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.

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.

A vision of harmony!

Patterns of light.

I have been so blessed to have had some time out with family in a sunny place. I realise how very much I have missed opportunities just to rest and be, in a warm climate.

I have especially enjoyed the light here, the amazing variety of colours in the sunsets, and last night the moon reflecting its silver glow across the expanse of the ocean. The bright luminous path in the sea in the starry night was wondrous.

(not my picture, but this was the idea!)

The ripples of light in the water, as I have been swimming, have also been mesmerising. I have felt harmonious with the water and the air, as new patterns and ripples appear in a pool, or you become one with the rhythms of the waves in the sea.

The wonder of these experiences have been so good for my soul. For a short while I have put to one side images of conflict, poverty and distress, and I feel at peace with nature, and the Creator of all things. It has reminded me of my desire to be in harmony with God, to be at one with Christ, to just rest in God’s love.

I used to think that this was selfish, but now I understand that these moments of connection refresh my soul, for the days ahead. Finding time to refuel in the pandemic was strangely difficult, because although there was more time, at times I had to fight a sense of claustrophobia and sadness. I think for many people, the pandemic left us all more isolated, and not able to process our grief in community. So being able to travel has reminded me of that sense of freedom and space and connection.

Ultimately, one of the most beautiful Bible passages about harmony is in Revelation 22:1-3

‘The angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing 12 crops of fruit. And the leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations.’

I love John’s vision of the future, where people are with God, full of praise and worship. It seems no surprise that there is water, clear as crystal, at the centre of the city, bringing healing and beauty and life to all, for the leaves of the trees are to bringing healing to the nations. That spiritual refreshment offers possibilities of transformation for all. Vision such as this brings us strength and hope for the journey ahead.

Gracious God, our Creator, You have created a world of intricate patterns of light and shade, and of jaw dropping moments of revelation and connection. We worship You, grateful for possibilities of harmony, when the lion and the lamb lie down together. Lord Jesus, in You all things are held together, as the forgiveness You offer through the cross, brings an invitation to reconciliation for all. There are times in this life when pride, grief and violence seem overwhelming. But when we look to You, you remind us of the truth of who You are, and we are reassured and find peace. Through your holy spirit, inspire us to work towards healing and harmony even amongst the brokenness, and grant us a clarity of vision to energise us each day, 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.

‘The silence between the notes’

It could have been the composer Debussy or Mozart that said that ‘music is the space between the notes’. This quotation often recurrs in my thoughts, on the midst of busy and pressured days, full of conversations, things to do, places to be.

Life seems a little bewildering just now, full of adjustments to the latest information and recommendations re the covid pandemic. We also are trying to come to terms with losses of so many kinds, during lockdown, in our society, in our life stories. And so our thoughts swirl with regrets, sadnesses, information and possibilities. Often we seem to speak fast to convey the vast amount going on in our heads.

And so this quotation really helps me, that the music can somehow be the space between the notes- what is of significance, can be the timing of the silence. I like the fact that the intervals in pieces of music are called ‘rests’. That makes perfect sense to me!

Especially as we move through this time of pandemic, there are many profound questions as to how we should live. And there is a movement towards less frenetic activity, more reflection and quiet appreciation. Often we discover meaning not just in the moment, but in the time to reflect afterwards. That is when significance deepens, and the experience can be processed and absorbed.

In music, literature and art, so much seems discordant and noisy, exploring extremes, rather than the exquisite tapestry of light and shade in tone and subtlety.

I love the words from psalm 55 verse 6: ‘ Oh that I had the wings of a dove. I would fly away and be at rest.’

It would be such a blessing to have these moment of rest and reflection in every day, and in the rhythm of our week. When we live in a hurry, we might seem to get more done, but we lose part of ourselves. We need moments to breathe, to appreciate, to find space.

As we go into a new session of school and church, may we not go back to old ways of haste and hustle, a scramble to fit everything in. Instead, may we be more selective, asking God for His leading. May we have times to reflect and to pray, to receive the meaning and inspiration of experiences and encounters, and to savour them, and to let them shape our understanding and our being.

