Medication in the sock drawer.

The illogicalities of grieving.

There are just so many anniversaries in life. Just when you have worked your way through one, along comes a other.

Today is three years to the day since Colin’sĀ  funeral. Some of the memories are still so vivid, the people who came, the sound of the singing, the positioning of the coffin. My son Andrew and I are so appreciative of all the people who were so supportiveĀ and prayerful at this time. It was such an expression of care, at a time of pain and loss.

Going through times of grieving is so complex, even after three years. I think other losses in these years exacerbate the process. One day you think you are feeling a little better, another day you suddenly hear a piece of music or a letter comes in the mail, and it brings waves of unbidden emotion.

There is little logic in it. As the grieving person, you begin to realise that you are not only missing the person, but also your old way of life together. You also begin to realise that habits you adopted, especially to support a loved one who was unwell or disabled, are no longer appropriate.

An example of this, was that one of the conditions my late husband had was epilepsy. This meant that anytime we went anywhere, the first thing we did was check we had his medication with us. If we were going abroad, I would have it in my hand luggage as well as the cargo hold, just in case. It is drilled into my head to take Colin’s medication everywhere I go.

So this is not working for me now! I need to retrain my brain not to think of this. But it is very hard. And so my confession today is that I have kept some epilepsy medication in my sock drawer, just in case. Just in case of what, I don’t know, but it it just one step too far to dispose of it. In my head I know this is ridiculous, but my heart just doesn’t want to let go.

So when people say they are still struggling with grief, even three years on, please be kind. The multilayered significance of the loss of of the person, their life, their life together, and a way of living, is so hard to articulate. There are so many decisions and accommodations that you make in life, that then have to be relearned. It is a slow, laborious process of reformation, but God strengthens us and gently leads us forward, for He shows mercy to the sorrowful.

‘God heals the broken hearted, and binds up their wounds.’ Psalm 147:3

Gracious and Eternal God, we give thanks that You understand our hurts and sadnesses and convoluted thinking. Lord Jesus, thankyou that You are gentle with those who are sorrowful, and heavy in heart. Holy spirit, help us to become unstuck from repeating old ways that were so important in the past. Lead us from grief and old patterns of thinking and being, so we can find healing and freedom to be our true selves. Amen.

Broken, beloved and blessed!

Resurrection in the garden!

I adore Easter Sunday! I used to get stuck at Good Friday, as I contemplated Jesus on the cross dying for my wrongdoing, saying ‘Father, forgive’ even in the darkness and pain. The love and amazing grace of our Lord still humbles and astonishes me every day.

However, I have also learned to appreciate the difference resurrection makes, as I think of the women at the tomb, and the words of the angel ‘ He is not here, he is Risen’ Luke 24:6. The power of these words are breathtaking.

I am going to focus on Mary Magdalene, someone who knew Jesus well, who was described as having ‘ seven demons’ in Luke chapter 8. It is difficult to interpret exactly what that means, but at the very least it means she was troubled or even disturbed. But Jesus healed her, and she became his devoted follower.

So in many ways, Mary went through a time of brokenness, when she was upset, mixed up, distressed. And Jesus helped her find peace. But when she watched her beloved Lord be treated so cruelly, mocked, whipped and beaten, she must have felt so distressed once more, for it seemed that their dream of working for the kingdom of God on earth had died, and their hopes were in smithereens.

In John chapter 20, we have a narrative where the Risen Jesus speaks directly to Mary, and calls her tenderly by her name. And she tries to cling to Him, but he says it is not the time, for he must ascend to His heavenly Father. The whole encounter between them however, speaks of Mary being beloved to her Lord. She is loved and cherished by Him. There is such a depth of beauty in these words, that reminds us that this woman, who was once troubled and seen as an outcast in society, was now accepted and valued.

So Mary was broken, beloved and then blessed. She went to speak to the others, with reverent excitement and enthusiasm saying ‘ I have seen the Lord’s. She has witnessed a miracle, and feels blessed and ready to share what she has seen with the whole world.

