So many spiritual casualties.

I have been travelling, and loved it. Recently I watched some swallows going in and out of a nest, so graceful in their flight, playing and dancing and darting about. They looked so free, and their nest was the centre of the action.

A swallow ready to fly!

It reminded me of the verse in the psalms, in psalm 84 about God’s house; ‘ the bird has found a house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young.’ Psalm 84 talks about how the house of God can be a place of the presence of God, a place of safety and worship.

It got me thinking however, about how many people have not found the church to be like this. Over the years I have met so many people who have been let down by the church, and hurt by the people in it.

I know some people find me difficult, and I apologise to anyone who I have hurt, or forgotten something important. I am so very human, and I grieve over mistakes I have made.

Church families are very human too. Often we are trying our best, but when personalities disagree, or there is conflict, we sometimes forget the ways of Christ, to pray, to talk, to seek forgiveness, to be peacemakers. And even when we try, sometimes with the best will in the world it doesn’t work out. We don’t know each other’s stories, we can judge the other harshly but excuse ourselves. And it is so very painful.

Whatever happens in a church, the most important thing is that we know that God’s love for us is unchanging, that He looks at us with eyes of mercy, and that because of Jesus Christ He forgives us for our faults, and welcomes us into His family. God is always faithful, He does not turn us away. He welcomes us with open arms. And this never changes

Gracious God, Your house in meant to be a place of safety, love and blessing. Forgive us when it becomes a place of hurt and pride and judgement. Forgive us when we hurt others or turn them away. Teach us to live differently. Lord Jesus bind up the wounds of the spiritual casualties around us, people who feel rejected and unvalued from experiences in churches. Holy spirit please be at work in our churches and communities to that people know how much You love them, and that they can find healing and peace in You. May every person have an encourager alongside, to remind them that they are seen and loved, for Lord Jesus, this is why You came, Amen.

Speaking your story!

Dear friends, my new book ‘Love songs for healing and hope’ comes out this Friday. I am still amazed and humbled that this could be true. I have a copy in my hand, which is a tangible reminder that it is real!

The book in mainly composed of reflective blogs, which tell something of my story, as I journeyed through grief and trauma after my husband’s death four years ago. He was a veteran who suffered from longstanding health issues after an injury on active service. His story, at times through his own words and poems, is recorded in ‘ Love song for a wounded warrior’. Colin wrote primarily about his experiences in Northern Ireland.

‘Love songs for healing and hope’ tells more of some of the longer term effects of sorrow and trauma, and their impact on my every day life as a widow. I also speak of some of the resources that helped me in my journey, my Christian faith, music, prayer, supportive friends etc. I invited some friends to share something of their stories also, and what helped them in more difficult days, and I am so grateful to them all for their honesty and inspiration. These stories are also included in the book.

At times it seems too hard to speak out. I feel a bit vulnerable. Yet it helps me, if anything I want through, might help another human being. That gives me strength and motivation.

A story that inspires me from.the Old Testament, is that of Esther. She lived in fear, and had to make difficult decisions, but ultimately she felt compelled to risk her life and speak out, to try to safeguard the Jewish people. I am not risking my life, but I admire her determination to do what she believed was right, even when there were many reasons to desist.

For all of us, it can be hard to know our story, never mind to speak it out. But it is holy ground listening to one another’s stories together, and learning and being encouraged.

May we all listen to one another, with patience and kindness, so even the most tentative has courage to speak. May we cry, and laugh and learn together.

Gracious God, we thankyou for people throughout history who have spoken out, whether in decisive historical moments, or in the smaller decisions of daily life. Lord Jesus, in You we see the love and truth of God, Your Word brought both challenge and mercy. We speak but in tiny echoes of yours, but we offer what we have, and pray that you would use this to bless, encourage and strengthen. So help us all speak out our stories, and may they inspire and bless, in Jesus’ name, Amen

Ps if anyone is interested in coming to the booklaunch this Friday evening at 7.30pm on zoom, please email me at woundedwarriorfg@gmail.com – thanks.

Dustbin lorries bring hope!

