Lent- lamentation in the night.

Reality kicks in….

My Lenten journey this year has been tough, both professionally and personally. I have had a number of challenging Lents, but this ranks high on the scale of difficulty, partly I guess because so many things have been so dispiriting on so many levels.

I suppose we all know that sense of an intersection of various sadnesses and hurts in our lives. Some years are just like this, when we face a bundle of difficulties simultaneously, and it takes everything from us, to be able to navigate them.

Sometimes I think God allows us to be in a cocoon for parts of our lives, where He protects us from noticing the darkness all around, and then when we are ready, He holds open just a corner of the curtain and reveals the horror and darkness of the world. It is a gruesome and overwhelming sight- so much pride and violence, sadness and evil.

And so we lament, we cry from the pit of our stomach, a raw wailing of pain and loss. It is a time of searching and questioning- why is there such evil in the world, so many conflicts, people exploited, corruption and cruelty. Why are so many still in such pain as we begin to come out of the pandemic, weighed down by grief and loss and trauma. At the beginning of the pandemic, we promised to build a brave new world, where we were kinder and focused on what mattered. Where has that vision gone?

In the midst of anguish and lament, again and again I go back to Job’s powerful words ‘ I know that my Redeemer lives’ from Job 19:25

In the midst of personal loss and tragedy, Job was sure of his God, that somehow God was still good, merciful and loving. That is the challenge for all of us. As a human race, God has let us live with the consequences of our actions, and these are so ugly- carnage, destruction, cruelty, darkness. But He never leaves us without hope. There are a myriad of opportunities for redemption through the cross, through us being willing to pray, to grow in our discipleship, to work for good, to choose love. God has equipped us for all we need, and has given us the gift of His spirit to strengthen us and encourage us.

In the desert, we are confronted with the starkness of our lives, and it is ugly, and we weep. But we are also reminded that every day we have a choice, to choose the light or the dark, to despair or to hope, to give up, or to have new resolve to go forward. May God speak to us today, whatever our circumstances, and help us always to choose life and love.

Father God, in the night, things seem so dismal, and we so easily become afraid and despondent. We see the evil in the world and the destruction it causes, and we wail and lament, even more so when we see more clearly our own part in it. Lord Jesus, on the cross, You said ‘Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing’. In your mercy, forgive us, as individuals and as a planet. Cleanse us, and give us hearts filled with love and hope, lives transformed to bring your love into this broken and hurting world. We plead with You, for we need You so badly. Holy spirit subdue the darkness in our hearts and do a new thing. Keep us from.the temptation of giving up, and give us courage. After weeping in the night, comes rejoicing in the dawn. May that assurance give us courage for all that lies ahead, Amen.

Lent- a profound silence

A time to hear?

On a planet where there can be a cacophony of voices, strident experiences of discord and noisy upset, times of quiet can seem appealing. The desert times in Lent, offer opportunities to come apart from the harsh discourses of our society, and to notice the quietness of the natural world. That can be appealing.

However as we are lead further into the wilderness, the quietness that seemed so soothing in the beginning, can become unsettling. In the silence, all the distractions fall away, and we are left alone with ourselves and with God. This can be a scary place, as we notice things about ourselves that we do not like, things we were trying to bury deep down, and to deny.

Mother Theresa is reported to have said: ‘in the silence of the heart, God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you.’

In the quietness of the desert, we hear our own heartbeat, we reflect on our lives, and we see both ugliness and beauty. We celebrate the beauty, but we cry out to God with anguish about the selfishness, pain and sin we see within. We have to confront our inner demons, and cast them out in Jesus name. And then we ask for the holy spirit to cleanse us and fill us with light, goodness, love and hope.

The profound silence of the desert is both welcoming and then disturbing. It is a time of disarming honesty, when we need to confess our sin, and then journey on to find forgiveness and peace. There can be moments when we fear we are stuck, and the darkness weighs heavily on our souls.

There are echoes too of that silence, when Jesus gave his life for us on the cross, when the whole world held its breath. God invites us into that eternal moment of silence and revelation, when we realise anew the vastness of love, and the enormity of Christ’s sacrifice for us. We are drawn into a moment of revelation and reverence, which transforms the meaning of all things. In his trial and final days on earth, Jesus spoke so little, but his silence spoke eloquently and profoundly of his Father’s purpose and His mission of love.

