Putting up the Christmas tree – special memories!

This is a photo from about 14 years ago. The memories are lovely, because everyone loved putting up the Christmas tree- as you can see! We put on Christmas music, found the decorations in the loft, brought everything downstairs and started. Many decorations were made by Andrew, or chosen on a special occasion. There was tinsel everywhere, and the result wasn’t always the neatest. As a family it was a fun activity to do together, with food and drink and even some dancing!

I so miss this. Today we bring the box down from the loft, and wonder who has time to untangle the lights, or get new ones. It has become a bit of a chore. There are so many fewer presents, as people are no longer here. It feels as if it has lost its sparkle.

If we have a Christmas with family all around, it is good to give thanks, and to enjoy all the people interactions, all the bustle and noise. If there are small children involved, then appreciate their wonder and even their tantrums!

Quieter Christmases are just different. There is more space to read, and walk and enjoy music. The Christmas tree eventually goes up, although there is a hint of sadness in its branches.

I remember the verse ‘ Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ 1 Thessalonians 5:18

There is something about giving thanks when it is busy, there are toys, and visits and laughter and chaos. Yet also giving thanks when Christmas involves fewer people, and less variety and voices. The challenge is to create new rituals and traditions, to form new communities and to find peace.

Gracious God, before Your face, generations rise and pass away. Thankyou for Christmas, and all the ways that we celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ into this world, the Babe of Bethlehem. We give thanks for the wonder and joy of children, and that they bring this dimension into the day. And we give thanks even when the place settings are empty, and a number of years have gone by. We remember with deep thanksgiving, and we treasure what we have. Holy spirit touch the lives of all for whom this Christmas is tough, and the loss of a loved one so raw. May we all find comfort, and in time courage to create new traditions, for the sake of our Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

‘A grief that feels like fear’

No words describe it…..

There is a new film out about C S Lewis ‘The most reluctant convert’. I would love to see it, and to find out more about C S Lewis’s life. CS Lewis was born in Belfast, fought in world war one, lectured at Oxford University, and was a friend of JRR Tolkien. He was a fascinating man, who went through a long period of his life as an atheist. However in 1929 he became a Christian. He wrote many books of insights about Christianity, as well as the famous Narnia series. He also wrote a philosophical book about ‘The problem of pain.’

Later in his life he married Joy Davidman Gresham, and sadly she developed cancer, and died in 1960. Lewis then wrote a slim book ‘ A grief observed’ about how it felt to lose someone. It is very intense, and I want to share a quotation from the beginning of the book:

‘No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.

At other times it feels like bring mildly drunk or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps gard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another, and not to me.’

I find this quotation so deeply moving, such an accurate description of the physical sensations of grief, a mixture of detachment and fear. And he speaks of that restlessness, where you cannot settle or concentrate, you want company, but you don’t have the focus to listen properly. It is like living a vortex of contradictions, that are confusing and disorientating. You wonder if things will ever feel different.

In John chapter 11: verse35, it says ‘Jesus wept’. He wept over the death of his friend Lazarus, and was deeply moved by the grief and bewilderment of Mary and Martha. His was troubled at all that was taking place.

Jesus understands our grief, even when it is raw and unsightly, even when we are sobbing, eyes red and face blotchy. He doesn’t turn away, but sticks with us closer than a brother, holding us in the pain and questioning and emptiness. The presence of Jesus doesn’t solve all our problems, but His love quietens our soul, and helps us to heal and rest, and to carry us through sleepless nights of replaying memories and of lamentation. And so we keep trusting.

Eternal Father, You look upon us with mercy and grace, especially when we feel alone and struggling. We mourn over so many losses, some so very raw and others that recur from the past, catching us unawares. As we struggle with powerful and difficult emotions, Lord Jesus You come alongside us and weep with us. You sing over us, and quieten us with your love, bringing your healing lullaby of peace to our exhausted souls. Your Holy spirit helps us not to fear, and carries us through the darkest of nights, enabling us to rest. Thankyou Lord, Amen.

A wistful emptiness

Anniversaries and birthdays of those no longer with us.

Today would have been Colin’s birthday. The date is etched in my soul forever. But what happens when the person is no longer here? For most people, it is just another date in the calendar- of no special significance. Yet for the people left behind, you are marking the date with the key person missing. There is no one there to open the cards and blow out the candles, There is such a mixture of emotions, sadness, thanksgiving, guilt and a longing for things to be otherwise.

