Overload- one thing too many!

Christmas is coming.

My goodness, I can’t believe that Christmas seems so close! Decorations are up in house windows, shops and streets. The lights are symbols of hope in dark days, and in many ways are welcome, however early it seems.

However I think there are mixed feelings for those who mourn, a desire to look forward with hope, alongside an awareness of the strain of missing a loved one, and feeling that no one else understands. You can be making plans, but some one us missing, the landscape feels different everything jarrs, if there is a Christmas card that never arrives, an empty chair, and a deep feeling of loss. Outwardly things might look very similar, but inside the feeling is different. People are often doing their best to help, and you don’t want to hurt their feelings. So you try hard to go through the motions, whilst nursing a broken heart.

We know the comforting bible verses inside out – ‘ God is close to the broken hearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit.’ Psalm 34: 18 and sometimes it is ok to stop filling our time with being busy, to pause, to let the hurt bubble up, and to weep. It is honest, and that is often when we feel God the closest, when we tell Him of our pain.

When we try to push the pain down, and don’t acknowledge it, that’s when we go into overload. It means that we overreact to unforeseen frustrations, pressures at work, the unexpected bill, the driver who cuts out in front of us, the ill judged words of a friend. Sometimes it can just be one thing too many which sends us into a tailspin. We are trying so hard, it doesn’t take much to derail us.

If we are hurting this Christmas, for whatever reason, a broken relationship, ill health, disrupted plans, the loss of a loved one, it is ok to take time to be with God and to cry out to him. He notices our every tear, and brings us comfort and grace, reminding us that we are never alone, and that our cries are heard. If we are able to slow down, and talk to God about our sadnesses, He can minister to us, and this is when we find the strength and the peace we need.

Gracious God, You search and You know us, before even a word is on our tongue, You know what is on our hearts. Forgive us for the times we pretend everything is alright, as sometimes we deceive even ourselves. We get so overloaded and so frustrated, short tempered and upset. Lord Jesus, come alongside us, and speak Your Word of truth, the truth that sets us free. Help us to know it is ok to be real with You, and with trusted loved ones. Help us through the power of your holy spirit, to find safe places to lament and to be real, so that we can find that healing and centredness we yearn for. Grant peace to all who are anxious about facing Christmas by themselves, and may they find that Your love will encircle and strengthen them, Amen.

Remembrance!

Remembrance Sunday.

Each year we have the painful but very necessary opportunity to remember those who have given their life in conflict and war, those who have been injured or maimed, and to think of their families. It is so important that we do this, as it is too easy for us as a society to forget. We remember all wars, from the first world war in 1914-1918, till the present.

This year, many people are talking about how poignant it is especially for veterans who have fought in Afghanistan. After the sudden withdrawal of troops in August this year, the Taliban quickly swept back to power, and there are many people who are living in fear, women scared to go out, families without food. We think of the many who helped troops – interpreters and humanitarians, who are desperate to escape, fearful of reprisals, and worried for their safety, and of their relatives. It is tragic.

One journalist spoke to veteransfrom Afghanistan living in Canada, where they were talking about how painful it is to remember. There are so many unhealed traumatic memories causing flashbacks and nightmares, it is hard to re- engage. However we do so to remember those who gave their lives, and those who still live today. We are all privileged to do so, but it is so agonising and at times almost unbearable. So we choose to remember in different ways.

At Remembrance, I think of Colin, who was so proud to serve, and to try to make the world a better place. But the cost was so great, that it is is heartbreaking. At times it seems almost too distressing to contemplate.

When thinking of the pain of remembering, it reminds me of the last supper, where Jesus told his friends to remember him, by sharing bread- which was his body broken for them, and wine- his blood shed for them. He told the disciples that everytime they eat and drink, it was to remember him. The first time they did this after Jesus’ death and ascension must gave been so emotional, tearful, for their sense of his loss was so great. Yet it also brought them comfort, for through the sacrament, they experienced the nearness of His presence. And so we continue to remember today….

Remembering is painful, but we pray for all those affected by war, that somehow Remembrance Sunday might help. It hopefully reminds people that they are not alone, that what they did was worth something, that they have significance. We hope that in the silence, even in the moments where there are memories too deep to be expressed in words, that they might know the comfort of a God who cares. And also a feeling of solidarity with millions around the world.

Gracious God, You are the Eternal God, our Refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. In the midst of painful and sometimes excruciating memories, may we nestle in your arms. Prince of Peace, our Lord Jesus Christ, you call for justice and reconciliation, but at times we cannot forgive ourselves nevermind others. Please be with all those haunted by what they have seen and done, and bring your healing love, and your peace. For those living under threat today, may they find a place of sanctuary. Holy spirit be at work on this Remembrance Sunday, to help veterans know that they are seen, their pain acknowledged, and that somehow there is still a hope and a future for them. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Helicopters overhead!