‘ He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter’ Isaiah 53: 7

Eternal Father, we think we like silence, but we are also threatened by it, for in the silence we have to face our darkest fears, and release our deepest secrets. It can be an agonising time of realisation and pain. In the desert spaces of our lives, Lord Jesus have mercy on us, help us forgive ourselves as You have forgiven us. Help us weave times of silence into our daily lives, so we can hear Your voice. Holy spirit, when we see the brokenness of our own internal landscape, may your healing go deep, liberating us, and giving us insight, and strength to form new patterns. Guard and guide us, as we continue our journey, Amen

Lent- a howling in the night!

Scary noises reverberating in the dark.

I have been pondering much in recent days. I think that first steps in the desert is maybe one of the worst, most challenging part of the journey, because it is new and unfamiliar. Being in the desert at night, hearing the rustle of an ibex in the acacia trees, or the sound of hyenas in the distance and feeling vulnerable is a scary experience. That is when your imagination works overtime, and you can fear the worst.

Dealing with new situations generally can be like this. There is a deluge of new facts and information to deal with, and we have to reorient ourselves. It takes a lot of energy and focus. In times of transition in our lives, when things are changing on different fronts simultaneously, it is easy to get overwhelmed.

In the darkness in the desert, the most innocent of sounds can be built up in our imagination. We can become paralysed with fear, pumped full of adrenaline, hyper aroused, waiting for the next noise, working out if it is near or far, and what kind of threat it might pose.

In these times of disorientation and fear, we remember that God is with us. In psalm 3 verses 3 and 5, ( NLT translation) it says;  ‘But You O Lord,  are a Shield around me, you are my glory, the one who holds my head high. ……………                               I lay down and slept, yet I woke up in safety, for the Lord was watching over me.’

In the night, when we cannot sleep, and our thoughts run riot, we remember that God is our Shield and Protector, that he keeps us safe from the predators of darkness. And in the light of morning, we see things more clearly, our fears diminish, and our trust in our Faithful God is renewed. May we pray.

Gracious God, sometimes we fear the terrors of the night, and we need to be reminded that You shelter us under the protection of your wings, and that You keep us safe. Lord Jesus forgive us that we so quickly become worried and fearful. Help us to remember the words of psalm 91, that you will protect those who trust in You. Help us not to focus on the scary sounds of the night, but on Your faithful promises. In times of change and challenge, may your holy spirit help us to take a breath, to refocus on your love and truth, and then to confidently take the next step in our journey. For Jesus sake, Amen

Lent- hope in the wilderness

An early flowering……

Last week I was having a difficult day, and on a walk near a loch, I found this beautiful and early flower. Most of the tree was bare, with only a few buds, but this wee flower made me smile and brought me hope.

Lent is a desert time, when we remember that after Jesus’ baptism in the river Jordan, that the holy spirit then took him into the desert in Judea to be tempted in the wilderness for 40 days. After the purpose and blessing revealed and experienced in his baptism, Jesus was prepared for his ministry by a time of testing- Luke chapter 4:1-15.

There are times in our lives when we can really relate to that time of testing. Maybe we are despairing about something, or tempted to go down a path we know is wrong for us. Or it could be that we feel alone and vulnerable. Desert times test our love and our resolve.

My prayer for all of us in this period of Lent, is that we learn something that makes us stronger. Traditionally in Lent, we might think of goings to let go, excess chocolate or cakes or take away coffees! We can go deeper, to give up bad habits that take us away from God, too much social media scrolling, late night TV. We can ask God to help us let go of hurts, resentment and bitterness in our hearts.

Having let go, so we create space for God’s holy spirit to work. In the space, we might rededicate ourselves to prayer, or reading a gospel passage each day, or starting a prayer journal. We might commit to listening to praise music every day, or seeking to encourage and bless another person. We pray that somehow, even in the midst of the deepest struggles, God brings transformation to our lives. Then perhaps, there can be a flowering, even in the most unexpected of places.

‘The desert will rejoice, and flowers will bloom in the wastelands’ Isaiah 35:1

Gracious God, we confess that being in the desert is not something we enjoy. We hear the cry of wild beasts, and we are tempted and distracted and we get scared. Yet You, Lord Jesus, are with us, and you model how to stay close to God, by prayer and meditating on Your Word.

