Longing for Shalom.

A quest for peace.

War and conflict are greatly reflected upon, at this time of year. We have thought of legacies, lamentation, and now we seek to explore our longings. Out of a November remembering the horrors and visicitudes of war, so now we plead for God to bring some good purpose out of all this.

Having thought of shell-shocked soldiers in the deep mud of the trenches of the first world war, and the bombings of the Atlantic convoys in the second world war, of the IED’s of more recent conflicts, the trauma and inhumanity of war experiences, broken bodies and spirits, are all too clear. The cost of conflict in human lives is incalculable.

Yet this is not the end of the story, because exposure to these military stories and experiences, reminds us of our purpose as human beings, our deep yearning for shalom, for healing and goodness and forgiveness and love and peace.

I was reminded of the biblical vision of of a peaceful Kingdom in Isaiah 11: 6: ‘ in that day the wolf and the lamb will live together, the leopard will lie down with the lamb, the calf and the yellowing will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all.’

Desmond Tutu describes the fullness of biblical shalom ‘ God’s shalom, peace, involves righteousness, justice, wholesomeness, fullness of life, participation in decision making, goodness, laughter, joy, compasdion, sharing and reconciliatiom.’ In some ways, it seems like a long list of qualities, but shalom is just such a beautiful deep peace,the very presence of God- so it needs all these words and more just to catch a glimpse of it.

We have a deep yearning for a peaceful world, of justice and reconciliation and love. And the reason we have that, is because we have seen the alternative- a world where the loudest voice seems to win, where bullies get their own way, where lies prevail over truth, where mistrust and violence and conflict have become the norm. And the hurt and pain and tears are flowing in all nations and continents.

So let’s not just accept this as ok. Let’s not just put up with violence or abuse or exploitation. Let’s not say that the lives of children, or people with different views are lesser in some way. Let’s not say that where there is a dispute, that fighting and guns are the best way to resolve this. Have we learned nothing?

So may God give us a pure heart, to hear His voice. We need discernment, to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. We need the holy spirit of God to help us on our narrow path, and it is not easy.

Even if we resolve to do one thing, to pray for peace, to give to charity, to not escalate a dispute, to support a veteran, to breath before we speak- if everyone did these things, it would make such a difference. And because the task is great, may be not be put off, but have our inner compass always pointing to true North, to the larger purposes of God, for shalom for His people, for the world.

It is sometimes only when you have been through hard times, that you realise what is important in life. So out of the horror and brutality of conflict, may we yearn for something better, and resolve to work for Shalom in our lives and world, Amen

Let us pray, Gracious God, Maker of the Universe, You look upon our world, which you made to be so harmonious and beautiful, and You see the damage that our greed and selfishness has brought. Lord Jesus, have mercy upon us, and forgive us for our vindictiveness and struggles for status and power. Holy Spirit, humble us to seek the wellbeing of others before ourselves, to yearn for a true Shalom, and to be channel’s of your peace, Amen.

Remembrance- Lamentation and brutality.

War horse

Remembrance Day is one of the hardest of the year, thinking of all who have served, been injured and died in conflict and war. We think of the first world war 1914- 18 and the second world war 1939-45. But we also think of more recent conflicts and wars, Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, Iraq.

Many of us have relatives that have fought and died, and we seek to honour their memory. But the sad fact is that many veterans who come home, have PTSD and mental health problems which can become overwhelming, and which leaves them homeless on the streets of our cities. We see them every day.

The sheer brutality and violence of war is haunting and visceral. Whether it is in the muddy trenches of Flanders, or the streets of Belfast, at Dunkirk or the opium fields of Afghanistan, shooting, bombs and explosions maim, wound and kill.

We often see such conflict expressed in film, snd I remember especially seeing the film ‘War horse’. Seeing that horse entangled in the barbed wire, the barbs getting deeper into its flesh the more it struggled, and its cry of distress and pain, somehow embodies for me the cry of all who suffer the long term effects of violence and war.

