Why are the birds singing?

Perhaps like many people, I have had some difficulty sleeping in the last few weeks. I have often heard bird song about 5am- I think maybe a persistent blackbird singing enthusiastically away!

Recent weeks have been tough. In our local community there has been so much heartbreak and sadness. There have been many tears.

Internationally, the invasion of the Ukraine, under the orders of President Putin has caused so much heartache that I can only watch in small doses. The fighting and casualties, the suffering of students abandoning their studies and taking up arms, the shelling of civilians, bewildered, crying children, families separated and so many refugees on the move with only the clothes they stand in. We pray and do what we can, but feel so very helpless and despairing.

So at 5am, my question is often, why are the birds still singing? Do they not know what is happening, that so much sorrow and sadness has engulfed the earth?

And yet, maybe they sing at dawn, because they trust that after the darkness of night, the sun will still rise. After the cold and the dampness, the warmth of the sun will still transform the landscape. After the long hours of sleeplessness, there is still possibilities of rest.

The verse from psalm 126 is true: ‘ Those who reap in tears, will reap with songs of joy’.

It is true, but not always our experience right now. The faces of the sick, the stressed, the traumatised, the terrified are right in front of us. We cannot forget. We should not forget. Our feelings of anger and disgust at the pain of unjust conflict and injustice is lasting. But we hope that eventually one day it might be different. It might be in heaven itself, but one day there will be peace. And meantime there is hope, and that is why the birds sing.

Gracious God, sometimes the suffering and evil in this world weighs heavily upon us, and we despair. Yet we remember that You, Lord Jesus, faced the powers of darkness on the cross, and that forgiveness and love overcame. When the world seems so dark, please send your holy spirit, to remind us that the light still shines. And when we hear the song of the birds, may this bring hope to this broken and weary world, and make we stubbornly resolve each day to pray and work for peace, Amen.

Rewinding the tape……

A snowy scene….

When I had a few days away, I was so drawn to snow. I just love the look of it on the mountains, and the crispness of the air. It felt so clean.

As I reflected on this, I was reminded of the words in psalm 51 verse 7:

‘Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean, wash me and I will be whiter than snow.’

I am beginning to realise that I am older, and that I have been through so many experiences, and accumulated so many memories. Some I wouldn’t be without, for these memories are cherished, but others are really difficult and poignant. I go over them often in my thoughts, and they come unbidden to my mind.

And so part of me craves that cleansing that the psalmist speaks of, that God would cleanse me of my sin- my dark thoughts and grumbles, and also of sad and traumatic memories. It would be lovely to have a new start, without the weight of all the mistakes and regrets of the past.

Our past mistakes have ongoing consequences, and we cannot escape these. Heartbreak and painful experiences also leave their scars. It would be wonderful to rewind the tape, and have a second chance…….

I guess that we learn from every experience, however dark, so they all have a purpose. We wouldn’t be the people we are, without all the experiences that formed us, however hard they are. We pray that God would help us learn from each one, and bring healing, so that we in turn can listen to and support others. At times it seems a high cost to pay. However when we think of our Saviour, and his death on the cross, to bring us cleansing, forgiveness and healing, our negative experiences are put into perspective. Out of painful experiences, love brings possibilities of grace.

Gracious God, sometimes we are haunted by difficult memories that replay in our minds, past mistakes and regrets. For Jesus’ sake, please cleanse us, and make us white as snow. Set us free from all that entangled us and weighs us down, and may your holy spirit remind us that your mercies are new every morning, so great is your faithfulness. If we can’t rewind the tape, may we at least have a new opportunity each morning, to decide to live each new day following You Lord Jesus, and sharing your forgiving and extravagant love with all, Amen.

Sparkling ice crystals

Wonder!

I have been called away to spend time with God. I am so relieved, as the cares of this world are so heavy. In the last week, there has been so much sad and tragic news. My friends are suffering, and it is so tough. Life can be so cruel at times.

So I am up here in the Cairngorms, and it is stunning, whether it is overcast, or blue skies or raining – and it has been all three in the short time I have been here. The searing wind definitely blows all the cobwebs away!

The majesty of the white streaked mountains, contrasted with the black contoured ridges in so many curvy patterns absorbs your attention, and helps you to just be lost in the expansive vastness of the universe. And I had to find lochs nearby, just for the reflection.

Just being still in nature, can bring restoration and hope, even in the darkness of times. We need to keep choosing to look for the good and beautiful, even when we don’t feel like it.

Some one said ‘ in order to appreciate the beauty of a snowflake, it is necessary to stand out in the cold.’

It can be in the hardest of times, when life feels cold and hostile, that we can glimpse the greatest beauty.