Listening to other people’s experiences of loss, the guilt of remembering a significant date, is that other people think you should have moved on by now. As the years go by, in some ways, part of you does process things differently, but I think there is still a feeling of profound sadness.

In some situations of grief, feelings are exacerbated by the circumstances of a loss. Very often people choose not to talk much about these, as they can be distressing, and as a society maybe we need to make more space for people to talk more honestly about the messiness of it all.

At the risk of repeating myself, I find it hard to come to terms with what happened with Colin, as it was so unjust, and involved so much suffering, over decades. His head injury led to a long term degeneration through poorly controlled epilepsy. It was hideously painful to witness.

My consolation comes from my faith, that even in the darkest, most bleak and challenging days, God was with us. God blessed Colin with the knowledge that he was loved, even when nothing made any sense.

In psalm 86:15 it says: ‘You, Lord are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in love and faithfulness.’

I understand when people question where God is, when something awful is happening in their life, the illness of a child, a gradual loss of faculties, a painful treatment. Watching someone you love suffer is excruciating.

Yet in the most tearful circumstances, there can be a moment of lucidity, a glance of understanding, a loving connection, that can be transformative. And the power of prayer to help find meaning and hope can never be underestimated.

I just want to write to encourage people to know no-one is alone, even when we have bad days, or when we question, or when it all seems too much. We need to find people we can trust to talk to, even if it is to say the same thing for 100 times. There are some days on which that is just what it takes.

Gracious God, on the outside all looks well, but You see into our hearts- the painful memories, the regrets, the lament- why did it have to happen that way, why did that loved one suffer so much? Lord Jesus, you understand us, for You suffered at the hands of others, when it didn’t need to be like that, and You come alongside us with compassionate eyes and cascades of grace. Holy spirit, lift from us our pain and grief, and help us remember the moments of beauty and trust and love, that transformed even the hardest times. And on days like today, bring healing and a sense of peace, Amen.

Poignant celebrations.

Joy intermingled with sadness round the edges.

I feel so very privileged to celebrate my son’s birthday at the weekend. It was a lovely day, of being able to meet up with some family and friends. After so many days of not being able to meet because of all the covid restrictions, it is so appreciated to see real people again, and to talk and catch up.

The things that is tough though, is all the empty spaces. There are so many people missing for one reason or another, it was a little sad around the edges. It is such a mixed feeling of thanksgiving, but also of a realisation that things have changed, and they are not going to go back to where they were.

When you are grieving, this realisation seems to come back a thousand times. You think you know, that you understand, but then the loss of your loved ones take you unawares yet again. Your heart becomes immersed in old memories, the way it used to be, and for better or worse, it all feels so different and disorientating. The meaning is deeper, but somehow also more remote.

In Matthew chapter 5 verse 4, Jesus said ‘ blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.’

At times however, I don’t think those who mourn feel very blessed, rather just tearful, confused and exhausted! Yet the thing is, when we are at the end of ourselves, then that is when we rely more heavily on God, when we cry to Him for help, every moment of the day, and truly learn to shelter under the shadow of His wing. It takes all our energy just to rest in His love, and pray for healing. And we know that God never forsakes us. God us so patient and so merciful.

For anyone whose heart is sore and hurting, may you know the love of God enfolding you, and His healing grace, and the hope of things one day getting better. And may we all persevere meantime.

Gracious God, You watch over us with your angels, Your provide for us with such tender care, and sometimes we feel guilty for questioning or being sad. Lord Jesus Christ, thank you that you know your sheep, and you love us even when we groan or grumble that our life is tough. Please lift from us that need to pretend we are ok – yes to give thanks, but to acknowledge also that the ache is still there. Holy spirit, comfort us, strengthen us, and help us to smile even through our tears, for You say that all will be well. May we trust this promise, Amen.

On the alert- a carer’s relationship with their phone!

Always there.

When we have a loved one who is vulnerable or unwell, the sound of your phone becomes crucial. Whatever you are doing, your phone is always nearby, and you are on edge listening for it to ring. Whether it is a child struggling at school, a loved one in a care home, or a relative in hospital, your phone is that conduit of the latest information, and as such becomes central in your life.