The sound of rotors.

Over the last three weeks, the characteristic noise from the skies has been the sound of helicopters above. Living in Glasgow, where COP26 has been held, the security for the conference on climate justice has involved so many, with every precaution taken to keep people safe.

I have read some of the papers about climate justice, but wanted to understand more, so I went to Glasgow Green last Saturday to hear the speakers, and to get a better sense of what they key issues are, and what we can do. I seem to learn better in person, than just by reading.

Vanessa Nakate

The street protest in Glasgow involved over 100,000 people even in the pouring rain and strong winds. At Glasgow Green there was a great variety of speakers from many different organisations. One of the most powerful was Vanessa Nakate from Uganda. She spoke about the devastation happening in Uganda from uncharacteristic storms, and the impact on the global south from changing weather patterns. Another speaker from the Marshall Islands spoke of her concern than unless global warming is kept to 1.5 degrees, that these islands will become completely submerged by rising sea levels, possibly in the next 20 years. Hearing the stories of these speakers, and many others, brought the urgency of climate justice home.

There is so much to be done. We can lobby our governments to keep the promises they make on emissions, forestation and climate initiatives. We can pray for governments and international corporations to put ethical environmental concerns before profits. We can campaign for educational initiatives to inform and to inspire change.

I have also been challenged about how I live each day. Can I use refillable products from shops like Locovare, to reduce plastic waste? Can I use locally produced products more? Can I lead a simpler life, buying less, using my car less often, perhaps eating less red meat? So many questions. I have started, even just a few wee steps to change, and I guess if we all start, then this is how we make progress.

I remember the opening words of psalm 19: ‘ the heavens are telling of the glory of God, the heavens declare the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech, night after night reveals knowledge’

We have been called to be good stewards of this gorgeous planet, with such rich and diverse ecosystems, and gorgeous colours and forms. There is enough for everyone, if we are willing to be less greedy, and to share well. Are we willing?

Gracious God, You have created the heavens and the earth, and they tell of Your glory and goodness every day. But we the people of the earth mine, destroy and exploit the resources of this earth, to make money, to wield power, to exploit those who live on the edges. Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon us. Holy spirit burn away our disinterest and complacency, and grant us tender hearts, which care, and desire to be thoughtful stewards of this earth and her people. Give us self discipline to live differently, courage to change, and inspiration to make a difference, Amen.

Engaged and distracted!

Aching beauty even in times of change and loss.

Autumn is a stunning time of year- the varying colours and textures, the sounds of leaves crunching underfoot and the aching beauty of bare branches and naked trees. It is a time that speaks of loss and the inevitability of change.

November is a difficult month for me, and the heaviness of Remembrance seems all too near. The trauma and suffering of military personnel and their families seem tangible.

We seem to cope with trauma and loss in such diverse ways. There are times when we seem numb, when it all seems remote. The coping strategy is to look for distraction from the pain, to watch too many boxed sets, to go to the gym, to eat tubs of ice cream. We do anything not to engage, not to have to feel.

But every now and again, it catches us up, and we feel intensely. It could be a moment in a film, or a message from a friend, or just a word in a sentence, and it brings it all back, so that we crumple and fall apart.

Bessel van der Kolk says: ‘traumatised people chronically feel unsafe in their bodies. The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings, and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from themselves.”         p97 The Body keeps the score.

This is such a good description of that feeling of numbness. For short periods, it can protect us, as when we are in shock after something terrible has happened. But the danger is that if we stay there too long, that we lose ourselves. And so we need to find the courage to come out and face the pain, however excruciating that can be. Noticing and acknowledging the impact of trauma, is the first step. Often we need to go through this process in company with a trauma informed therapist, or grief counsellor, who can help people to work out what is going on, and to create a safe space to heal.

There are times when we need distraction from the reality of life, the pain and cruelty are too overwhelming. But at other times, we need to have the courage to engage with our story, and the impact it has had on us. At these times of honest engagement, then we are open to finding the long, meandering road to wholeness.

The words of Psalm 32: 7 reminds us that in God’s presence we find safety “You are my hiding place You will protect me from trouble, and surround me with songs of deliverance.” With God, we can find that safe place to be honest, to lament, and to begin to trust and to find the wholeness we seek. And so we take that first step…….

