A torrent of tears.

So many losses…

There are days when things feel better, and there are signs of hope. And then there are other times.

For me, I have had a difficult couple of weeks. It all started with the death of Mikhail Gorbachev about ten days ago. I had watched the poignant Storyville interview with him, a few years before his death. When he led the USSR through glasnost and perestroika in the late 1980’s and sought to act amicably on the world stage, he changed the course of the world for good. Yes of course he was flawed, but he was courageous and advocated free speech, reform and often championed non violent solutions. He has been blamed for the collapse of the Soviet empire, and he didn’t get a state funeral. Yet even at the end of his life, he retained a vision of what he was trying to do, and why it was important. He stood by his convictions, and greatly suffered as a result.

And then this week, there has been the death of HM Queen Elisabeth. Whatever your views on the institution of the monarchy, she dedicated her life to serving her people, and for over 70 years sought to fulfil that promise, whether it was though her travel through the Commonwealth, her thoughtful role at state events, and her listening, encouragement and insights shared with so many. We all saw her in the photos on Tuesday inviting Liz Truss to form a government, just two days before her death, with the Queen looking frail but dignified, deeply engaged in what was going on, and very much at peace in her surroundings. Somehow these pictures made the news of her death on the Thursday much more shocking. We have lost now just our Queen, but the stability and continuity she represented, and that feels so emotional. Between the impact of the pandemic, the war in the Ukraine, and the worry about the cost of living crisis, the amount of profound changes we are living with keep stacking up, and are disorientating and unnerving.

For me, yesterday was also my late husband’s birthday, and that too was gut wrenching. It brought back memories of tines when we had tried to make his birthday special, but he was too unwell to always enjoy it. I was often so helpless to support him, as his ongoing health deterioration didn’t ameliorate for special occasions.

The tears have just flowed- not just for all these losses, but because of what they represent. We seek to honour flawed people, and we are all deeply flawed, but people trying to do their best, showing extraordinary courage in very different contexts. We lament, as we also give thanks for their lives.

I remember the verse from psalm 126 verse 5 ‘ those who sow in tears will reap with joyful song’. At the moment, that feels difficult to imagine, yet we trust………

Eternal God, from the rising of the sun to its setting, Your name is to be praised. We go through seasons of loss and heartache, where our tears are so raw, we can no longer discern the specific cause, as loss piles upon loss. Maybe part of getting older, is witnessing all the changes in the world, and learning to find acceptance and peace. Lord Jesus, you look upon people with compassion, You see our earthly struggles and our many tears. Not a tear falls, that You do not see. We give you thanks for the richness of life, for the inspirational people who seek to do good. Holy spirit, as the tears flow, comfort us in our grief. Thankyou that there is always a rainbow after the heaviest shower, a ray of hope after the darkest night, eternal life with God, after our mortal life on this earth. We live with both a torrent of tears, and also with the prospect of new birth and resurrection, and so we find strength and peace. Thankyou, heavenly Father, Amen.

A torrent of tears.

So many losses…

There are days when things feel better, and there are signs of hope. And then there are other times.

For me, I have had a difficult couple of weeks. It all started with the death of Mikhail Gorbachev about ten days ago. I had watched the poignant Storyville interview with him, a few years before his death. When he led the USSR through glasnost and perestroika in the late 1980’s and sought to act amicably on the world stage, he changed the course of the world for good. Yes of course he was flawed, but he was courageous and advocated free speech, reform and often championed non violent solutions. He has been blamed for the collapse of the Soviet empire, and he didn’t get a state funeral. Yet even at the end of his life, he retained a vision of what he was trying to do, and why it was important. He stood by his convictions, and greatly suffered as a result.

And then this week, there has been the death of HM Queen Elisabeth. Whatever your views on the institution of the monarchy, she dedicated her life to serving her people, and for over 70 years sought to fulfil that promise, whether it was though her travel through the Commonwealth, her thoughtful role at state events, and her listening, encouragement and insights shared with so many. We all saw her in the photos on Tuesday inviting Liz Truss to form a government, just two days before her death, with the Queen looking frail but dignified, deeply engaged in what was going on, and very much at peace in her surroundings. Somehow these pictures made the news of her death on the Thursday much more shocking. We have lost now just our Queen, but the stability and continuity she represented, and that feels so emotional. Between the impact of the pandemic, the war in the Ukraine, and the worry about the cost of living crisis, the amount of profound changes we are living with keep stacking up, and are disorientating and unnerving.