Whatever our struggles are, may we cry to You for help, and wait for your reply. May our eyes be fixed on You. Calm our overthinking and terrified imagining. May we know that You are near Lird Jesus, and find solace in the presence of your holy spirit, still guiding our path. And somewhere in the darkness of suffering, may there be new buds of faith, and flowerings of love, in Jesus name, Amen.

The straw that breaks the camel’s back……

Too much going on…

Sometimes when you go on holiday, and then come back, things have accumulated in your in-tray, in your email, in fact everywhere. There is a list of things to do, that can seem unending.

When we feel overwhelmed, we can often work out a coping strategy, and work out a plan. But then one additional thing comes in- it can just be small, can look very insignificant, but it is just one thing too many. It could be a plea for toilet rolls, a reminder of something undone, or a ‘ I know you’re busy but…….’ kind of request. And then it feels unmanageable, just like the mountain of stuff to do has become too great, and that it’s about to collapse on your head!

Life these days is so much more complicated than it was pre covid. People have changed- they are exhausted from continual adaption, from illness and stress, anxiety and financial worries. So everytime we go to do something, there can be unexpected complications. It can weary the soul.

I remember some one said ‘how do you cut up an elephant?’ And the answer is ‘ one piece at a time’. Now to be clear, I don’t want to cut up elephants, or indeed any living creature! But I have found the principle to be invaluable, when you have lots to do, just start with a little tiny bit, and that in itself makes a difference. Just one step, takes you forward.

I love too that I can always come to God, and share my worries with Him, and that He never turns me away. It is such a privilege. I can come ranting about whatever has gone wrong, unable to see a constructive way forward, and He lets me pour out my heart to Him. He listens with loving kindness, and I find a new strength, and see different possibilities that might work. I am blessed, even in the most tumultuous of times.

In psalm 62 verse 8, the psalmist says ‘ o my people, trust in God at all times. Pour out your heart to Him, for God is your refuge’

Gracious God, sometimes we try so hard to follow You, to persevere, to do all we can, but it doesn’t seem enough, and little things going wrong annoy us so badly. Lord Jesus, forgive us when we become grumpy and have a short fuse. In our time of need, may we turn to You. Take the cares of the world from our shoulders, and help us bring our worries to You in prayer. Set us free through your spirit. Help us to regain perspective, to find inspiration to find a new and better way forward, taking a deep breath, and trusting more fully in You. In your mercy, hear our prayer, Amen

Moments of Exquisite beauty!

View from former East German television tower

Travelling is good for my soul. It reminds me of the wider world, and puts things in perspective. It expands my horizons, and revives me as I learn and meet people, and have adventures. I feel so blessed.

Visiting Berlin has been an important thing to do for a number of reasons. I used to study post second world war international relations, and so actually being in Berlin, and visiting Check Point Charlie, and being able to picture the various sectors and seeing where the wall was built in 1961 has deepened my understanding of what took place. Reading the accounts of different individuals has brought everything to life.

The second reason that this visit has been so important is that I had booked to visit Berlin five years ago, when my husband took unwell, so I had to cancel. Being able to visit just now, feels like some kind of sense of completion.

There has been so much more to Berlin than I had imagined. It feels like a city looking for redemption, trying to come to terms with its past. Everywhere you go, there is also building work, and there is a momentum towards building a better future. The architecture of the city is so diverse, old Prussian stone buildings, monolithic flats in the former East German sector, and incredible new modern glass domes and futuristic shapes and forms.

I have been doing a massive amount of walking in the last few days. At times it has poured with rain, buses have been late, I have got lost, and my few words of German have turned out to be massively inadequate.

Yet in the midst of this, there have been moments of exquisite beauty, when God has placed me in the right place at the right time, and blessed me beyond measure. I just happened to be at the TV tower, without a ticket, just at the right time when the queue wasn’t too long, and when the sun was setting over Berlin. It was a gorgeous sight, which moved my soul, and I prayed for continued healing and reconciliation for the city, and for inspiration and strength for the churches here. Just a small prayer, yet it felt divinely inspired. I hope every prayer makes a difference, not just for Berlin, but for all of us.

Gracious God, thankyou for the reminder that You love everyone in every nation, and that You show such infinite love and compassion. Lord Jesus, you see all that has taken place, all the cruelty and division in our world, and You weep, just as You wept over Jerusalem. Forgive us our sins we pray, for we are all guilty. By your holy spirit, grant us moments of inspiration and deep gratitude , so that we can pray for unity, for stories to be heard, and for the dignity of all to be respected. May tears even at the top of a television tower, bring healing grace for all who carry unspoken pain from the past. Help us to see our cities through your eyes, and to ask even yet for a river of healing and peace to flow, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.