The horse entangled in the wire on the battle field, reminds me of Jesus on the cross, innocent yet suffering such great pain. Jesus had done nothing wrong, but he suffered because of the guilt and violence of humanity, paying the price for our greed and selfishness, so we could be cleansed and forgiven.

When I think of my late husband Colin Gardner, and his struggles as a veteran having come home from mitary service, I think of his pride in his service, but also his colossal frustration with his disability, his perpetual recounting of traumatic experiences and his feeling that nothing else in his life could ever mean as much as his military memories. His pain, physical and emotional were enormous. This time of year and the 5th November and all the noises of the fireworks made him want to dive for cover, and to draw his gun, and retraumatised him.

The death of Jesus Christ, reminds us that on the cross, love ultimately wins, transcending hatred and cruelty, bringing forgiveness for all who seek peace. We learn even from the most horrendous pain and brutality, and find renewed purpose in working for a better world, a kingdom of justice and peace.

In this season of Remembrance, we remember all who gave their lives in conflict and war. We also give thanks for all who served, and returned, but whose experiences maimed and scarred them for life. We lament on their behalf and pray for them and for their families. May God bring to them the healing and peace they seek.

Jesus’s words from John 15:13 : Greater love has no- one than this, to lay down one’s life for his friends.’

Let us pray, ‘ Gracious Father, Eternal God of hope and peace, we cry to You to have mercy upon us, for our world continues to be a place of conflict and dispute, of greed and violence. Lord Jesus Christ, you died alone on a cross, because of the greed and selfishness of our race, to be the perfect sacrifice to bring redemption and forgiveness for all. Holy Spirit, cleanse us from our pride and wilfulness, heal us from our wounds, help us to support and pray for all who struggle with the nightmares and brutality of war, and help us find new strength and peace, so that we can build for the future, Amen.

Honouring a legacy?

This week, one of our very long standing church members died, and had a funeral that celebrated her long and incredibly full life. It was very moving, to reflect on all that she did, and she was described as a pioneer of her time. One of our challenges as a church, is how we live up to her legacy.

This started me thinking about what we leave behind us. None of us knows the number of our days, so how do we make them count?

I found a quotation from the 4th century Greek statesman Pericles:   

          ‘what you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the life of others.’

I started writing because I wanted to honour my late husband’s life. Somehow, telling his story, helps us as a family, to find meaning in what has taken place, and to honour his legacy.

Part of this is shaped by a desire to raise the profile of the need for more effective care for veterans. The damaging nature of the long term emotional, spiritual and physical injuries after serving in armed conflucts, cannot be over estimated. And the impact on relationships and families can be immensely destructive.

It also feels important to raise awareness of the need for more research into epilepsy, and the exploration of possible new treatments. If some one’s seizures are well controlled by medication that is great, but if their epilepsy is intractable, life is challenging.

To honour Colin’s legacy, in the midst of these two strands, I also want to give thanks for people who have supported and prayed with us. God gave us kind people around us, guided our path, and sustained us on the darkest days, granting us all we needed.

And so Colin’s legacy is that even in the midst of trauma and disability, we are not to give up, that God gives us strength each day, leads us to helpful people, enables us to laugh, helps us find an internal resilience that we did not know we had. Every day of life is precious. God gives our lives a quality of love and grace that is life changing.

At times, I question writing about all this, because it makes you so vulnerable. But this feel like our purpose to try to encourage others,, and the best way I can honour Colin, so I pray for strength to do so, especially in these days leading up to Remembrance.

In Ephesians chapter 5, verse 2 it says:    ‘ live a life of love, love others as Christ loved us’                                         The legacy of Christ, is indeed love, and so sharing that love, truth and grace with others, is our greatest calling, let us pray.

Gracious God, forgive us that we often don’t think what our spiritual legacy is to the next generation. Lord Jesus, may we be inspired by generations of Christian people, who have faithfully and creatively followed you. May our life’s purpose be to honour the legacy of all who have gone before, and may your holy spirit guide us as to what to do, as we seek to pass on your life changing and transformative love and truth to others, Amen.

