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.

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’s  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 supportive 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.

Opening old wounds.

The cry for mercy and reconciliation.

Watching some of the riots and violent disturbances on the streets of towns and cities in Northern Ireland this week, has been deeply disturbing. They have brought back memories from the Troubles, when there was much sectarian violent conflict between catholic and protestant factions- knee capping, intimidation, shooting and car bombs.

Commentators and journalists have talked of different causes for this recurrence of violence recently- poverty, provocative words from political leaders on all sides, and the provisions of the Brexit agreement. These are all in danger of reopening old wounds.

My late husband served in Northern Ireland as part of his military career, and his experiences and memories have always reminded me of the price that is paid by all involved in violence- the traumatic memories and the risk of PTSD, as well as the physical injuries. The cost of conflict is so very high and long term, for all involved, and for their families.

The Christian community at Corrymeela, along with many others, have called for people to stand against violence, to show civic courage, and to work towards tolerance, dialogue and reconciliation.

The Corrymeela comment and prayer can be found here. https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10158341299392547&id=76350897546

May we all do our best to work for justice and peace, so that the violence will diminish, and for peaceful but effective ways to be found to support vulnerable and anxious communities. May we pray without ceasing, for peace. Lord, have mercy.

‘ God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.’ 2 Corinthians 5:19

Gracious God, You long for all people to be reconciled with You in Christ, and also with one another. Forgive us for all the times that we fight and squabble. We pray especially for Northern Ireland, for the violence to stop, and for there to be a will to find a peaceful way forward. Lord Jesus, we know that for many, old memories and hurts are resurfacing, and old wounds being torn open. Forgive us. We give thanks for Corrymeela, and for all who work for peace. Holy spirit, bring lasting healing to all. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Broken, beloved and blessed!

Resurrection in the garden!

I adore Easter Sunday! I used to get stuck at Good Friday, as I contemplated Jesus on the cross dying for my wrongdoing, saying ‘Father, forgive’ even in the darkness and pain. The love and amazing grace of our Lord still humbles and astonishes me every day.

However, I have also learned to appreciate the difference resurrection makes, as I think of the women at the tomb, and the words of the angel ‘ He is not here, he is Risen’ Luke 24:6. The power of these words are breathtaking.

I am going to focus on Mary Magdalene, someone who knew Jesus well, who was described as having ‘ seven demons’ in Luke chapter 8. It is difficult to interpret exactly what that means, but at the very least it means she was troubled or even disturbed. But Jesus healed her, and she became his devoted follower.

So in many ways, Mary went through a time of brokenness, when she was upset, mixed up, distressed. And Jesus helped her find peace. But when she watched her beloved Lord be treated so cruelly, mocked, whipped and beaten, she must have felt so distressed once more, for it seemed that their dream of working for the kingdom of God on earth had died, and their hopes were in smithereens.

In John chapter 20, we have a narrative where the Risen Jesus speaks directly to Mary, and calls her tenderly by her name. And she tries to cling to Him, but he says it is not the time, for he must ascend to His heavenly Father. The whole encounter between them however, speaks of Mary being beloved to her Lord. She is loved and cherished by Him. There is such a depth of beauty in these words, that reminds us that this woman, who was once troubled and seen as an outcast in society, was now accepted and valued.

So Mary was broken, beloved and then blessed. She went to speak to the others, with reverent excitement and enthusiasm saying ‘ I have seen the Lord’s. She has witnessed a miracle, and feels blessed and ready to share what she has seen with the whole world.

This spiritual journey is so relevant to all of us, for we are all struggling or broken without God, but then spending time with Jesus brings healing and an experience of the depth of God’s love, that is life changing. And we are blessed so richly, that we are motivated to go out and share our story.

In these days of resurrection, and reflection on the Easter story, may we all find hope and healing and love, so we can travel from brokenness to wholeness, from estrangement to belovedness, from alienation to being blessed. God desires the best for our lives, so may we be open to all He has for us to receive.

May we pray ‘ Risen Lord, as you appeared to Mary, please come to each of us, call us by our name, remind us of your healing power and purpose for our lives. We may have gone though dark days of illness, trauma or grief, but You are still here for us. Speak tenderly to us in our brokenness and tears, and remind us that we are beloved, treasured by You, and that You want to bless us. Holy spirit, may we be healed and blessed, so we in turn might be a blessing to others. Empower us to do your will, and be a channel of your peace in this world, Amen.