For me, yesterday was also my late husband’s birthday, and that too was gut wrenching. It brought back memories of tines when we had tried to make his birthday special, but he was too unwell to always enjoy it. I was often so helpless to support him, as his ongoing health deterioration didn’t ameliorate for special occasions.

The tears have just flowed- not just for all these losses, but because of what they represent. We seek to honour flawed people, and we are all deeply flawed, but people trying to do their best, showing extraordinary courage in very different contexts. We lament, as we also give thanks for their lives.

I remember the verse from psalm 126 verse 5 ‘ those who sow in tears will reap with joyful song’. At the moment, that feels difficult to imagine, yet we trust………

Eternal God, from the rising of the sun to its setting, Your name is to be praised. We go through seasons of loss and heartache, where our tears are so raw, we can no longer discern the specific cause, as loss piles upon loss. Maybe part of getting older, is witnessing all the changes in the world, and learning to find acceptance and peace. Lord Jesus, you look upon people with compassion, You see our earthly struggles and our many tears. Not a tear falls, that You do not see. We give you thanks for the richness of life, for the inspirational people who seek to do good. Holy spirit, as the tears flow, comfort us in our grief. Thankyou that there is always a rainbow after the heaviest shower, a ray of hope after the darkest night, eternal life with God, after our mortal life on this earth. We live with both a torrent of tears, and also with the prospect of new birth and resurrection, and so we find strength and peace. Thankyou, heavenly Father, Amen.

Why are the birds singing?

Perhaps like many people, I have had some difficulty sleeping in the last few weeks. I have often heard bird song about 5am- I think maybe a persistent blackbird singing enthusiastically away!

Recent weeks have been tough. In our local community there has been so much heartbreak and sadness. There have been many tears.

Internationally, the invasion of the Ukraine, under the orders of President Putin has caused so much heartache that I can only watch in small doses. The fighting and casualties, the suffering of students abandoning their studies and taking up arms, the shelling of civilians, bewildered, crying children, families separated and so many refugees on the move with only the clothes they stand in. We pray and do what we can, but feel so very helpless and despairing.

So at 5am, my question is often, why are the birds still singing? Do they not know what is happening, that so much sorrow and sadness has engulfed the earth?

And yet, maybe they sing at dawn, because they trust that after the darkness of night, the sun will still rise. After the cold and the dampness, the warmth of the sun will still transform the landscape. After the long hours of sleeplessness, there is still possibilities of rest.

The verse from psalm 126 is true: ‘ Those who reap in tears, will reap with songs of joy’.

It is true, but not always our experience right now. The faces of the sick, the stressed, the traumatised, the terrified are right in front of us. We cannot forget. We should not forget. Our feelings of anger and disgust at the pain of unjust conflict and injustice is lasting. But we hope that eventually one day it might be different. It might be in heaven itself, but one day there will be peace. And meantime there is hope, and that is why the birds sing.

Gracious God, sometimes the suffering and evil in this world weighs heavily upon us, and we despair. Yet we remember that You, Lord Jesus, faced the powers of darkness on the cross, and that forgiveness and love overcame. When the world seems so dark, please send your holy spirit, to remind us that the light still shines. And when we hear the song of the birds, may this bring hope to this broken and weary world, and make we stubbornly resolve each day to pray and work for peace, Amen.

Breathtaking beauty in unsettling times

A mandarin duck

There are so many choices to make every day. So often I want to make the safe choice, to do less, to hide. It seems so tempting. There are times when this is what we need to do, in order to heal.

But I also think there are times when God calls us to go out, to make that change, to speak when it is unpopular, to take that next step.

I am reminded of Jesus saying to Peter out on the boat ‘come!’ So Peter got out of the boat, and walked on water, and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was frightened, and he began to sink, and he cried out ‘Lord, save me’. Immediately Jesus extended his hand to him and caught him.’ Matthew 14: 29-31a

It was night, and when Peter saw Jesus walk on water, he wanted to join him. When he was focused on Jesus he could do it, but when he doubted and got frightened he sank. Even then, Jesus caught him- immediately. What compassion and grace.

I had heard there were mandarin ducks in the area, and I thought I will never see any, it is not worth trying. Another part of me thought I will never know if I don’t try. And so I went out, and found this beautiful bird on the river! When I found the motivation to try, I found the very thing I sought.