I’ll walk you to your car, lass.

Civility in the city.

Anniversaries are such strange things. You think you are prepared, but you seldom are. This month is the first anniversary of my father in law’s death, and it feels really emotional. He lived a long and full life, and he accomplished amazing things, but I still feel so very tearful at his death.

I used to visit him and his wife on a Sunday evening, and they always made us a meal, even when that should have been the last thing in the world they should have been thinking about. My mother in law would make a Sunday roast dinner for us, and took great pride in getting all the details right. How she cooked in that little scullery kitchen I will never know!

And then at the end of the evening, Tom would say to me ‘ I’ll walk you to your car, lass’. Everytime he said this, I would just be blown away. It was an old fashioned courtesy, offered as if it was so self evident that this was the only possible thing to do. They lived in the top flat, parking on the street was often difficult, and do with my parking skills, my car was often far away. But still he pull on his cap and jacket, and would accompany down the stairs. He would wave me out of my parking place, stopping the other traffic, just to make sure I got home ok.

That weekly courtesy was one of many, and just spoke of his kindness and manners. Even when he was less well, it took me all my time to stop him escorting me down the stairs, even when I protested that it was raining, and I didn’t want him to get wet.

Sometimes it is these little things that are so moving, so symbolic of his life, his thoughtfulness and humility and self effecting nature. Yet he also held strong views on politics, art and culture. He was incredibly witty, loved conversation and was stimulating company at dinner. He was an artist, with an independent vision and style. He was a brilliant husband, father in law, dad and grandpa. So sorely missed.

May we never take our loved ones for granted. May we take time to remember them, all the memories, good and bad, funny and poignant. May we have space to speak of them fondly, and to laugh and to reminisce. Every day is so precious.

In psalm 90 verse 12, the psalmist says : ‘ teach us to number our days, that we may gain a wisdom of the heart.’ Appreciating what we have, is just so vital, giving us thankful hearts, and puts all things in perspective.

Gracious God, our times are in your hands,and we are so grateful for all who have gone before us, who have shared their lives with us, who inspired us, and loved us. Lord Jesus, help us treasure all the ways You have blessed us, all the people who have shown us kindness. Holy Spirit, may the example of those who have gone before us, inspire us to live each day for good, that we may love and show compassion and thoughtfulness to others, and to seek to make this world a better place. Amen.

Changing colours of autumn.

This weekend, the weather has been glorious, and the colours rich and vibrant. The soft autumn sunshine, azure skies and soft clouds floating by are idyllic. The sun has been surprisingly warm, and if you find a sheltered spot, it is like being touched by the love of God.

Yet the message of all of this, is that the seasons are changing, that the leaves are starting to turn, and then to fall, sometimes gently, sometimes in a stormy frenzy of whirl.

Autumn brings hope, because it reminds us that change can be beautiful. As human beings, we often seem stuck, stuck in grief or trauma or illness. We get used to it, and forget that there is another way to live.

Jesus was always on the move, going to different places, meeting new people, praying, challenging people as to how they could follow him. He was never static. So we too are called to be open to learning, to explore our creativity, to deepen our spirituality, to be fashioned into the very image of Christ. The Holy spirit is ever at work within us.

When we enjoy the changing autumn colours, I think God is also inviting us to change- to somehow find deeper healing from the past, and the courage to move on. This seems to be slow, painstaking work. We complain as the leaves fall, as there is so much to let go of, regrets, old patterns of thinking, difficult memories, dark hurts. Yet if the tree lies bare for a winter, by spring there is new life, new growth, new colour.