‘He makes everything beautiful in its time.’ Ecclesiastes 3: 11

I took a bit of a circuitous route to get here last night. It was dark and the road more of a track than anything. But I saw the moon reflect on a loch with snow covered mountains around. I met deer who crossed the road in front of me. It was a beautiful journey, that I would have never had if I hadn’t left the beaten track ( or correct road). Even when we are on the road less travelled, may we marvel at the beauty.

Gracious God, sometimes we are lost in the dark, unsure of our direction. Yet You still guide us, and reveal to us unexpected beauty in the landscape, sparkly snow or moonlight reflected on a loch. Lord Jesus, reveal to us Your goodness and mercy to us, so that we might be entranced once more by your love. Sometimes we are hurting deeply, and do not understand. Holy spirit come alongside us, and bring to us your consolation and peace, Amen.

Living, not surviving!

Life in full colour!

It feels at the moment, that we are all just surviving, rather than living. The covid 19 virus has affected our lives in such a profound way, not just in terms of the number of people with long covid, or who have passed away. It has also meant we have been isolated from one another, seeing our homes as safe, and going out as being risky. Familiar patterns have become more time by ourselves, less outings, less socialising. It seems as if we are all in danger of becoming a recluse!

If we were trying to cram too much into life before the pandemic, a bit more space can be beneficial. However for many people it has meant that we feel cut off from the rest of the world. We are thankful to have food and a roof over our heads, but we are at risk from becoming more self orientated, and less socially engaged.

Surviving can look different for different people. Maybe we are going to work, seeing family and watching TV. Maybe we are waiting for an operation, and struggling with ill health. Or perhaps we are a bit disappointed with life, a bit low mood. It is as if we are living in black and white instead of colour.

When we are healing, whether from health issues, trauma or bereavement, surviving is sometimes all we can do. Hopefully as the wound heals, and we get stronger, we can gradually begin to live, to find our identity, to dance, to dream. Let’s not live life as second best, but to appreciate every moment, and to explore and be creative, to travel and to have adventures again.

In John 10:10 Jesus said ‘ I have come that they (my sheep) may have life, life in all its fullness ‘

We are reminded that God wants us to live full lives, lives of love, of learning, or prayer and compassion, and of sharing the richness of our faith with others. He still has a good purpose for us, even when for a while we cannot imagine what that could be. May we never give up hope, but be willing to go forward, at times maybe fearful or with reservations, but also with a sense of wonder and expectation.

Gracious and Generous God, You lavish Your love on us, even when we are in dark places, just going through the motions in our lives, just surviving, because anything else is too hard. Lord Jesus when we are ready, lift us out of that chasm so our feet are on the rock, and so we can see the world in colour again. Holy spirit, open our eyes to Your beauty and goodness, and breath your life into us afresh so we can live in your freedom, with hope and joy once more. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eeyore kind of days

A blue day!

Eeyore often seems to be feeling sad and gloomy. Even with his friends Winnie the Pooh, Tigger and Piglet, he can sound a bit mournful. And sometimes he just doesn’t seem to know why, he just is.

I think we can all have Eeyore days, when we seem to get out of bed on the wrong side, and it doesn’t matter how hard we try, we just can’t shake that feeling of heaviness. These are days when we are low energy, often irritable, and completely resistant to anyone who has the audacity of trying to cheer us up.

I guess, sometimes, we just need to give one another space to be sad. Sometimes there is a reason to be low mood- it could be an unpleasant conversation, a disappointment or a difficult anniversary. All these things could cause upset. At other times, there is no obvious reason- it is just a day we struggle.

I always remember the story of Job’s comforters, who sat with him whilst he was questioning why so many bad things had happened to him. He lost his children, his home, his livelihood and his health. He lamented his plight, with tears and angst. His friends who sat by him, were a comfort, till they opened their mouth. They tried to provide answers, when there were none, and so they only made it worse. They even tried to suggest it might all have been Job’s fault, and they increased his sense of distress.

When we are hurting, or just feeling a bit lost, we know that God is always willing to be with us. He never rejects us or belittles us. Rather In Isaiah 41:10, it says: ‘Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be dismayed for I am your God, I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.’

When we are having a difficult day, God tells us not to fear, for He is with us, and will strengthen us. When we are unsure He will steady us, and help us. We have such a wonderful and faithful God!

Gracious God, sometimes we have so many questions, we are in so much pain, that we can’t begin to articulate what is wrong. We are just having a sad, kind of lonely day. Thankyou Lord Jesus, that You are the one who stays with us in our distress, that you are closer than a brother. Your love lifts us up from the pit, and you encircle us with grace. Holy spirit, thankyou that when we have no answers we don’t need to hide, that we can be honest, and that you give us people who will sit with us in companionable silence. Thankyou for those people, Amen.

Breathtaking beauty in unsettling times

A mandarin duck

There are so many choices to make every day. So often I want to make the safe choice, to do less, to hide. It seems so tempting. There are times when this is what we need to do, in order to heal.