Letting go

My bins are all full, but my house is full too. Despite my best efforts, there seems to be ‘stuff’ everywhere. And worse than this, the stuff symbolises memories, events and people. Many of these are good, but some are sad or poignant.

I have a number of black bags in the house, which I am categorising as being ‘ in transit’. They are no longer meant to be in the house, but the bin is full, so I wait for the bin lorry to come soon. ( even though I recycle what I can!)

This might all sound very trivial, but the decluttering symbolises my cry to God to cleanse my soul too. We have so many memories, sometimes that haunt us, and that we try to bury. But actually we need to take them out into the light, and to look at them, and ask God to heal us. Sometimes we need to forgive, or sometimes to ask forgiveness. And then to let them go. And it has to happen one memory at a time- such a painstaking process, but it is the only way to make space, and to find peace.

Readings from Ecclesiastes 3 figure largely in my life just now- there is a time for everything, amongst others, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to be silent, and a time to speak.

This seems to be a time of cleansing, of letting go, of making space. But it is painful. To make space means to let go of old ways and assumptions, and to embrace new ways forward. And the new way is not always clear, and it is easy to take a wrong turn. And then I have to forgive myself, and seek God’s strength to find the right path.

Every now and again, I catch a glimpse of what space and freedom feels like. It could be receiving an act of kindness or being understood, or a moment of peace. And it is such a revelation, a moment of integration, and of communion with God. Breathtaking and inspirational momentary solace. And then it is back to looking at the black bags again. They are on their way out- honest…….

Gracious God, in this season of Lent, we are more aware of our shortcomings, and of the darkness within. We confess our struggles once more, our desire to hang on to stuff from the past, because its familiarity brings comfort. Lord Jesus, show us what you desire of us this day. We trust that You still have a good purpose for our lives. Holy spirit, reveal to us the truth about ourselves, cleanse us from all that weighs us down, and heal our sorrow. Thankyou that You understand our frustration, for letting go is such slow and painful work. May we have a loving community around us, to support us in our healing process, Amen

‘A grief that feels like fear’

No words describe it…..

There is a new film out about C S Lewis ‘The most reluctant convert’. I would love to see it, and to find out more about C S Lewis’s life. CS Lewis was born in Belfast, fought in world war one, lectured at Oxford University, and was a friend of JRR Tolkien. He was a fascinating man, who went through a long period of his life as an atheist. However in 1929 he became a Christian. He wrote many books of insights about Christianity, as well as the famous Narnia series. He also wrote a philosophical book about ‘The problem of pain.’

Later in his life he married Joy Davidman Gresham, and sadly she developed cancer, and died in 1960. Lewis then wrote a slim book ‘ A grief observed’ about how it felt to lose someone. It is very intense, and I want to share a quotation from the beginning of the book:

‘No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.

At other times it feels like bring mildly drunk or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps gard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another, and not to me.’

I find this quotation so deeply moving, such an accurate description of the physical sensations of grief, a mixture of detachment and fear. And he speaks of that restlessness, where you cannot settle or concentrate, you want company, but you don’t have the focus to listen properly. It is like living a vortex of contradictions, that are confusing and disorientating. You wonder if things will ever feel different.

In John chapter 11: verse35, it says ‘Jesus wept’. He wept over the death of his friend Lazarus, and was deeply moved by the grief and bewilderment of Mary and Martha. His was troubled at all that was taking place.

Jesus understands our grief, even when it is raw and unsightly, even when we are sobbing, eyes red and face blotchy. He doesn’t turn away, but sticks with us closer than a brother, holding us in the pain and questioning and emptiness. The presence of Jesus doesn’t solve all our problems, but His love quietens our soul, and helps us to heal and rest, and to carry us through sleepless nights of replaying memories and of lamentation. And so we keep trusting.

Eternal Father, You look upon us with mercy and grace, especially when we feel alone and struggling. We mourn over so many losses, some so very raw and others that recur from the past, catching us unawares. As we struggle with powerful and difficult emotions, Lord Jesus You come alongside us and weep with us. You sing over us, and quieten us with your love, bringing your healing lullaby of peace to our exhausted souls. Your Holy spirit helps us not to fear, and carries us through the darkest of nights, enabling us to rest. Thankyou Lord, 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.

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.