For all those entranced by the melancholy beauty of autumn, may we allow God to search our souls, guide our thoughts, to help us to choose wisely, to establish a new rhythm of life. It might be a painful transition involving reflection and self awareness, but my prayer for all of us, is that we are able to keep going forward

Let us pray, Lord Jesus, we strive to go forward, to move on from the past, but unbidden memories can force their way to the surface. Cleanse us by your holy spirit, and give us the vision of better things that are to come, of new growth and energy. And on days when it just seems too hard, may we just rest in the warmth of your love, and find your gift of deep, healing peace in your rays of light. Thankyou Father God, that we can rest with you, to marvel at Your beauty, and be in communion with You, Amen.

A convergence of sorrow and love.

Light and shade

In life sometimes there can be the juxtaposition of too many sorrows. The loss of a loved one, of a job, of a dream, all coming at the same time. There are so many things that can cause people to mourn, not just our personal circumstances, but the loss of certainty, a wailing over injustice, a deep sorrow at the state of the world. In this time of pandemic, turbulent international politics and horrendous poverty and injustice, we have so many reasons for sorrow.

Walking in the valley of the shadow can be scary and lonely. There are so many dark places on the path, which are unexpected and unnerving. Yet it is when we are under pressure, that we call out to our Saviour, when we find out what it means to have him walk beside us on that path.

One of my favourite verses is from Isaiah chapter 43: ‘ I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places’. I often ponder what this means, but it seems to be that it is only when everything goes wrong, and you feel overwhelmed, that the beauty of Jesus’s presence can be truly felt and appreciated. Somehow it is only through being in the darkness, that we find out who we really are, and the discover the blessing of God’s grace to us. For He never turns His back on us, and when we are weak, He holds us up, and encourages us each step of the way.

And do there is a convergence of sorrow and love, for it us only in the deepest despair, that we experience the tender and transformative love of God, His Holy spirit refining our characters, so the dross is burned away, and only the gold comes forth. We are changed forever, with such an overwhelming waterfall of love flowing over us, that we are cleansed and strengthened and inspired.

The cross points to this deep truth, because in this place of human cruelty and barbarism and pain, Jesus lived out the love of God, revealing concern for his followers, forgiveness for the sinner, and a trust that he could commit his spirit to His heavenly Father. The cross is the most powerful and moving expression of love, because it is when Jesus is desolate and separated from his heavenly father, we see the extent of his self giving love for all.

This encourages our hearts, for when we are burdened looking after a loved one who is chronically unwell, or when we are struggling with pain and ill health, and life seems colourless and drab, that is when Christ’s presence gives us new strength, when we feel appreciation of a random act of kindness, when we are gently drawn into an experience of love that defies all description. In the darkest moment, God can bring a revelation of His grace, which whispers to our souls a word of peace.

I feel really thankful, that even in my worst days, God was there. Even when it seemed no- one understood, God listened. Even when all seemed lost, God was faithful. We are so blessed.

I remember the words of that great hymn ‘ when I survey the wondrous cross’ and the third verse says this: ‘ see from his head, his hands, his feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down; did e’er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown?’

May we pray, Gracious God, we give thanks that even on the most drab and empty days, in the midst of our unmittigating sorrow, You reveal to us the depth of Your love in Christ, that convergence of sorrow and love on the cross, and you meet with us, and through your holy spirit breathe new strength and life into our souls. Your amazing love demands all we have, gladly given in love and service,and so we declare our love and devotion for You anew, Amen.

A legacy of wonder- the ice cubes are dancing!

We have had a beautiful weekend- my amazing son Andrew has become 21 years old. For a mum, you wonder where all the years went- they pass so quickly in a whirl.

It has been a very emotional time. We are so sad that Colin – Andrew’s dad isn’t here to celebrate with us, nor Colin’s parents. So much loss, and a big gaping hole in our lives. Having tried to write a little about Colin’s life too, my soul is full of the things that went wrong, times of illness and irritation.

However I also wrote some personal notes about Andrew’s life as he grew up, just now and again, to remember some of the details of his childhood. And at the weekend, I reread these, and it has been so healing. It reminded me of Andrew’s courage, his complete independence as a small boy, his determination, his quirky sense of humour, his insights, his patience. Andrew has an amazing turn of phrase- like when he was small, and he looked at his orange juice one hot day, and said ‘ the ice cubes are dancing’ Once you hear this, ice cubes are never the same again, they move and clink and dance to an unheard beat. It is seeing the wonder in the ordinary.