Gracious God, You see what happens to your precious children, that we hurt others and get hurt, that we experience loss, and disappointment and trauma. Sometimes we hide, and pretend everything is OK, just to protect ourselves from possibilities of danger. Lord Jesus, You show us such acceptance and love, that your presence is a safe place for us to be to be honest, so we can pour forth our hurts and our wailings. In your perfect timing, may we find courage to be truthful, even when that is uncomfortable and strips our souls bare. May Your Holy spirit help us find pathways through pain, to healing and trust and new growth, Amen.

Compassion in hostile environments.

Grace and acceptance towards one another.

In recent weeks, there have been many conversations about what is most important in the world. For me, my Christian faith earths me in God’s love, Jesus’ teaching challenges how I live each day, and His Holy spirit encourages and remakes me. But there is also the wider question about what general qualities are most significant in human relationships, and how to care for our planet. How do we discover and then express this?

We are still in pandemic mode, with so many still getting the covid 19 virus, so many isolating, hospitalised or sadly dying. And the consequences of the backlogs in social care, education and health care especially leading to long waiting lists, lack of resources and shortages of staff. Our society seems fractured, and the pandemic has accentuated and accelerated injustice, isolation and multiple crises. We need many wise people to manage well, to direct resources, and to plan strategically.

However in much planning, there sometimes seems to be a lack of basic humanity and compassion. Souless bureaucrats have power but are not always listening to people on the ground, as to what is most needed. Fulfilling quotas and keeping to timetables, does not always reflect that we have done our best to listen to the needs of, and to support the individual in front of us.

I love this quotation from Henri Nouwen: ‘compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear and confusion and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.’

Jesus showed compassion to the sick child, the woman who was ill, the man with leprosy. He spent time with those on the edges of society, the person who collected taxes, who was a rebel, who prostitued themselves for money. Jesus had a heart and a message for all. He offered them a way back to God, to cleansing, forgiveness and a new beginning.

In our society, we have been through so much in recent years, it seems that we are exhausted, at times numb, on automatic pilot. It is easy to think that the wellbeing of others is not our responsibility. However if we follow that model then we create a harsh world where self preservation and convenience are our only concerns.

May we look to God for answers, to the life and ministry of Jesus for our models. ‘when Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd’ Matthew 9:36. May we too show compassion to others, by praying, listening, giving a safe space, and affirming and supporting each other.

Gracious God, sometimes so much has happened to us, that we become hard hearted, for we are hurting and sorrowful, and we find it hard just to survive. We protect ourselves by covering ourselves with a hard shell. Lord Jesus, look upon us with compassion, and soften our hearts with your abundant and undeserved grace, acceptance and love. Help us know the depth of your care for us, so we in turn can show similar compassion to others. Holy spirit, each morning, may you fill us with tender love and empathy for others, so we can see them through your eyes, and show compassion, Amen

We think of the lyrics of Graham Kendrick’s song ‘Beauty for brokeness’

‘ Friend of the weak, Give us compassion we pray, Melt our cold hearts, Let tears fall like rain, Come change our love from a spark to a flame’ Amen.

Actively involved in the healing process!

Participating is hard work!

I am so grateful that healing is such a strong theme in the bible. Whether it is the healing of Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20, or Jesus’s amazing healing ministry depicted in the gospels, God loves to heal in body, mind and soul.

I fully recognise the complexity of this topic, as sometimes we pray for people and they don’t seem to get better. We don’t know why some prayers don’t seem to be answered. Maybe sometimes the damage is too great, or the process to get better just too arduous for a human being to bear. We just don’t know, and it is distressing and exhausting trying to work it out.

I have been reading a lot recently about healing from trauma, and about finding ways of feeling safe and becoming more whole again. And I am always surprised at how much hard work it is. Working with topics like low self esteem, childhood or adult trauma, anger management etc seems so tough. For example, if for whatever reason, you don’t like some one shouting at you. You learn this insight, and what experience caused you to think like this, and to respond like this. Investigation complete, so you think.

However this is actually just the start. For identifying the trauma, then starts you on a path of what you do to cope, what your protective mechanism is, eg to avoid angry people, to withdraw etc. And often the coping mechanism then becomes part of the problem, because it forms an unhealthy pattern of behaviour, a bad habit. So then if there is a loud voice or angry behaviour, you recognise the impact it is having on you, and you then learn to choose to respond differently. You choose to stay in the room, take a deep breath, and give a boundaried answer.

That sounds great in theory, but putting it into practice is exhausting. And putting this into practice with multiple different traumas, makes it complicated and wearisome. It is one step forward and two back.

