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.

God desires restoration for our souls.

Luskentyre beach, Outer Hebrides.

After dark times of trauma, grief and pandemic stresses and worries, we might all be forgiven if our mood is a little uneven. It is going to take a long time, maybe even generations for there to be healing or recovery for those who have experienced some of the bleak and tragic consequences of the impact of coronovirus.

When we feel overwhelmed or sad, many things help, the power of prayer, a listening ear, a promise kept, a thoughtful message, the paw proffered by a pet. God uses so many ways to lift up our souls, and to remind us we are loved.

One of the things I am learning to appreciate more and more is the stunning nature of Scottish countryside, especially the western islands. There are so many epic landscapes, towering cliffs, colourful machairs, dramatic coastlines, exquisite beaches, and an amazing variety of birds and creatures. Even in the drizzle, these have the power to speak to our soul of big emotions, of wilderness and tragedy and solace and inspiration. The stories from each community visited are so moving.

I am reading from the Passion translation of the bible just now, and in psalm 148 verse 1 it says:

‘hallelujah! Praise the Lord.  Let the skies be filled with praise, and the highest heavens with shouts of glory.’

Just connecting with Creation, can remind us of the glory and majesty of God, so that just for a while, our hurts and wounds can seem smaller. Just being able to be still enough to give thanks and to worship, reorientates us, and can bring hope and restoration to our souls. Whether it is the shrill call of a bird, changing light through the clouds, or the rhythm of the waves- may we be lost in wonder, awe and praise.  If we have opportunity in this summer period, may we intentionally spend time in some of our glorious landscapes, and to find God, and in Him, refreshment and hope.

Gracious God, at times our hearts are bruised by worry and grief- our cares are heavy, and often beyond words. Please speak to us that Word in season that we need to hear. Creator of all, as we experience the grandeur of your creation, may tears of appreciation run down our faces, as we bow down before You in worship and thanksgiving. Lord Jesus, help us to experience your Love in new ways, and find a broader perspective on our troubles. Holy spirit, in Your creation, may we find restoration for our souls, and your healing grace and peace, Amen.

The frustration of invisible disabilities

Hidden dangers?

Disabilities, things we struggle to do, for whatever reason, can be so frustrating. They can be seen or unseen – but still hugely significant to the individual involved. My late husband for example, had a problem with proprioception – estimating depth. This sounds like a small thing, but it meant he had issues doing something as simple as pouring tea, because he would overfill it, and the burning liquid would go everywhere. It also affected his gait, as he couldn’t tell when his foot would hit the ground, so he would be uncertain of each footstep, and more likely to fall.

I have been listening to people with disabilities recently, and some of the indignities endured. We think we are a modern inclusive society, but if you have ever used a wheelchair you discover that this is not true. A floor is uneven, a pavement kerb is too high, and even a disability friendly toilet, doesn’t seem to mean you can turn round in a wheelchair. There are so many obstacles to keeping your dignity. The only consolation, is that there are also many kind people who are ready to help out and go the extra mile.

For disabilities not able to be seen, the issues are just as distressing. Whether it is a neurological condition or a lung problem, or any one of many health conditions, people are often not noticing or dismissive. We live in a society that is often so judgemental. A person I knew with Parkinsons for example, was often treated as if they were drunk, and given no help if in difficulty.

People shouldn’t have to be expected to explain themselves in order to be treated with respect. There are perhaps some practical possibilities of dealing with specific situations. One person talked of having to go out of a cafe to the toilet for example, and they come back and their table with their fresh coffee and not eaten food is cleared. Can we have a nationally recognised card, to leave, to secure a place in a queue or at a table? We need better training too, with people perhaps having to spend a day in a wheelchair to see just what it is like.

In general, the deeper question is how to change people’s awareness and attitudes, to become a kinder more compassionate society. Then if we see some one struggle, instead of ignoring them, we ask how we might be supportive. It might be we can’t do anything, but the knowledge of a sympathetic person can go a long way.

In Colossians 3:12b it says:                              ” you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”      

This is the best way to live, to choose every morning to be kind and compassionate, to show the same mercy and patience as Christ has shown to us.

Gracious God, forgive us that we often react to people who seem different with fear or prejudice. We are too quick to judge someone who takes their time, or is boisterous. Lord Jesus forgive our lack of curiosity and patience. Teach us how to love, with the mercy and forgiveness You show us. May your holy spirit give us insight, and to teach us how to accept and value others, as beautifully as You do us, Amen.

Legacy of love.

Today is the anniversary of the booklaunch of ‘Love song for a wounded warrior’. I am so grateful for all who have been so supportive, prayerful and understanding to our story. That has made such a difference.

I started writing Colin’s story because I was journalling. I have kept a prayer journal for many years. When Colin became too unwell to complete his writings, I wanted to use my writings to give context to his words, to try to explain that they were fragments of his experiences, because over time to lost the capacity to relate his memories. I hope to eventually feel a sense of completion to have honoured his wishes in this way. Thankyou to all of you for helping me do this.