Gracious God, Creator of all things, we are told when You created the universe, that the seventh day was a day of rest, when You saw that what was done, was good. However we understand this, we know that times of rest need to be built into the fabric of our lives, times of quiet, of insight of appreciation. Lord Jesus, you often left your disciples and friends, to go to a quiet place to pray. Holy spirit teach us to ensure that in the regular rhythm of our lives, there are times to rest, to pray, to reflect and to be creative. May times of silence enrich and bless our souls, to deepen our understanding, and to strengthen and energise us for the the rest of life. Grant us that quiet wisdom, which illuminates all things, Amen.

The gift of water…..

Reflective bliss.

In Glasgow we often don’t appreciate water. It often pours from the sky when it is least wanted, breaking your umbrella, soaking through your jacket, and making your feet cold and soggy. Only the reflection of street lights in puddles make it bearable!

Yet the gift of water is amazing, whether it is the gurgling of a stream, the stillness of a loch, or the rhythm of the waves in the ocean. There is something so profoundly cleansing about being immersed in water, experiencing the spray of a waterfall or the waves on a beach.

Swimming gives it a new dimension. To be at one with the water, for your limbs to be working in a rhythm that enables you to move forward, is quite remarkable. I travel slowly, but it is like being home, maybe a womb like experience, with a profound sense of connection to the water. Wild swimming is the most magical of all, swimming with midges and swallows, clouds and skies, rocky shorelines, and ever changing expanses of blue, black and deep green.

We are so blessed to have such wonderful opportunities to be at peace with nature. We need to be wise as to how we practise, but the freedom of swimming outside is so liberating and full of bliss.

The bible speaks about the majesty of creation, and God’s power even over the ocean. In psalm 93 it says

‘ the raging waves lift themselves over and over, high above the ocean’s depth, yet at the sound of your voice they are stilled.’ v4 Passion Translation.

When swimming through the waves, to remember the length and width and depth of God’s love for us, can also speak to us in a powerful way. God’s love reaches us like the profusion of waves, cleansing our souls and healing our hurts, restoring our perspective, as we lose ourselves in the landscape.

Gracious God, there is something so elemental in being immersed in water, experiencing all the richness of colours and sensations, being rocked by the sea, or inspired by white beaches and azure waters. Thankyou for the wonder of Your creation, the cycle of seasons, the pull of the moon, the rhythm of the tides. Lord Jesus, you taught people on the shore, you travelled by boat, and You demonstrated that you could quieten the wind and still the storm. Help us have a healthy reverence for your creation. And may your holy spirit heal our wounds, soothe our souls, and invigorate our spirits, as we experience the life giving qualities of water! Amen.

Starfish bring us hope!

God speaks to us every day!

Sometimes I question what my purpose is. I wonder if God can really use me, I am so flawed and feel so small. Can God ever use me to make any kind of difference?

Beaches are a place which encourage me to ponder and to pray. I wrestle with my dreams, and the difference between them and the reality of my situation. Sometimes I despair, because I want to help others know the reality of God’s love in Christ, but I make mistakes, say the wrong thing, and then pray for God to remake me, so I am more loving, thoughtful, considerate. I have such along way to go, as I feel a bit worn down by the experiences I have had in life.

I had the privilege of walking on Luskentyre beach on Harris this month, and when all this heavy stuff was going on in my soul, I saw this gorgeous star fish. And I remembered the star fish story. The synopsis is that some one was throwing stranded star fish into the water, and some one said why do that, there are so many on the beach. You won’t be able to help them all. And the person throwing them I to the water said ‘ it will make a difference for this one.’

We have dreams of making a difference in this world, inspiring change, supporting people on tough days. But the reality is on many days, we are grumpy and on hold, waiting to get through to an energy company, or frustrated that no one in the family seems to be able to pick their clothes up of the floor. There are so many frustrations and distractions each day.

However, God spoke to me through that starfish. If you help just one person, then that is enough. I can stop worrying about the things I can’t do, and just be thankful for small things I can do. Mother Theresa said ” we can do no great things, only small things with great love.”

