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.

Actively involved in the healing process!

Participating is hard work!

I am so grateful that healing is such a strong theme in the bible. Whether it is the healing of Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20, or Jesus’s amazing healing ministry depicted in the gospels, God loves to heal in body, mind and soul.

I fully recognise the complexity of this topic, as sometimes we pray for people and they don’t seem to get better. We don’t know why some prayers don’t seem to be answered. Maybe sometimes the damage is too great, or the process to get better just too arduous for a human being to bear. We just don’t know, and it is distressing and exhausting trying to work it out.

I have been reading a lot recently about healing from trauma, and about finding ways of feeling safe and becoming more whole again. And I am always surprised at how much hard work it is. Working with topics like low self esteem, childhood or adult trauma, anger management etc seems so tough. For example, if for whatever reason, you don’t like some one shouting at you. You learn this insight, and what experience caused you to think like this, and to respond like this. Investigation complete, so you think.

However this is actually just the start. For identifying the trauma, then starts you on a path of what you do to cope, what your protective mechanism is, eg to avoid angry people, to withdraw etc. And often the coping mechanism then becomes part of the problem, because it forms an unhealthy pattern of behaviour, a bad habit. So then if there is a loud voice or angry behaviour, you recognise the impact it is having on you, and you then learn to choose to respond differently. You choose to stay in the room, take a deep breath, and give a boundaried answer.

That sounds great in theory, but putting it into practice is exhausting. And putting this into practice with multiple different traumas, makes it complicated and wearisome. It is one step forward and two back.

I am so blessed to have the resources to think this through, and to seek healing. God is so faithful, He never lets us down, and always provides a safe place to ask difficult questions, and to ask for strength to change. The Holy spirit challenges us, and brings insight, strength to change, and much healing. However we also need to intentionally participate, to face up to difficult memories, and to be open to change. May we all find continued motivation and perseverance to continue on this path.

The verse from Isaiah 64:8 comes to mind: ‘O Lord, you are our Father:we are the clay, and you are our Potter, we are all the work of Your hand.’                                             We all need to be fashioned, to be willing to change, for the clay to be soft and malleable in the hand of the potter, for something beautiful to be created.

Gracious Creator God, You see the brokenness in our world, the distorted thoughts, the shattered self image, our doubts and fears, our negative ways of thinking. Heal us we pray, in Jesus’ name. And even when it is wearisome, repetitive work, where we need to pause, and choose to respond differently, give us courage. May your holy spirit help us let go of destructive and negative ways of thinking, so we can live in freedom, and find the deep and lasting wholeness we seek, in Jesus’ 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.