I am so blessed to have the resources to think this through, and to seek healing. God is so faithful, He never lets us down, and always provides a safe place to ask difficult questions, and to ask for strength to change. The Holy spirit challenges us, and brings insight, strength to change, and much healing. However we also need to intentionally participate, to face up to difficult memories, and to be open to change. May we all find continued motivation and perseverance to continue on this path.

The verse from Isaiah 64:8 comes to mind: ‘O Lord, you are our Father:we are the clay, and you are our Potter, we are all the work of Your hand.’                                             We all need to be fashioned, to be willing to change, for the clay to be soft and malleable in the hand of the potter, for something beautiful to be created.

Gracious Creator God, You see the brokenness in our world, the distorted thoughts, the shattered self image, our doubts and fears, our negative ways of thinking. Heal us we pray, in Jesus’ name. And even when it is wearisome, repetitive work, where we need to pause, and choose to respond differently, give us courage. May your holy spirit help us let go of destructive and negative ways of thinking, so we can live in freedom, and find the deep and lasting wholeness we seek, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Unexpected laughter!

The freedom to laugh like a child!

Laughter can be a great gift, as there can be such freedom in seeing the humour in a situation, and to be able to express that. Laughter can lift your spirits, help release tension and help you see things from a different perspective. It brings feel good endorphins and dopamine into your system.

However I have noticed that there have been seasons where I have been laughing for no obvious reason. Meetings are not always the best place to start laughing, but sometimes if you notice an incongruity or unconscious humour, it can be hard to look serious for too long, however hard you try.

I haven’t quite worked it out, but I think my laughter has often been related to my grief and pain. When you are bereaved, you can have all this sadness and tension inside, and somehow this pain can express itself in hysterical laughter. It seems like some kind of release mechanism, to let some of the pain out in a laughter response, that is so deep you often indeed end up in tears. I don’t know if this will make sense to anyone else, but it has been my experience, so I just thought I would try to express it. ( I also understand if you don’t want to sit in a meeting with me!)

I always remember the words in Nehemiah chapter 8 verse 10 ‘do not grieve for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’ The people gathered to hear God’s word in Jerusalem that day were sad because of all that had happened in the past, but the joy of being in God’s presence helped them to find joy, even then. The people ended up both laughing and crying together.

In Ecclesiastes chapter 3 it says that ‘there is a season for everything under the sun’ and I think as we cope with the joys and sorrows of life, our body can often respond in unexpected ways. Maybe we need to be patient and understanding, even when we don’t fully comprehend. Fortunately this season of unexpected laughter has lessened in frequency and intensity, but every now and again………

Gracious and Eternal God, You are the Giver of every good gift, You are so wise and gracious. In our brokenness, we confess that at time we do not understand ourselves, or why we react the way we do. Lord Jesus thank you for your mercy, that even with our eccentricities, You look upon us with love. We are humbled and amazed. Whatever we are struggling with just now, may Your Holy spirit heal us, and help us to live life in all its fullness, even with tears and laughter, Amen.

Waves of suffering everywhere.

Turmoil.

I choose to affirm the good in the world, that God is still real, loving and powerful, that there is still hope. But sometimes to make these statements takes such courage.

In the week where the details of Sarah Everard’s death have come to light, it seems that so much is broken, it is hard to ever imagine any kind of repair. Her trust was violated in so many ways it is hard to put into words. That people can be so intentionally cruel and brutal to another human being is terrifying.

I think however that the problem is that this terrible abuse of power, rape and murder just remind us of the reality of what goes on daily for many people. Whether you are talking about domestic violence or hunan trafficking, some one choosing to violently exploit and control another human being is all too common. Institutional corruption is endemic in so many places. And we often turn the other cheek. We pretend not to see, we pretend things will get better. And it doesn’t.

As a human race, we need to weep over the seemingly unrelenting brutality and violence in our world. We need to pray for it to stop, for us to support charities working in this area, to do what we can to support those affected by it in any way. There are too many children and adults traumatised by abuse and violence.

Jesus said ‘ come to me, all those who are weary, and I will give you rest.’ Matthew 11:28

When we are tired of putting on a face, being brave, of crying on the inside, we can come to Jesus and be honest, and pour out our hearts to Him. In the presence of God, we are safe, and can find shelter and healing. It might just be a first step in a healing process, but in the midst of the overwhelming pain and suffering of the world, it is an essential refuge. Even in the midst of heartbreak and sorrow, God’s love for us has never changed.