In Matthew 25, Jesus famously talks about how just to give food to the hungry, or to give a thirsty person a drink, to show a stranger hospitality, to clothe the naked, or to visit some one in prison, makes a difference. ( verses 31-46).

Even just doing what might seem like an insignificant action, can cause a positive ripple effect for others. So we persevere in faith.

Gracious God, You encourage us and give us hope, when we question our purpose, and what our life is about. You remind us that even faith the grain of a size of a mustard seed can make a difference. Lord Jesus, please take our offerings, however flawed they are, and use them for Your glory. Thankyou that every starfish matters, every act of kindness and grace brings your kingdom closer. Holy spirit liberate us from worry about what we haven’t achieved, and help us to get up each morning, open to your leading, of maybe blessing just one person this day. By your mercy, hear our prayers, Amen.

A house full of feathers!

Expressing loss- a dog’s way.

I was away for a few days last week, which I loved, and my son looked after our handsome dog Gabriel. I am grateful to him, and others who walked Gabriel when I was absent.

My son was telling me what a good dog he had been, until I got in the door. In the hour he had been away, Gabriel decided to say he was fed up, and ripped a pillow to shreds, leaving a mountain of feathers everywhere. He didn’t look remotely concerned about this, as you can see. I think it was just his way of saying he wanted company!

For those who have experienced loss of some kind, it can be difficult to put into words how that feels- an ache in the soul, a lethargy, a heaviness. It is the feeling that is with you first thing in the morning, and last thing at night.

Grieving can cause us to do different things- not always to rip up a pillow, but to decide not to go out, to put off replying to a letter, to want to break things! Sometimes the emotional cost of choosing to do something difficult or new, can seem overwhelming.

We all cope with these in different ways. Sometimes we talk to an understanding friend. Sometimes we binge watch net flicks, just to distract ourselves from the pain. Sometimes we just want to be walking at a beach, or just alone with God, pouring out our soul.

Where we can, it is good to choose healthier options to express anger, loss and pain. We seek to give our regrets and guilt to God, over things we might have wished to be otherwise. We ask for cleansing, and a gradual coming to terms with what happened. Sometimes we shout at God ‘ why’- because we find it all hard to understand. And we pray for peace in our souls, and strength to tackle the new day in a holistic way.

A verse that has been speaking to my heart recently is from Isaiah 26: ” you will keep in perfect peace, the one who is focused on You, because he trusts and takes refuge in You.’ Sometimes when we are hurting, the temptation is to withdraw or to question. These are a healthy part of the process, but we pray that gradually through the ebb and flow dance of grief, that we begin to find a deeper and lasting peace.

Gracious God, Creator of all, thankyou that in the beauty of this world, the shade of a tree or the refreshment of a cool breeze, we are reminded of your presence. Lord Jesus, you wept at the death of your friend Lazarus, and you know the shock and pain of bereavement. Thankyou that You weep with us. Holy spirit, in the midst of our loss, help us to find safe ways to express our heartache ( that doesn’t involve feathers!) Thankyou for our beautiful pets, and may we always treat them well. We thank you for the interconnectedness of all things, and pray for the gift of peace and a sense of belonging for all who cry to You this day, Amen.

Sunset reflections.

Sunset in Lewis.

Sometimes I forget to slow down. I try to do too many things, I am always trying to catch up.

So one evening this week, I decided just to sit and watch the sun go down. It couldn’t be hurried, so I just sat and waited and reflected. It was a gorgeous still evening, with a soft light falling over the fields. Sometimes in the past, Colin and I would watch the sunset, and it was a time of connection and wonder.

The sunset was a time of aching beauty. It was breathtakingly gorgeous, but was also about change and letting go.

It the last 18 months, there has been so much heartache, pain and loss, through the pandemic and all the implications for so many lives. Times of questioning, isolation, depression, sadness. And in the midst of this, also stories of courage, humour and self sacrifice, as people sought to support others. Key workers, neighbours and others going the extra mile.