And so, even as I look back over the years, and grieve the losses and pain of my husband’s disability, so I have been reminded of the moments of mercy and wonder in every day. I am so privileged to have a son, who has always done his own thing, and who has brought us such joy. Whether it is his love of cars and their engines, or his insights into science fiction, or his infectious enjoyment of waterfights, our lives were always full.

And I think of Jesus saying of his sheep in John chapter 10 verse 10a: ‘I have come that they might have life, and gave it to the full.’ Jesus gives us the gift of life, with its sorrows and splashes of light, to experience the sadneses of life, and moments of connection and inspiration that are so ethereal it makes you cry.

And so today, I am full of a deep gratitude, for the vivid reminder that in the midst of uncertainty and illness, God blessed us as a family with a beautiful life together- however uproarious and chaotic it looked! And Colin’s legacy lives on in Andrew’s hard work, strength, loyalty, insight and humour.

May we value our children, and all our loved ones, and tell them what they mean to us, and savour every moment we have with them. May we always pray and encourage them, so that a legacy of wonder and love, can be passed down. Let us pray

Dear God, Creator of all things, You share with us all that You are, love, mercy, goodness and truth, forgiveness, wonder and joy- as Jesus demonstrates, life in all its fullness. Life can be bittersweet, but may your holy spirit keep our hearts from becoming hard, and enable us always to see the wonder around us, and to share that dance and legacy of love with others, Amen.

Joy in the journey

Surges of activity and then rest.

Dear friends, we are all on a journey from one place to another. For some of us, as lockdown restrictions ease, we have physically travelled. For all of us, we know that we are on a spiritual journey through life, taking us from experiences in the past into whatever lies ahead. There are many stony paths, diversions, hill tops and even dead ends, sometimes we are injured enough route, and we need so much guidance as we travel.

One of the wonderful things about God, is that He has promised to be with us. We want to learn from the past, to rejoice in the good, to learn from our mistakes, to find healing for the saddnesses, so we can continue on our journey. Often we reach a crossroads on the path, and have to work out our next step.

The famous words in Proverbs chapter 3, verses 5 and 6 say:

‘ Trust in the Lord with all your heart,  and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.’

Taking time to listen to God, to pray, to study His Word, to take time to reflect, so we can discerm the way ahead is so vital. And it is only knowing where we have come from, that helps us work out our next steps. Being more open and honest about my life in the past has been exhausting and scary, but hopefully eventually it might be liberating. The Holy Spirit sometimes takes us through the wilderness ( not our first choice of location!) yet the things we learn – our complete dependence on God for all things- couldn’t be experienced any other way.

In a conversation recently, some one said that they were ‘ plodding’ and sometimes there is a heaviness to our lives, we are just putting one foot in front of another.

A song from Michael Card encourages me, and it has the following lyrics:  ‘ There is a joy on the journey,             There’s a light we can love on the way.  There is a wonder and wildness to life,   And freedom for those who obey.’

Sometimes the jouney is uphill, and we are breathless and our muscles are sore. Sometimes we have to stop and rest for a while. Sometimes we have to check our compass, and go a different route. But with our Saviour with us, there is light and wonder and wildness on that journey, and paradoxically freedom from obedience. And a joy, even in the hardest of places.

Whether we are in a dark marsh, a rain soaked walk, or a mountaintop, may we somehow find joy on our journey, a thanksgiving for the process, and hope that our destination might bring better things.

Let us pray, Dear God, your people often set out on journeys, Abraham and Sarah, Moses, David and so many others. We too are travelling through life, and sometimes the road is clear, but other times we are disorientated and in the dark. Be our Guide, Lord Jesus, and may we have courage to follow your Voice. May your Holy spirit help us find that freedom in obedience, that brings us thanksgiving and joy, Amen.