This spiritual journey is so relevant to all of us, for we are all struggling or broken without God, but then spending time with Jesus brings healing and an experience of the depth of God’s love, that is life changing. And we are blessed so richly, that we are motivated to go out and share our story.

In these days of resurrection, and reflection on the Easter story, may we all find hope and healing and love, so we can travel from brokenness to wholeness, from estrangement to belovedness, from alienation to being blessed. God desires the best for our lives, so may we be open to all He has for us to receive.

May we pray ‘ Risen Lord, as you appeared to Mary, please come to each of us, call us by our name, remind us of your healing power and purpose for our lives. We may have gone though dark days of illness, trauma or grief, but You are still here for us. Speak tenderly to us in our brokenness and tears, and remind us that we are beloved, treasured by You, and that You want to bless us. Holy spirit, may we be healed and blessed, so we in turn might be a blessing to others. Empower us to do your will, and be a channel of your peace in this world, Amen.

Painting and dancing!

Free style painting!

Today has been a lovely, dry, spring day, and I decided to paint a wall in the garden. That sounds quite normal, but I had my music on as well, and was listening to the Christian band Hawk Nelson- songs like Diamonds, Parachute and Never let you down. They are such great songs of faith, I couldn’t help but dance. I think I had too much paint on my roller, and I ended up a bit painty,  as did the grass, the bush and one or two other things. I think it was quite creative, but rather messy.

Next month will be the third anniversary of my husband’s  death, and it occurs to me that I still feel guilty for dancing to a song. Some one said it was ‘survivor’s guilt’ that you feel it is not fair to enjoy music when your loved one can’t. It is a way of thinking that is hard to let go.

The grieving process is so lengthy and so complex. You think you are coping with one thing, and then something else starts bothering you, or worse still, something from the past you thought you had worked through, comes back in a new form. It can be so disheartening and exhausting.

Every day, we have to choose once again how to live. We are often sad, or struggling with difficult memories. Yet I believe that part of the healing process, is how to learn to be thankful to God all over again for each day of life. And sometimes that means laughing hysterically, or being still for a long time, or dancing when you are painting! God wants to set us free from grief and sorrow, even just for a few moments. Whatever we are going through, may we all know these moments in life.

We remember God’s promise in Isaiah 61:3

‘ to all who mourn in Zion, God will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.’

Let us pray, there are so many reasons we may feel sorrowful- illness, the strain of the pandemic, the death of a loved one, and it can feel that the weight of heaviness and darkness will always hang over us. Lord Jesus, You remind us that from the pain and suffering of the cross, came forgiveness and new beginnings. Holy spirit bring healing to us, so that in moments, we might have hope and so we can still dance for joy in your presence, Amen.

Spring- the breath of life

Breathing deeply, finding peace.

The days are lengthening, there are crocuses on the ground and buds on the trees. Although there are still some rainy dismal days, there is also a feeling of greening, and of spring.

These are still such anxious days, and I am learning more about the importance of breath. We all know breathing is good! But there is so much more to it than this.

In the fresh air, our intuition is to breath deeply and slowly. We appreciate the air coming into our lungs, that it shows us down, and helps us be more in the moment, at peace and attentive to our enviroment.

There is so much science to this- that slow, deep breathing reduces anxiety and feelings of panic, that it helps us relax, brings more oxygen to the blood, and releases endorphins. Breathing in should be deep and measured, and breathing out even more slowly. This calms the parasympathetic system and the vagus nerve, and brings a feeling of deep peace. So many practices of Christian meditation reflect the importance of this type of breathing, even from thousands of years before. It is an ancient and healing practice.

Exploring practices that help bring healing to people who are anxious or traumatised, seems so very important in today’s age. Whether it is the use of breathing techniques and trauma informed care in schools or medical settings, it seems such a beneficial and holistic tool to offer. And in churches also, maybe we need to learn more from ancient Christian practices of meditation, to enable us to be more fully in the presence of God.