One thing too many……

Just too much stuff!

Despite my best efforts, my life still seems to have too much stuff! I am trying to let it go, and to have better daily habits, but my confession is that a few books have sneaked into the house recently. I can’t imagine how that happened….

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been reflecting on the stuff that seems to have engulfed us emotionally too, as we struggle to cope with the consequences of the pandemic. We have got into habits of not going out so much and of being more fearful and self contained. And there is so much anxiety and frustration in our society just now, we oscillate between overconfidence and withdrawal, quietness and agitation. For many people, when something goes wrong it is one thing too many, whether it is the bus that pulls out in front of you, or the person who is rude, or being kept on hold for an hour, trying to pay a bill. We live in an anxious age.

I love that Jesus said ‘ come to me all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your soul.’ Matthew 11: 28-9

We are carrying so much- the scars from the pandemic, the stresses of economic and political instability, personal burdens, and worry and concern about where we are going as a world community. It is too much to bear.

Yet Jesus invites us to turn to Him, to lay our burdens at the foot of the cross, and to find rest. He takes our worries from us, and calls us to trust Him, and to just be still. He wants us to have rest for our souls, a deep peace, that passes all understanding. When we have prayed, and tried all the things we can think of, and given it all we have, and it doesn’t seem to be working, we just need to come to Jesus, and rest and wait. For He is humble and gentle, and will bring restoration to our souls.

Gracious and Loving God, we cry to you from a wounded and conflicted world, where everything seems discordant and there is so much confusion and pain. In these days, even a little thing can become one thing too many. Lord Jesus, have mercy on us. Help us not to keep trying to solve things by ourselves, but just to come and tell you of our woes and ask for your guidance. Holy spirit, reveal to us the wisdom of our Heavenly Father, so our lives might be more centred and graced. And meantime, may we draw near to you, and find that healing and rest which we crave do badly in the presence of our merciful abba Father. Bring restoration and renewal we pray, Amen.

Binge tv- the pros and cons!

And the next episode!

In the depth of winter, binge watching TV is so tempting. When it is cold, wet and dark outside, you want to stay in and forget, and so watching a wee programme feels so comforting. And somehow you just keep going…..

Confession- I have been watching ‘New Amsterdam’, a hospital drama which has great characters and storylines. There are insights into what leadership looks like, as well as many complex pastoral situations. It can be quite mesmerising.

However, I am very conscious of the downside of it all too. Firstly, we need to have a certain discernment about what we watch. If we are feeling a little fragile, then watching something disturbing can keep us apart at night. Some of the darker series can be addictive but unsettling too, and have a really negative impact.

The other thing is that by watching too much TV, we actually are in danger of not living in the real world, but instead living through the lives of the characters we watch. They become our family, and we get so embroiled in what happens to them, that we feel as if we know them, and that they have become real to us.

There are times when binge watching something is helpful, in the holidays, or when we are looking for a distraction from illness or grief. These series can be a welcome distraction, and help pass the time. Some series are so well written, they are modern masterpieces, and tell a story so well.

However, I know I need to be careful. I need to learn to know when to turn the TV off, and be courageous to live in the real world. It is not as safe as being an observer, but it is what we are called to do, when we are ready.

In Psalm 90, verse 12 it says ‘ Teach us to count the number of our days, so that we may gain a wisdom of the heart.’ We only live a finite life on this earth, although an eternal one with God. We need times to relax and do very little. Yet we are called to use our time wisely, and to be purposeful. I don’t think I want some one doing a eulogy at my funeral saying that she was good at watching TV! I think I need a bit more variety somehow.

Gracious God, I thank you for the precious gift of life, to wake up each morning, to live in your love, and to show that love to others. Lord Jesus, sometimes I need to rest, to find restoration, even to watch TV, just to unwind. However help me to have healthy boundaries in my life, so that I can live life in all its fullness. Holy spirit, please may my rest bring renewal and inspiration, so I can live more purposefully for You, and to love and to bless others. Help me I pray, in Jesus’ name Amen.

Courage to speak!

Healing in the midst of pain.