Now I am not saying that every time we try, we will find what we are looking for. But I am saying that if we don’t try, we won’t find it. So sometimes like Peter, we need to have the courage to try, and we might just find the very thing we seek.

Gracious and patient God, You are so good to us, and You understand us when we feel negative and unmotivated, times when we give up trying. Lord Jesus, thankyou that You speak to us and remind is to come, and that good things are still possible, even moments of breathing beauty and kindness. In unsettling days, may Your holy spirit give us courage to get out of our boat, and to seek new adventures, and to continue to trust in Your good purposes. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Remembrance!

Remembrance Sunday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unexpected laughter!

The freedom to laugh like a child!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guarding our hearts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

After bereavement, who are we?

Intertwined reflections.

I used to think that once you lost some one you loved, that you were sad for a while, and then felt better. However often, grieving is such a complex process, and can be confusing and circular in form. You often seem to go round in a circle, rather than making tangible progress.

One of the things I struggle with, is about identity. Often in a marriage, you get to know the other person so well, you almost become one. And when the two people are no longer together, you can’t remember who you were beforehand. Another dimension can be if you are a carer, as your energy in in supporting your loved one, and your motivation and focus is their wellbeing. When that person is gone, you miss them profoundly. But you also can realise that you have then lost your self too. The simplest decisions seem too hard.

Part of the grieving process then, is allowing your wounds to heal, and then seeking space to find out what is left in who you are. It can be hard to remember, and the old ‘you’ is gone anyway. So I pray for God to refashion me into whoever I am meant to be now, a bizarre mix of genetics, memories, learning and likes and dislikes, limitations and scars.

We can work hard on trying to work out our new priorities, praying for inspiration, seeking wise counsel. Yet I think perhaps the best thing, is to pray for God to shape our lives, to remind us that He still has a purpose for us:

In Isaiah, the prophet writes ‘Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
    We are the clay, you are the potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.’ Isaiah 64:8

At times that can be what we feel like- a clump of heavy mishapen clay. Yet God is not finished with us yet, and can use even our cracks and blemishes, to make something beautiful. Though His spirit, may we each find our God given identity as His beloved child, and have courage to live in this truth, and to find our way forward.

Gracious God, You tell us in Your Word, that we are made in your image, and that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Help us remember this when have many questions, and we feel lost and disorientated. Lord Jesus bring healing to us, and in time help us rediscover our true self. In this season of Pentecost, may your Holy spirit bring life to dry bones, so that we might live again. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

The shenanigans of seagulls.

It looks harmless, but……..

Yesterday I travelled north (before the new covid restrictions were announced) and was walking along the streets in the town in which I had newly arrived. All was going well till splat, and a present arrived from a passing seagull. So there I was, in the middle of the street, trying to remove bird splatter from my hair with dollops of hand sanitiser. Not the best moment in my day. I got some very strange looks.

It reminded me that I have often found that in times of stress, trauma or bereavement, other things often go wrong. It could be a little thing, like forgetting something, or getting your jumper sleeve caught in the handle of a door you were endeavouring to go through. The week after my husband’s funeral, I took my son to the cinema, in the forlorn hope of distracting ourselves for a moment, and I managed to break a bone in my foot. In the cinema! How is that even possible?

I think though if you are a long term carer, or have been bereaved, so much of your brain is coming to terms with what happened, another part becomes less active, and you can become accident prone. The stress of everything on your body, seems to show itself in clumsiness, illness and even pantomime situations where ridiculous things happen. A grief reaction I hadn’t been aware of, is to laugh hysterically at something. I think it was the alternative to crying, but it looked a bit strange. I still do this!

I just want to encourage anyone who is going through difficult days, when things seem to go wrong around you. It can be so frustrating. It doesn’t last forever, or hopefully at least not in such an intense way!

In the midst of all the antics that happen to us, and around us, I remember the verse from psalm 3: ‘You, O Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the lifter of my head.’

When we feel besieged by adversity, God shields us with His love. When we are down, God lifts up our head, and gives us hope. What a Great God we have.

Let us pray, Creator God, we thankyou for all the creatures in this world, even seagulls! We know that when we feel sad or under strain, it can seem that everything is going wrong. Lord Jesus, may we know your understanding presence with us, and find strength, and be able to find a way forward. Holy spirit, console us when we are discouraged, help us to be patient, and to keep trusting, Amen.