In Job 33:4 it says ‘ the breath of the Almighty gives me life’ and this is not just giving us the capacity for life, but also quality of life and spiritual awareness. The modern worship song ‘ Sound of our breathing’ by Jason Gray, captures something of the rhythm of our breathing, and of God’s breath within us.

Let us pray: ‘ Eternal God, You breath Your life into this world, into every human being- may we notice and cherish this gift. Lord Jesus, when we are stressed or anxious, help us to slow down, and breath deeply, and exhale slowly. Holy spirit, bring us your healing and calm, shape our lives, and enable us to live more fully for You, Amen.

More bridges- bridges of connection.

All different kinds of connection!

I have been reflecting a lot recently on different ways to connect. In my last blog, I was thinking of the importance of listening and prayerfully making space, but there is so much more to connection.

There are qualities that make deeper connection more possible, openness, love, empathy, compassion. People have such different life experiences, incredibly varied ways of thinking, different priorities, that we need many ways of relating to others.

I was privileged to be a chaplain in a special educational needs school, and I learned so much about different types of communication, whether it was makaton, dancing or using all the senses. I loved it, and felt at home, as we were all being and learning together.

In this time of lockdown, I worry that so many are becoming isolated, and we are forgetting how to communicate. For many people they have lost their confidence, their ability to relate. And for people who have experienced trauma and sadness, this is intensified.

And so I think we need to build many types of bridges of love and connectivity. I have been reading about ‘trauma informed’ care often spoken about in education and in medical settings, about helping people to feel safe, to be gentle, to give options, to explain things well, to promote healing and empowerment.

When I hear of this, it seems as natural as breathing. Why haven’t we been doing this all the time? And what does it mean for our society, and also in a spiritual dimension. We talk of churches as places of sanctuary, places of safety and healing, but how often is this really the case?

As we start to think a little more about the future, how can we promote healing to a society stressed out and anxious after lockdown, traumatised by experiences of suffering and grief? We need to offer a wide variety of ways to enable people to connect and experience safety and love.

I started to think about many of these themes, because of my late husband’s ptsd symptoms and brain injury. And I think how we support individuals, and how we operate as a society, says so much about who we are. We have a choice to pursue divisive and negative rhetoric, or a language that uplifts and offers opportunity for safe self expression.

It says in 1 John 4:19 ‘we love because He first loved us.’ God revealed the full extent of His love in Jesus, how he challenged corruption, loved the person on the road side, healed the sick. How can we continue that kind of work today, as it has never seemed more important?

Let us pray, Gracious God, so many are tired and stressed, lonely and traumatised. Yet You look upon us with tender mercy, and long to pour out your healing balm. Forgive us Lord Jesus, that we are so rigid and narrow in our form of communication, where we often judge others, rather than appreciate their difference. Enlarge our minds and our hearts, through your holy spirit, to connect with others with empathy, with creativity, so we can build bridges of acceptance and love with others, Amen.

Building bridges not walls.

A beautiful bridge.

I have so enjoyed walking in the snow this week, noticing birds and squirrels and foxes. The park has been an extraordinary place of crisp snow, exquisite swirly patterns on bark, soft sunrises and a frozen pond. And every time I walk round, I pass a gorgeous wrought iron bridge, joining the land with a small island in the middle.

It has caused me to reflect on the importance of bridges in our society today. People seem to be so polarised in their opinions, whether about independence, the effects of Brexit, or about the best choices in a pandemic. Everyone seems to have a view, and they often seem to be strongly held, and loudly articulated. And people are so busy speaking, there seems little room to listen.

Listening is underrated however. Listening attentively to another human being can lead to new understanding and a fresh perspective. At the end of the time, people might still have different views, but someone perceived as an enemy could have become a friend. Listening, helps to remove walls of division and hatred, brick by brick, and allow bridges to be built in their place.