Gazing at the setting sun, was a moment that Wordsworth might have called a ‘spot in time’ a glimpse into eternity, a realisation of just how fragile life is, how easily it can slip away. And a deep appreciation for each day that we are given.

In psalm 90 the psalmist says ‘Teach us to number our days , that we might gain a wisdom of the heart’.

There is something profound in this, that we need to treasure each new day we have, for none of us knows how long we have. Sometimes the days fly by, and we wonder what we have achieved. In the midst of all things, may we take time to slow down, to ponder and to pray. If this was our last day on earth, what would we do? What is important to us? What is holding us back?

I am coming to the end of my break in the Outer Hebrides. It has been a time of stunning beauty, outstanding journeys, amazing wildlife, and of healing and space. I have loved this time. And watching that sunset, was a time of communion with God, of recalling the past, coming to terms with the present, and seeking purpose for the days to come. Whatever our situation, may God speak to each one of us that Word of encouragement we need to hear, as we continue onward.

Creator God, thank you for moments of clarity and peace, as we gaze on the beauty of your world. Lord Jesus You know our hurts from the past, the things we struggle with, the pain we feel. Forgive us, that we are sometimes too fearful to see the possibilities ahead. Help us have times of stillness in which we find refreshment and inspiration. May we make the most of each day granted. Holy spirit, grant us courage to step out into the next phase of our lives, whatever that might look like, for we trust in You, Amen.

Landscape of lament.

A cleit and dwelling places at St Kilda.

I had the privilege of visiting St Kilda this week. It is a group of islands over 40 miles from Uist off the west coast of Scotland, where for thousands of years, people lived in a very harsh enviroment. The group of islands and stacs are stunningly beautiful, with incredible rock formations, a vast and varied colony of birds, including puffins, and the physical remains of a community, who chose to leave in 1930, when the community was no longer viable. When we visited, the cloud was often very low, and it gave it all a very atmospheric and mysterious air.

Walking around the village, you can see the remains of blackhouses (traditional stone cottages from the 1830’s), almost 1,300 cleits ( stone larders), dykes, the church, the factor’s house, graveyard etc. There are sheep everywhere, and you can imagine a little of trying to work the land, looking after the sheep, and capturing birds for harvesting.

Traditionally in Scottish literature, the relationship between humanity and the land is depicted as harsh, think for example of George Mackay Brown, where in ‘The house with the Grem shutters’ rural life is seen as cruel and desolate. Or we might look at Lewis Classic Gibsons ‘ A Scots Quair’, and the changes that war brought to the farming community. People often work hard in all weathers, only for the crops to fail, or financial ruin to strike.

We sometimes have an ideal concept of farming life, but listening to the stories of the people on St Kilda soon dispels this. They were out in the fields in all weathers, and in the evenings spinning and crafting wool, distilling oil for export from birds, making skins into shoes etc, and often living with their animals. Life is depicted as relentless, and yet the people persevered, through illness and little medical support, and terrible storms, when the community were completely cut off. You can’t help but admire their stoicism. And when you visit, you almost here the song of lament in the air, for the loss of so many lives over generations.

Today, we perhaps face different types of adversities and obstacles, sometimes more subtle ones, but they are there- poor health, the loss of work opportunities, the impact of the pandemic, climate change, injustice in our society. We have to try to navigate these, whilst keeping our self respect, and a constructive sense of purpose..

Christians are not exempt from seasons of frustration and hardship. Everyone has to work through difficult stuff. Yet God always encourages people to keep going, and to have hope, even when things are tough.

In Galatians 6:9 it says: ‘let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season, we will reap if we do not give up.’

Creator God, You have made this beautiful world, yet we live in a state of rebellion and disharmony, and it is hard work to care for nature, and to make a living. We give thanks for those who persevere in what seem like impossible circumstances. Sometimes we lament for the pain people experience just trying to put food on the table, and we think of story of the people in St Kilda in the past, and many other places today. Lord Jesus, help us all to work together for a just and fairer world. And when it all seems too much, holy spirit give us courage to persevere, and hope that things can get better, Amen.