I am deeply thankful for my life. That doesn’t mean that everything has gone smoothly, or I don’t have any questions. Life has often been painful, confusing, and dark. But in the midst of the obscurity and shadows, God has lifted me up, brought me forgiveness, has helped me endure, healed me and given me hope. In many ways, I have learned what is important though these experiences.

For me after my husband’s death, I was asking God to help me make any sense of it all, and He helped me tell his story as a veteran who had intractable epilepsy and trauma. He enabled me to write ‘ Love song for a wounded warrior’ and to tell something of his story, so he wouldn’t be forgotten. It was such a big step, to speak into the silence, to place letters on a pristine white page, and then to wait….

Then, later on, I wanted to share something of my story of healing and on going recovery. I found my anchor in H Nouwen’s ‘The wounded healer’ and wanted to share different ways that Christ’s healing love helped to heal my wounds of grief and loss with the salve of Gilead, to help me work through trauma, and to reconstruct my identity after being a carer for so many years. And so I wrote a second book ‘ Love songs for healing and hope’ . It is composed of a collection of these blogs, some beautiful insights from friends, and some pastoral resources.

A resource to support the grieving

I am so grateful to share this book ‘ Love songs for healing and hope’. It costs £15, and all proceeds are split between two amazing charities Richmond Hope and Quiet Waters. I would like to raise more money for these charities. So far, £1400 has been raised, and I am so grateful. If you would like to order a copy, please contact woundedwarriorfg@gmail.com Please also share this information!

My experiences have reminded me how important it is that everyone gets an opportunity to tell their story. It has made me a more attentive listener. It has helped me see things differently, and to marvel at the gift of life, and to cherish it. My thanksgiving enables me to be more purposeful and more appreciative. I have so much still to learn, and I want to thank you for sharing my journey, and to take this opportunity to thank you for your prayers and support. May we continue to support, love and pray for one another, as we seek to heal.

Creator God, You spoke, and everything came into being, the moon and the stars, the vastness of galaxies, made out of a swirl of tiny atoms. Lord Jesus, You are the Word of God made flesh, and we see the powerful way You communicated the very essence and goodness of God. Thankyou that You give humanity the gift of communication, to reveal, to comfort, to challenge, to inspire. Holy spirit give us all courage to speak, and the wisdom to know when we should be silent. Help us to use words well, to bless others, and to share Your magnificent and healing love with all. Amen.

Flooded by love!

So much water….

This month has been so wet and dark. The rain never ceases for more than a few minutes, and there is flooding everywhere, puddles are deep, roads are blocked, some houses are underwater. It feels a little dismal. Scotland is so wet!

I try to turn this around in my mind, by imagining that this is floods of love. That seems to be what the world needs so badly. We are so damaged, people hurting and under strain, systems under pressure, economic injustice, climate change,conflict and heartbreak. There is so much wrong.

So the world needs love, and not any love, but the strong, vibrant and beautiful love of God. God longs to see people set free, sins forgiven, for the world healed. But His love can only flow through people who accept it, who say yes, who will surrender to the light and goodness of Christ. If we live for ourselves alone, we block the purposes of God, and the brokenness gets deeper, and the pain more palpable.

I remember the words of the old hymn ‘there’s a wideness in God’ s mercy, like the wideness of the sea, there’s a kindness in his justice, which is more than liberty.’

There is an image here of water, of the waters of the sea, but that God’s mercy is somehow greater. As human beings we have messed up our world, our enviroment, our society, our relationships. We are so shortsighted and selfish. Yet in Christ, God looks at us with compassion, and longs to gather us back, cleansed, forgiven and restored.

May the floods of God’s love cascade through this world, cleansing, restoring, replenishing us. May the prodigals come home into the welcoming embrace of the Father. May the love of Christ melt even the hardest of hearts. May the holy spirit reveal the light and perfection of God, so all may delight to worship and surrender to God. This world needs God so badly, and He offers His love so freely. May we have the courage to respond.

Creator God, you created this world and her people to live in harmony, but we spoiled this by following our own will, rather than looking to You. We have caused so much damage and hurt. Please forgive us, because of the love of Christ, and have mercy upon us. Flood our souls with your love, sweep away the debris, heal and revitalise us, and by your spirit, may your love heal our lives, our families and our communities. We plead with you this day, help us to he open to your love, your will and ways, Amen.