In the book of James chapter one verse 19b it says: ” everyone should be quick to listen, and slow to speak” and the transformative power of this teaching, if applied in our world, would be powerful. Before we spout forth, we should check our sources, listen carefully, and ask God what we should say. The checklist, is it true, is it necessary, is it kind?, is a wise one to consult, before we even consider speaking. We all regret saying hasty words that have given offense to others.

In the New Testament, one of the great listeners is Barnabas- Son of Encouragement. He was one of those people who listened to God, who saw beyond the superficial, and brought people together. An example of this is in Acts chapter 9, where Saul has had his conversion experience on the Damascus road, but when he got to Jerusalem, the Christian community were suspicious about the genuineness of his conversion, and wondered if he was trying to trick them. It was Barnabas who spoke for Saul, and told of his story, so bonds of trust could be built, and Saul, or Paul as he became known, was welcomed into the Christian community, and went on to become one of their most feverent leaders and letter writers. If Barnabas had not intervened, then we might never have heard of Paul!

And so in today’s age, let’s not be part of the vitriolic rage and criticism of others, but rather be reasonable and fair in debate, looking for the best in people, weighing things carefully. Let us see behind empty and critical rhetoric, and have courage to listen to God, to discern the wisest course of speech and action, so that bridges of insight and understanding can be built, and a shared way ahead found.

Let us pray. Gracious God, You are perfect, holy, good, yet because of Jesus’ death on the cross, the one who sacrificed His life for us, You look upon us with grace and mercy. You have reconciled us to yourself in Christ, and then give to us the ministry of reconciliation. Forgive us when we look for the speck in another’s eye, whilst there is a log in ours. Give us calm hearts, that we might listen attentively to others, to appreciate their views, even when we differ. May your Holy spirit inspire a ministry of reconciliation through Your people, and in this world, so we might work together for peace and justice, so we might value and honour one another. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

It’s ok to slow down!

Appreciating slowness!

We seem to be pre programmed to rush and be busy. We accept it as the norm, and if you ask someone how they are, and they say they are not doing much, you tend to wonder what that might mean.

Well that was true before the pandemic! For key workers, their lives are still as busy as ever. For others, people are so restricted in not meeting people or going any where, that response ‘I’m not doing anything much’ has become more common. It is often said with a mournful face, for after living under so many restrictions for so long, there is a feeling of claustrophobia at the moment. As some one said on the phone the other day ‘ the days can be monotonous’.

A few years ago, I encountered a book ‘In praise of slow’ by Carl Honore. The author is pleading with people not to live such hectic, busy lives, and instead to slow down, to take your time and appreciate things more. He talks of things like slow eating, working less hard, and generally appreciating ‘ the wisdom of slowness’ a phrase from Miles Kundera.

This line of thinking is really very liberating, for it reminds us that actually slowing down for a while can be beneficial for body and soul. If we reframe lockdown, so instead of feeling like being in prison, it is a time to reflect, and to appreciate life more, then that would be a blessing. Then it can become a sacred time, to learn to enjoy nature, to re engage with art and literature, to be more creative, and to be content in our own company. This will give us a new outlook too, when the restrictions will begin to lift, and encourage a new balance between quiet and busy.

It is never as easy as that, of course, for we are experiencing a collective mourning, which can feel crushing -so many deaths, so much illness and trauma. We pray to use the quiet spaces to pray, and to give others a safe place to process and heal. It looks like this could take generations.

We remember the words from Ecclesiastices chapter 3 ‘ there is a time for everything under the sun.’ Instead of the temptation to rush into things, may we learn to be more contemplative, to take our time, to listen to God, before we take action. Even when restrictions lessen, we might well choose to live more gratitude filled lives, with more quiet moments. This could be a pivotal decision, to help us find a healthier rhythm for our lives.