But I also think there are times when God calls us to go out, to make that change, to speak when it is unpopular, to take that next step.

I am reminded of Jesus saying to Peter out on the boat ‘come!’ So Peter got out of the boat, and walked on water, and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was frightened, and he began to sink, and he cried out ‘Lord, save me’. Immediately Jesus extended his hand to him and caught him.’ Matthew 14: 29-31a

It was night, and when Peter saw Jesus walk on water, he wanted to join him. When he was focused on Jesus he could do it, but when he doubted and got frightened he sank. Even then, Jesus caught him- immediately. What compassion and grace.

I had heard there were mandarin ducks in the area, and I thought I will never see any, it is not worth trying. Another part of me thought I will never know if I don’t try. And so I went out, and found this beautiful bird on the river! When I found the motivation to try, I found the very thing I sought.

Now I am not saying that every time we try, we will find what we are looking for. But I am saying that if we don’t try, we won’t find it. So sometimes like Peter, we need to have the courage to try, and we might just find the very thing we seek.

Gracious and patient God, You are so good to us, and You understand us when we feel negative and unmotivated, times when we give up trying. Lord Jesus, thankyou that You speak to us and remind is to come, and that good things are still possible, even moments of breathing beauty and kindness. In unsettling days, may Your holy spirit give us courage to get out of our boat, and to seek new adventures, and to continue to trust in Your good purposes. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Finding new paths.

Sloy dam!

It is amazing how often at the beginning of a new year, we feel compelled to give up bad habits and to embrace new more healthy ones. This week, I was able to try a bit of hill walking, on a beautiful winter day. It was glorious!

However it didn’t start like this. It started with the thought, should I really be doing this. Finding the car park to start off with was hard enough, never mind the right path. The signs were far from clear, and it was only watching the wee group of people ahead, that gave me a clue which was the right gate to go through to start off. It was just a bit disorientating.

After I came back however, I had chatted to other people, consulted a map, and got my bearings much better. Now it has become familiar territory, and much easier to contemplate doing again.

It reminded me that doing things for the first time, is often pretty scary. However well prepared we are, we have to interpret new information, process our enviroment and find our direction. It takes energy and courage.

For people who are traumatised or grieving, there are many things that we need to learn to do, to be self aware and to have confidence to explore- whether it is making a choice, going out with friends or moving house. There are decisions that need to be made, and often we need to have courage to take that first step.

In psalm 119 it says: ‘ Your Word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path’. Knowing God’s Word helps us to honour Him in our decision making, and gives us a moral compass. His Holy spirit guides us as to what might harm us or bless us, and this helps us make the best decisions, even when they are scary or new. We give thanks that we are never alone, and that God guides us and helps us venture out on new paths.

Eternal Father, we often are anxious about going in new directions, and a bit worried how things might turn out. In all our ways may we acknowledge You, and may you make our paths straight. Lord Jesus when we are hurting, we often lack confidence or motivation to try something different. It can seem so daunting. Please calm our fears, and may your holy spirit guide our feet and give us courage to explore, and to find new paths that lead to beautiful vistas, wonder and blessing, Amen.

Letting go the toilet roll from the back of the car!

Not needed!

Pandemics do strange things to people. We adopt survival habits, which seem a good idea at the time, but don’t hold up so well longer term. In the first months of the pandemic, there was a complete panic in society that we were going to run out of toilet rolls, and so many shop shelves were empty. And so I used to keep a packet of toilets rolls in the back seat of the car, so if I met someone who didn’t have any, I could offer them a packet. It seemed like a good idea!

However 21 months later, I still have a packet of toilet paper in the back of the car. I know that I don’t need them, that in fact no one needs them, but it has been hard to let go. What if there is another shortage?

I think that we have all put strategies in place to help us deal with the pandemic, new patterns of living to seek to keep us and others safe, going out less often, doing our lateral flow tests etc. Many of these patterns are necessary and good.

However for some of our coping strategies, we need to adapt, and to let go. They are no longer relevant- hoarding our favourite food, ordering everything on line, deciding we don’t need to catch up with friends the same way. It feels a little as if we are trying to control things, to make things seem better, to try to erase our worries and anxieties.

I love the verses from Jesus in Matthew chapter 6:25 onwards: ‘therefore i tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is life not more than food, the body more than clothing. Look at the birds of the air, they neither sow nor reap, nor gather into barns,and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?’

Do not worry, are words I think we all need to hear, especially as we go into a new year. Sometimes we get frazzled trying to sort things out, trying to envisage what might happen, and to try to prevent it. We so overthink.