Gracious God, You are full of loving kindness and grace, and You created this world to mirror the beauty and harmony of who You are. But we have rebelled and sullied our planet and our relationships, and been exploitative and cruel. Lord Jesus, You who experienced the brutality and callousness of human beings on that Friday of Holy week, have mercy on our souls. In the ongoing spiritual battle, may we pray for evil to be restrained, and for the vulnerable to be protected. And please can your life giving holy spirit bring healing to all who have suffered at the hands of another, so that in time they might trust and heal once more, Amen.

There is still good in the world!

Hope.

There are days that seem heavy, when things just don’t seem to be working out. It can be little things, a parking fine, the washing machine breaking down, or something more serious, like a misunderstanding with a friend. There are things that frustrate us, worry us, or can just seem like one thing too many. Often it is not just whatever that has happened, that is troubling. It is what it represents, or what we are already trying to deal with, that can make it seem hard. It can be the straw that threatens to break that camel’s back.

The danger is that when negative events accumulate, that we lose our sense of perspective, and the world can seem a dark place. It makes us not want to get up in the morning, or to want to escape our responsibilities for a while.

This week was very busy, and I seemed to run from meeting to meeting. One evening, about 8.30pm a young man came to my door, and asked if I had lost anything. I said no- reasonable confidently. Then he gave me my purse back, sealed in a transparent plastic bag. His girlfriend had found it, where I had dropped it, over 5 miles away, and they brought it back to me intact, and out of the kindness of their hearts. They didn’t want anything for it, they just wanted to reunite it with its owner.

In the midst of these turbulent days, it is good to be reminded that some people are just really kind. They have no hidden agenda, no selfish motives, they just want to do the right thing. And meeting these people is such a joy, and actually there are so many about. They remind us of the goodness in the world, and that there is always still hope.

In the bible, there are so many stories, where people make mistakes, or are struggling with purpose or loss, and then something brings them a glimpse of more positive possibilities. The psalms are full of such moments, and a recurring theme is that God’s nature never changes. It is so simple and yet powerful, like psalm 100 verse 5 ” For the Lord is God, His loving kindness is everlasting. ‘ We are so thankful.

Gracious God, we all have days when we feel down, when so many things go wrong- some are just frustrating, others deeply worrying, and they all deplete our energy. Lord Jesus when we feel like this, may we remember Your unrelenting goodness and grace, and find hope. Thankyou for people who quietly show great kindness to others. And when we wonder where these people are, may Your Holy spirit inspire us to be people of grace and care to others. Thankyou for all the good in this world, we praise You, Amen.

Guarding our hearts.

There is so much which feels overwhelming. The effects of the pandemic continue on, the winter is round the corner, the health services seem over stretched and under resourced.

In the midst of this, if you are sitting with chronic illness, living with trauma, or grieving, there is another dimension to things, with feelings of frustration, helplessness and isolation. We can be bewildered, tired and hurting, and so we we protect ourselves by putting up barriers to prevent further pain or heartache.

The problem with this is, that the solution becomes worse than the initial issue. We end up becoming numb, locked inside ourselves, unwilling to venture out, and reluctant to trust. It might keep us safe in the short term, but longer term it actually imprison us.

So what do we do? If we are in a caring profession, how can we keep loving, even when we are close to burn out? If we are in difficult relationships, how do we care for people, who we do not easily relate to?

I wish I had the answer. A verse that is an anchor however is from Proverbs 4 verse 23:

‘Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.’

We need to know that our heart, our emotional wellbeing is precious. Sometimes if we have experienced loss or hurt, whether that is in relationship breakdown or death, we get lost in a maze of feelings of questioning, an emotional paralysis and deep ache that oscillate in intensity and can incapacitate us. Our hearts seem broken, and no longer able to function.

I believe that God heals the broken hearted, but it can be quite a long, turbulent process. At times we seem in danger of getting stuck. It is so hard to be patient, and to trust. Sometimes we need time out, to be able to find the support we need to recover, and to know that this is ok.

So we seek to guard our hearts, to make decisions not to over extend what we are trying to do. We need to ask God to keep us from temptation, to slow us down and to give us wisdom, to show us how to live. And I think living a life of prayer is key, for if we know how much we are loved by God, then that loving relationship breathes new life into us each morning, and gives us courage to love that the day ahead. And that is all we need.

Gracious God, some days we feel empty, rejected or alone. The temptation is to bury our feelings deep down just in order to survive. Forgive us. In Ezekiel chapter 36 You say You will take away our heart of stone, and give us a heart of flesh. Lord Jesus, may Your heart beat in ours, and give us courage to feel and to care. Holy spirit, keep us from temptation, and help us live so closely to Jesus, that we have tender hearts, able to love and be loved. Please fill us with your love every day, and this might somehow then spill over into the lives of others, Amen.