holy spirit, as the tears flow, comfort us in our grief. Thankyou that there is always a rainbow after the heaviest shower, a ray of hope after the darkest night, eternal life with God, after our mortal life on this earth. We live with both a torrent of tears, and also with the prospect of new birth and resurrection, and so we find strength and peace. Thankyou, heavenly Father, Amen.

A torrent of tears.

So many losses…

There are days when things feel better, and there are signs of hope. And then there are other times.

For me, I have had a difficult couple of weeks. It all started with the death of Mikhail Gorbachev about ten days ago. I had watched the poignant Storyville interview with him, a few years before his death. When he led the USSR through glasnost and perestroika in the late 1980’s and sought to act amicably on the world stage, he changed the course of the world for good. Yes of course he was flawed, but he was courageous and advocated free speech, reform and often championed non violent solutions. He has been blamed for the collapse of the Soviet empire, and he didn’t get a state funeral. Yet even at the end of his life, he retained a vision of what he was trying to do, and why it was important. He stood by his convictions, and greatly suffered as a result.

And then this week, there has been the death of HM Queen Elisabeth. Whatever your views on the institution of the monarchy, she dedicated her life to serving her people, and for over 70 years sought to fulfil that promise, whether it was though her travel through the Commonwealth, her thoughtful role at state events, and her listening, encouragement and insights shared with so many. We all saw her in the photos on Tuesday inviting Liz Truss to form a government, just two days before her death, with the Queen looking frail but dignified, deeply engaged in what was going on, and very much at peace in her surroundings. Somehow these pictures made the news of her death on the Thursday much more shocking. We have lost now just our Queen, but the stability and continuity she represented, and that feels so emotional. Between the impact of the pandemic, the war in the Ukraine, and the worry about the cost of living crisis, the amount of profound changes we are living with keep stacking up, and are disorientating and unnerving.

For me, yesterday was also my late husband’s birthday, and that too was gut wrenching. It brought back memories of tines when we had tried to make his birthday special, but he was too unwell to always enjoy it. I was often so helpless to support him, as his ongoing health deterioration didn’t ameliorate for special occasions.

The tears have just flowed- not just for all these losses, but because of what they represent. We seek to honour flawed people, and we are all deeply flawed, but people trying to do their best, showing extraordinary courage in very different contexts. We lament, as we also give thanks for their lives.

I remember the verse from psalm 126 verse 5 ‘ those who sow in tears will reap with joyful song’. At the moment, that feels difficult to imagine, yet we trust………

Eternal God, from the rising of the sun to its setting, Your name is to be praised. We go through seasons of loss and heartache, where our tears are so raw, we can no longer discern the specific cause, as loss piles upon loss. Maybe part of getting older, is witnessing all the changes in the world, and learning to find acceptance and peace. Lord Jesus, you look upon people with compassion, You see our earthly struggles and our many tears. Not a tear falls, that You do not see. We give you thanks for the richness of life, for the inspirational people who seek to do good. Holy spirit, as the tears flow, comfort us in our grief. Thankyou that there is always a rainbow after the heaviest shower, a ray of hope after the darkest night, eternal life with God, after our mortal life on this earth. We live with both a torrent of tears, and also with the prospect of new birth and resurrection, and so we find strength and peace. Thankyou, heavenly Father, Amen.