God calls us just to trust Him, not to prepare for things that haven’t yet happened, to put our energy into worrying when we don’t know what the future will bring. Our heavenly Father knows us, He knows what we need, and He will provide for us, with grace and care. And so in this year ahead, may we lay aside unhealthy patterns and worries from the past, and find courage to go forward in freedom.

Gracious God, You give us freedom to choose how we respond to the dilemmas and enigmas of this life. Sometimes we have got stuck in old habits, negative patterns and worries. Lord Jesus, You came into this world to set us free, and to give us life in all its fullness. Holy spirit give us discernment to let go of unnecessary burdens and habits, and heal us, so we can live in freedom, and make wise choices in the present. As we enter into another year. May we trust You, for your eye is even on the sparrow, and so Your love and provision for us is even more wonderful. Thankyou Jesus, Amen.

The weather forecast said rain…..

But it was wrong!

This morning, the skies looked overcast and grey, and the weather forecast said it would rain. It didn’t look like a day for going out. However, I really felt like some fresh air, so putting on a big rainproof coat and boots, I ventured out, expecting the worst.

The thing was, as I started up a modest hill, all of a sudden the sun started to come out from between the clouds. The colours of the landscape around looked as if they were on fire, with yellows and oranges. And the deep indigo sky reflected in the water, and everything was gorgeous. It was such a clear and awesome view, made the more precious by being completely unexpected. It was a gift!

How often are we put off from doing something, because we are advised it is not a good idea, or it will be too hard, or it is just not possible. However listening to the negativity or advice of others is not always a good idea. It is worth listening to people’s insights, but we always need to ask the Holy spirit to guide us, and help us discern what to do. Sometimes it is worth venturing out, even when it looks like it might rain! There might be amazing experiences that we will miss if we stay in.

There is a weariness and cynicism around in the world, that can weigh us down, and make us question if it is worth bothering. But when we look to Jesus’ example, he persevered and kept on loving, even when he faced misunderstanding, opposition and even death. Through the cross, Love overcame all things.

I believe that it is important to keep venturing out, even when we do not know what we might face. In Romans 5, Paul writes about how suffering produces patient endurance, which brings character and hope. Even when things go wrong, God can help us learn things which might help another soul.

Galatians 6: 9 is also a timely reminder ‘ let us not grow weary in doing good, for at the right time, we will reap, if we do not give in.” A song from JJ Heller ‘Don’t give up too soon’ is a gentle reminder of this theme, and worth listening to.

There might be grey days, when we need to stay in and rest. There are days to go forward however, and to keep going, and not give up. For who knows what we will find, if we just keep taking the next step.

Eternal Father, You are the Creator of all things, and just being in Your Creation is such a blessing and inspiration, in all weathers. Lord Jesus, I confess sometimes I am easily put off, or discouraged from a new venture or project, because I am scared of all that might go wrong. Yet You set your face to Jerusalem, even though you faced opposition, as it was the only way to fulfil your purpose. Holy spirit, help us all to discern what to do, and when. Help us not give up too soon, but through prayer and encouragement, to persevere on our journey, Amen.

Grief creeping in round the edges.

Exhaustion and beauty together.

Christmas Day is now passed. It is a time of thanksgiving, for people that we have spent time with, gifts exchanged, worship in church – atmospheric and inspiring! So much to appreciate.

Despite my strenuous and best efforts, I still find it hard not to grieve as well. I think that I have lost three close relatives in three years, and there is something about the intensity of that, exacerbated by the restrictions of the pandemic, that just seem hard to overcome. I suspect I need to try less hard, and just let things be. It is exhausting trying to be content.

My parents in law, loved showing hospitality at Christmas. They would have the flat decorated, their table would look amazing, they loved to cook food, and for people to chat together. There were elegant candles and tiny shiny angels. They were truly convivial people, and they enjoyed creating a welcoming and lovely space.

There is a cliche about loss, that when some one dies, that there is an empty place at the table. For me, it feels so much bigger than that because the table itself has gone. There is a loss of the whole experience, which will never return.

I am so grateful for the patience of God. He lets me be sorrowful when I need to. When I am trying hard to be optimistic, He gives me space to acknowledge my grief. In Matthew chapter 5 verse 4 Jesus says ‘ blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted’. And in these days of mixed emotions, the presence of God is indeed a solace.

Eternal God, You are so patient and loving when we hurt. Sometimes we try to hard to heal, as it feels as if we should be better by now, that people don’t want to listen to our continued sadnesses. We exhaust ourselves trying to be upbeat, and grief creeps back in around the edges. Lord Jesus thank you that You love us as we are, that You are our Emmanuel, the God who is with us. Thankyou that You reach down to us, and enfold us in your love, and let us rest. Holy spirit we know You transform our souls, in your perfect timing. Meantime, help us just to wait, quietly, patiently, but with the hope that one day things will indeed be better, Amen.