Let us pray, Gracious Father, we are so grateful for this extraordinary planet to live on, for the beauty and inspiration all around us. Forgive us that at times we move so quickly, that we are oblivious to the breathtaking wonder of creation, art, music and literature. Forgive us that we don’t see the forgiveness and mercy of Jesus Christ, or take time to experience what it means to follow your teaching, and live in your love. Holy spirit, help us to take this opportunity to appreciate going more slowly, and learning to notice and cherish what is truly of value in life, to love and be loved and be a blessing to others, for Jesus’s sake, Amen

Peace beyond understanding.

Deep rest.

There are so many sad and disturbing things going on in the world just now, it can be hard to be still. There is too much to make our minds race, and to disturb our equilibrium. The number of people unwell, especially ill with covid 19 at home and in hospital is difficult to comprehend, and the consequent human misery and loss that is resulting for so many families.

In the midst of all this, it is hard to know how best to pray, I pray for the virus not to spread more, and for healing of those who are sick. But I also want to pray for peace for those who are critically ill.

I am so fortunate, as I am relatively healthy, but in times when I have been unwell, I can remember my body feeling so busy fighting infection, that my mind felt very far from reality, as if everything in the world was so far away, I was actually very peaceful. Ironically it felt like quite a safe place to be, where nothing bothers you, because you are not really thinking. You can hear people and respond in your soul, but not necessarily physically.

I was watching a you tube clip of Joni Eareckson Tada the other day, a woman who recently had covid 19. It is quite a challenging, direct and emotional video, so watch it only if you feel able – a summary is below- https://youtu.be/squAX6lV2Aw        

Joni is quadriplegic, so when she got her diagnosis of covid 19, she thought she would die. She was in hospital, fighting to breathe, when she felt a deep trust in Jesus, and an odd calmness- she knew that whether she lived or died, she was with God, that she was resting in the shadow of the Almighty. And she was at peace. She wants everyone to share this peace of Christ, which is why she shares her experience.

People have different experiences and spiritual understandings, but that resting in the Almighty, that deep peace and trust is surely something that we want people to have. So they are not worried or anxious or fearful, but rather completely at rest.

In Philippians chapter 4, Paul encourages the Christians in Philippi to trust God, to present their requests to Him, and then he says:

‘ and the peace of God, which passes all human understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’ Verse 7

When I feel worried or uncertain, I know I can trust Jesus, and He often shares that sense of peace with me. To be honest, there are still times when I still struggle or am restless. But God wants to bless us with His peace, and that is the gift He longs to share.

May we pray: Lord Jesus Christ, our hearts break over the number of people unwell and dying because of covid 19. We give thanks for all the paramedics and medical staff working with patients, especially in ICU wards, for their medical care and kindness to their patients and their families. Please bless them all, and especially those that are critically ill. May your holy spirit bring to them, that deep peace that passes all understanding, and may they know that whatever happens, that they can find safety in your loving hands, Amen.

Healing of identity!

Discovering our true self.

I had a birthday this week, a lockdown birthday, which I guess has become quite distinctive. They are characterised by not being able to meet all the people you would like to, and a sense of poignancy as a result. We are all grateful to be alive, and we know keeping the rules keep people safe, so that is a small sacrifice to make. But it still feels very different.

I have been very blessed however, because there are so many ways of keeping in touch with people. And this year, it has been wonderful to be in contact in different ways with people. And actually co writing ‘Love song for a wounded warrior ‘ has been part of that process, because I have been able to reconnect with lovely people I had lost touch with, or not spoken to properly for years. It has been healing to explore shared memories of different adventures that we experienced in the past.

And so, one of the things that seems to be happening in my soul, is a healing of identity. It has been healing to connect with people, and hear their stories. It has also been amazing to remember parts of my life that were at the circumference of my memory, and to bring them back into the middle.

And this has been so significant because I think when I was a carer, I completely lost sight of who I was. Just dealing with the day to day stresses and medical needs of Colin, working full time, and being a mum, meant that I didn’t gave much space to exist, to make a decision, to know that I had choices. I wonder how many other carers are like this, where your identity gets completey eroded in caring for someone else. I am not complaining, that was what seemed best, to fulfil all the roles I had, to love unconditionally. However now I look back, I recognise that part of myself died. Now I am beginning to realise that I need to ask God to bring possibilities of renewal and resurrection.