One of the things I learned about Colin’s complex military traumas was that he felt better when he told his story, was heard and understood. He felt alive telling stories about his experiences, whether it was a critical incident or a car bomb. And so there is something so powerful about sharing something of your interior life, and being heard, even if just by one person.

For me, Colin has left a legacy of love. He showed me what courage looked like, humour in the face of distress, defiance against the odds, faith in no man’s land, in a bleak and desolate territory of nothingness.

So, now I have to ask God to continue my healing, and remind me of my purpose to let these experiences enable me to in turn support others. I want to use my legacy learnings for good in the world. God is guiding me through this process, and I am so grateful. One of my learnings is that I really enjoy writing, and I want to continue this, at least for this season. I think I want to write some more contemplative pieces also, so there might be more variety in what I offer.

In the ‘Four Quartets’ T S Eliot wrote ‘ in my end is my beginning’. The circularity of life cycles is striking, and I pray that for all of us, in the midst of grief and painful endings, new buds and new life will emerge.

I often go back to the words of Jesus in John chapter 12:24 ‘ I tell you the truth, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.’

This helps me make sense of life, for sometimes dreams, familiar ways of thinking, even people have to die. But in the mystery of all things, there gradually emerges new life and possibilities.

For anyone struggling with trauma, fear and grief, I desire healing and new possibilities for you. It is a difficult road, but our Saviour walks with us, and we explore the legacy of His love forever.

Gracious God, You know all things, You love us, and redeem our life from the pit, and crown us with love and compassion. When we are in that dark pit however, we grumble and complain and cry out to You, for we feel scared and alone. And through the cross, Lord Jesus, You offer us cleansing, and forgiveness and acceptance. You embrace us with the blanket of your love, and keep us safe. May we humbly receive your grace. Give us courage to tell our story, and to find our healing. May your holy spirit help us honour legacies of love, and use our learnings and insights to he an encouragement and blessing to others, Amen.

Transforming wounds into scars.

Wounds of trauma.

There is a quotation from the American military leader Douglas MacArthur ‘the soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of battle.’

This week, I witnessed the aftermath of a road traffic accident, where a car hit a cyclist. The cyclist, a young man had a gash to his head, and was bruised and on a state of shock, and taken off in an ambulance.

Seeing his injuries, got me in touch with that feeling of what being wounded can feel like, the initial surprise, feeling faint, the pain, the blood. It is such a debilitating thing, where you feel helpless and vulnerable.

For many people, including veterans, our wounds are not just physical but also emotional and psychological. Past traumas can stop you functioning, as powerful memories replay in your mind, paralysing you, and stopping you function. Triggers, which bring buried memories back, can cause reactions which look random, but which are part of people’s coping strategies, and these strategies then often become part of the problem.

How can these wounds be healed? If it is a bodily injury, a wound needs to stop bleeding, for it to be cleaned out, and then for healing to take place. Wounds can be prone to infection, so sometimes they need to be cleaned out again, for ointment or antibiotics to be used. The healing can be itchy and uncomfortable, but eventually a scar is formed, at first looking angry and raw, but eventually fading.

For emotional and traumatic wounds, there is a similar process. There are practitioners in traumatic therapies, that can help people acknowledge the terror and the pain, and start the journey of cleansing, forgiveness and healing. The book ‘ The body keeps the score’ by Bessel van der Kolk demonstrates the range of possible neurological and community based programmes that can help.

In parallel to this, as a Christian, the balm of Gilead comes to mind. In Isaiah chapter 1 verse 6, the prophet describes a broken nation: ‘from the sole of your foot to the top of your head, there is no soundness, only wounds and bruises and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with oil.’ In a similar situation in Jeremiah in chapter 8:22 the prophet asks ‘is there no balm in Gilead?’ This balm was an aromatic and antiseptic medicine, to bring healing. The balm is often interpreted as the soothing and restorative love and presence of Jesus Himsrlf.

To transform wounds to scars, is a surprisingly raw and long process. It can involve prayer, the transformative healing power of Jesus Christ, and an understanding and loving community around you. It can involve wise and sensitive trauma therapies which allow the wound to be cleansed, and for deeper and lasting healing to take place. The scars will always remain, and they are not something to be ashamed of, but they are part of our story.

Gracious God, as a world we are so broken, and we hurt and are in pain – so much violence and cruelty. Lord Jesus Christ, thankyou that You are the wounded healer, and that You come alongside us, and remind us of the scars you bear. May Your Holy spirit guide us to individuals and communities that are supportive and wise. May despair and darkness never overwhelm us, for there is always forgiveness and love and hope. May the oil of Gilead flow, and bring healing to all haunted by traumatic pasts, to transform open wounds into healthy scars. May we all be channels of your grace and peace to others, Amen.

In memory of Colin.

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