When the phone goes off, my first instinct was to worry, what has happened, what can be done, what decision needs to be made. It is like the rest of the world is on hold in that moment, as you digest this latest twist in their care, and what it might mean. Time slows down, and is almost still.

I love when the person on the other end of the phone understands that, and starts their sentence ‘ now I don’t want you to worry, but………’ It just seemed so humane, and gives you time to adjust to what was coming next.

For my late husband, phonecalls could sometimes mean he had a seizure, an infection, or in some instances that he needed to go to hospital. Sometimes I needed to go straight away, morning, noon or night, and it became the norm for me to be ready to do so. It only had to happen now and again, for me to be on high alert every time I heard the sound of the phone, as I never knew what to expect.

I don’t know if my relationship with my phone will ever be normalised. I believe that Colin is now safe with Jesus, and so I am not going to get emergency calls about him in the middle of the night. However, when the phone goes……..

And so in every circumstance, I need to trust in God, and to seek to be calm. In psalm 28 verse 7 it says ” The Lord is my strength and my shield. I trust Him with all my heart.’ As we all learn to trust God more, may we panic less, even when the phone goes!

Gracious God, we thank You for all who care for others, and do so with love and grace. We thank you for people on phones, who quickly communicate vital information. Lord Jesus, You encircle us with Your love, You communicate your care for all who are struggling. May we learn to hear the phone ring without being fearful or catastrophising. May Your holy spirit guide us, and bring healing, and peace. Amen

The power of telling our story.

Learning to speak.

In recent weeks, I have been mulling over the power of telling your story. It is perhaps a bit of a cliche, but there is something that is cathartic about trying to put something you gave experienced into words. It helps you to reinterpret the significance of what happened, and to understand it in a different way. You often notice something that you hadn’t seen before.

It might look a bit selfish to be focused on telling your story. Yet I think the purpose is a deeper understanding of our humanity, and the connection that exists between us all. And you hope this might help another human being. Some one said ” the courage it takes to tell your story might be the very thing some one needs to open their heart to hope.’

This spring was three years after Colin’s death. I thought enough time has passed to make things more bearable, and I was taken aback by the pain all over again. This is not just about his death, but also about the trauma and behaviours around epilepsy and brain injury. So many difficult memories.

I am not saying this because I am looking for sympathy. Rather I am just saying this because that’s where I am at. The processes of grief don’t follow a neat path, but are an emotional storm that is unbridled and turbulent.

So I write this to help others who are grieving. So often people say ‘ you should be over this by now’ but it really doesn’t work like that. All we can do is find the courage to say where we are at.

I started to tell my husband Colin’s story to honour his memory, but in doing this, I told our story. I had to decide which bits to leave out, or to focus on, so there is always an interpretative context. Doing this, and writing ‘love song for a wounded warrior’ has changed me, it has helped me look into a time of suffering and pain, and to try to speak to challenge people about the suffering of veterans and their families. It has helped me notice things about myself, which have been hard to face, but which ultimately will be therapeutic.

Brene Brown said ‘ owning our story and loving ourselves through the process is the bravest thing we will ever do.’ I can understand that because I feel vulnerable and sad, and for many years I kept it all to myself. To speak of some of what happened has been tough, but also feels like a calling.

To anyone who is reading this, thank you. I think of Rick Warren’s words ‘ other people are going to find healing in your wounds. Your greatest life messages and your most effective ministry will come out if your deepest hurts.’ That is my prayer.

In the midst of all this, my Christian faith has been my strength. In psalm 45, the NLT translation it says: ‘beautiful words stir my heart. I will recite a lovely poem about my King, for my tongue is like then pen of a skilful poet’ I am not a skilful poet, but I do feel called to tell this story, to write, to connect, to seek to tell others of the wonders of God’s love, even in the darkest of moments, and to encourage and bring hope.

Gracious God, Your story is told in Your beautiful book, the Bible being full of Your grace and love towards a broken and fragile humanity. Lord Jesus, things happen in life that are so difficult, beyond the power of words to tell. Yet I thank you that You understand. Bring healing to all those who suffer and are in pain. Holy spirit, give us the courage to tell our individual stories, howeber messy, and somehow may they bless others. And as we speak, may we also find fresh insights, which enable us to grow stronger and find deeper peace, Amen.