Knowing who you are, is a profound question. It changes and evolves over time. I love the Ignation concept of becoming your best self is to be fully alive, the one that God has fashioned us to be. The quest is how to rediscover this, to ask God to put the fragments back together in some form of wholeness.

Many verses remind us of our identity with God, ‘ you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus’ Galatians 3:26. We are beloved children of God, which is breath taking. A song by Jason Gray ‘Remind me who I am’ https://youtu.be/QSIVjjY8Ou8 also speaks of the rediscovery of identity, of love and purpose. It is an important quest for each of us, especially if we might have lost our way through the pressures of life.

Let us pray, Gracious God, sometimes our lives seem full of jagged pieces, bits of a mosaic but with no discernible pattern. We repress painful memories, we get overwhelmed by trauma and weariness, and we feel lost and broken. In the messiness, You come to us Lord Jesus, to forgive, to hold and heal, and to remind us who we are. We thank You that we can trust You. Please bless all those who care for others, may they be supported by kindness and support and respite. Holy spirit, recreate our identity, as Your precious children, and give us courage to explore our freedom our gifts, our path forward, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

One step at a time.

Beauty all around.

I have discovered that I am not a very patient person. For some people, they will not be surprised to hear this. I often have ideas, a plan, and can’t wait to put it all into practise. I am enthusiastic!

God often challenges my plans however. I often need to rethink, to pray, to ponder, to consider what to do, and what is true to my identity as a child of God.

Over Christmas, I had covid 19. I tested positive, I talked to track and trace, I self isolated for 10 days along with my son. I am so fortunate it wasn’t worse, it was just like a bad flu, headaches, feeling achy, a lack of taste and smell, a cough, fatigue etc. It was very unpleasant, and lasted just over a week, until the symptoms started to lessen. I was relieved that it didn’t get worse, and as far as I know, that I didn’t give it to anyone else. I took all the precautions, I used my mask and anti bacterial stuff, and I am grateful that I am here. I so pray for others who have it, that they heal and have no complications.

I am so very thankful, but I do have low energy. I know I need to rest until I feel better. I am doing the essentials at work, and trying to self care. I am learning so much, for even a walk in the park leaves me exhausted, so I need to only do a few things each day. Things I took for granted, are not available to me right now.

And so I need to learn to be patient, to take one step at a time. I need to acknowledge that I rely on God completely, to give me energy, to guide my path, or even allow me just to rest. Resting can be restorative and peaceful, as long as I allow myself not to feel guilty over what I cannot do.

I remember the words of psalm 40:

‘ I waited patiently on the Lord, He turned to me and heard my cry.’

I need to pray, rest, and at the right time, take a wee step forward, and then rest. I am blessed with lovely supportive, prayerful family and friends, with my encouraging dog, with food and water and a warm place to live. I try to use this time to dream, and read and listen to inspirational music. I seek to develop a more thankful heart, and to notice the beauty all around, and for God to teach me to be more patient.

Let us pray, Gracious Father, we cry to You for all who are unwell this day, with covid 19, with cancer or other conditions, chronic and acute. Lord Jesus, we thank you for our incredible paramedics and health care teams, doing an amazing job in hospitals and GP practices around the country. Plesse bless them, give them wisdom and stamina, to care for those who are sick and dying, and for their relatives. For those who are recuperating, please help them to pace themselves, to rest, to breath, to self care. Holy spirit of God, thankyou for the power of prayer. May we pray for one another, to show kindness, to provide practical help, to get prescriptions or shopping. We thanks You for vaccination programmes, and pray that they would protect the most vulnerable. Help us all to be patient, as we seek to keep well, and to make good choices that keep others safe. May we be patient just a bit longer, as we watch and pray, for we ask it in Your Son’s precious name, hear our cry we pray, Amen.