Running on empty!

With the recent rises in fuel costs, I got into the habit of putting less fuel in my car! Now I know that is not logical. Half filling the tank each time looked as if I wasn’t paying so much, but obviously just meant I had less fuel to get anywhere. And this meant that little warning light above keeps coming on- get to a garage, as you have very little fuel left.

This started me musing in other areas, for it feels as if for many of us, we are spiritually running on empty. In the time leading up to Christmas, we seem to be trying to do too much, without enough resources. It is like we are trying to make up for the last two Christmases, when the restrictions of the pandemic kept us isolated. And so now we have works nights out, trying to catch up with friends, travelling to see family. We have nativity services, community lunches, charity concerts, plus Christmas cards and trees and food preparation. And this is against a background of food and fuel prices dramatically increasing, and a whole series of strikes. And temperatures of minus 7!

The strains on our society are immense just now, in terms of health and social care, in education and transport. The degree of misery and despair for some is immense, people not able to afford food or heat, in debt, struggling to find appropriate care for chronic health conditions, dealing with complex losses and bereavements.

So how can we spiritually refuel, and find any hope? Well I think the story of the first Christmas helps. Jesus was born to Mary, and to Joseph far from home, round the back of an inn amongst the animals. Things were difficult and messy that first Christmas. Yet in the midst of this, they were thankful for what they had, they trusted God, and they recognised the wonder of Jesus, the Son of God being born into the world. And the wonder of it filled their souls with joy and reverence and peace.

Maybe we need to slow down a little in Advent, and to do a bit less. It doesn’t have to be perfect. And if things go wrong, and relationships are strained, and finances are tight, simplifying things is ok. The best moments in life can be quiet moments, unexpected connections, glittery spiders webs, laughter with friends. It is being grateful for what we have, and taking time to be in the moment. It is only when we take time, then we are replenished and more able to then support others.

‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ John 1:14. This means that God understands our struggles, grief and isolation. Jesus came into this world, to remind us of the enormity of God’s love for us, so we can receive that love and live in it. And the more time we spend in worship and contemplation, the more we are spiritually replenished and renewed. So may we take time to breathe, to enjoy sparkly lights, to listen to Christmas carols, to go to church, to notice and walk in the beauty of Creation. May we let God refuel our souls, so weariness might be replaced by peace, and emptiness by love, despair by hope.

Eternal Father, you sent Your precious Son Jesus Christ into this world, our Wonderful Counsellor and Prince of Peace, to bring joy to the world. At times our heads are down and our hearts are heavy, burdened by the grief and pain of our society. Even in our lowest moments, especially in these lowest moments, come along side us, and speak to us of your love and grace and truth. Babe of Bethlehem, Child in a manger, remind us that you are our Emmanuel, and that we are never alone. May we choose to make space to find spiritual refueling, and then to find strength to live each day. Holy spirit, breath new life into us, help us to have moments to rest, to give thanks, and to self care, for You love us with an everlasting love. Bless us with your peace. Amen.

Support and inspiration on the journey.

It is a beautiful sunny day, a day to reflect on what I am learning. Even with my lack of understanding and weakness, I want to share this to seek to be a blessing to others.

It is over three years since my husband died. Foolishly, at this point, I thought this was rock bottom. I was a mixture of emotions- numb, exhausted, traumatised, desolate. What I learned subsequently, was that  I had buried so much, that I was not even aware it was there. A mixture of grief, vicarious trauma and painful memories. As Colin was a veteran, he suffered in his life, and that impacted not just him, but also his family. Gradually it has all surfaced, and I am so grateful to those who have so patiently  supported me on this journey of complex grief.

So what has helped? Beauty on the journey, the amazing restorative power of nature, especially water, the mischievous presence of my dogs, listening for hours to Christian praise music, retreats, the prayerful support of friends, the love of family. I am so blessed.

Another dimension which is crucial in my journey, is the work of Bessel van der Kolk and Bruce Perry. They have revolutionised my understanding of trauma, its impact on the body as well as the soul, enabling holistic ways of healing.

In recent weeks I have been reading a book ‘ What happened to you?’ describing a series of conversations between  Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey on trauma, resilience and healing. I would really recommend this book, as a great introduction to this topic. It gives lots of information about the spectrum of trauma, and how to find healing. A whole spectrum of neuro sequential tools are offered, with the concept of regulate, relate, reason ( p279).

In the midst of the information about different forms of therapy, Bruce Perry talks a lot about the importance of healing communities, including dance, music, sports. And He says that even better than a great therapist,(although that is highly recommended) is ‘having access to family, community and culture…… with cognitive, relational based and sensory elements ( p230). Connectedness is one of the greatest elements of healing, being seen and been heard.

People who have taken the time to hear me, have been so significant on my journey. And I pray everyone who feels marginalised, neglected or alone, will find a safe place to tell their story, and can find a community to connect with, where they will be valued. And it gives me a vision of what I think church should ideally be like, a place where God welcomes every individual, and brings healing to those who feel broken. I feel called to seek to develop this, but I am such an early stage.

I just want to thank you for reading, and if you have any ideas or inspiration, please do share them. I would love for there to be more places of safety and healing for people who are in difficult or dark places. As a community, may we do what we can.

Gracious God, Your presence is always a place where we can find refuge, safety, love and acceptance-  thankyou. Lord Jesus, you experienced so much trauma and suffering in your life, so much injustice. We weep at the way you were treated in this world. Yet Lord, out of the darkest, painful experiences in our lives, help us to find a wisdom that might help others. So many suffer and are fearful and restless. May your holy spirit encourage us to find our healing path, and as we grow stronger, to share what we have learned to offer this to others, Amen.

The power of telling our story.

Learning to speak.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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