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.

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.

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.

Healing memories.

Resting in sunshine.

Am so grateful for the glorious weather, and the chance to travel early this morning to Fintry Bay in Millport. It was so very peaceful.

As a result of all the restrictions I haven’t been across for over 6 months. Even just getting on the ferry was emotional, the excitement of being on the island after all this time.

Colin’s ashes are scattered on the island, so it was a special pilgrimage to go back. And I remembered many events from the past, some difficult, and some connected to the island hospital, which were a bit mixed! Everyone was lovely, and I was so grateful for their care for Colin.

However the beautiful and healing thing, was that everytime I turned a corner on the island, good memories came flooding back- Andrew making sand castles on the beach when he was small, all of us playing football on the grass, Colin cheating wildly at crazy golf, walking the dog, getting soaked in torrential rain, having lovely meals together, and just watching the sea in all its majesty, ever changing colours and moods.

Of course, we went cycling as well. Colin had poor balance, but once in the early days, he managed a wee cycle, and the pride on his face that he could cycle faster than his young son! We have a lovely photo of that moment- it was much cherished, because he was so pleased to be able to do something with his son. So often his disability made that difficult. To be able to do this just once, was a treasured memory.

Being on the island today was poignant. At the beginning of the day it was misty, and I couldn’t see the hills of Arran. However the mist started to lift as the morning warmed up, and then ‘the sleeping warrior’ emerged in all its splendour, and things felt peaceful. Colin is at peace.

I am so grateful for memories that remind us of family, friends and pets on the island! Much fun, some adventures even. We were all able to go a couple of trips on the paddle steamer ‘the Waverley’ and Colin loved this, though I was always worried he would fall off the gang plank! He never did. And so I have a deep sense of thanksgiving for all the joy even in uneven times.

Creator God, thankyou for the gorgeous nature of your creation, the ever changing azure colours, the salt smell of the sea, the call of the seagull. It so tells of your glory. Thankyou Lord Jesus for the opportunity to remember, and to notice particularly the fun and the beauty, and to find healing and peace. Holy spirit for all who mourn and still struggle, please lead them to memories that can bring assurance and even smiles, and places that bring peace, 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.

I’ll walk you to your car, lass.

Civility in the city.

Anniversaries are such strange things. You think you are prepared, but you seldom are. This month is the first anniversary of my father in law’s death, and it feels really emotional. He lived a long and full life, and he accomplished amazing things, but I still feel so very tearful at his death.

I used to visit him and his wife on a Sunday evening, and they always made us a meal, even when that should have been the last thing in the world they should have been thinking about. My mother in law would make a Sunday roast dinner for us, and took great pride in getting all the details right. How she cooked in that little scullery kitchen I will never know!

And then at the end of the evening, Tom would say to me ‘ I’ll walk you to your car, lass’. Everytime he said this, I would just be blown away. It was an old fashioned courtesy, offered as if it was so self evident that this was the only possible thing to do. They lived in the top flat, parking on the street was often difficult, and do with my parking skills, my car was often far away. But still he pull on his cap and jacket, and would accompany down the stairs. He would wave me out of my parking place, stopping the other traffic, just to make sure I got home ok.

That weekly courtesy was one of many, and just spoke of his kindness and manners. Even when he was less well, it took me all my time to stop him escorting me down the stairs, even when I protested that it was raining, and I didn’t want him to get wet.

Sometimes it is these little things that are so moving, so symbolic of his life, his thoughtfulness and humility and self effecting nature. Yet he also held strong views on politics, art and culture. He was incredibly witty, loved conversation and was stimulating company at dinner. He was an artist, with an independent vision and style. He was a brilliant husband, father in law, dad and grandpa. So sorely missed.

May we never take our loved ones for granted. May we take time to remember them, all the memories, good and bad, funny and poignant. May we have space to speak of them fondly, and to laugh and to reminisce. Every day is so precious.

In psalm 90 verse 12, the psalmist says : ‘ teach us to number our days, that we may gain a wisdom of the heart.’ Appreciating what we have, is just so vital, giving us thankful hearts, and puts all things in perspective.

Gracious God, our times are in your hands,and we are so grateful for all who have gone before us, who have shared their lives with us, who inspired us, and loved us. Lord Jesus, help us treasure all the ways You have blessed us, all the people who have shown us kindness. Holy Spirit, may the example of those who have gone before us, inspire us to live each day for good, that we may love and show compassion and thoughtfulness to others, and to seek to make this world a better place. Amen.