Longing for Shalom.

A quest for peace.

War and conflict are greatly reflected upon, at this time of year. We have thought of legacies, lamentation, and now we seek to explore our longings. Out of a November remembering the horrors and visicitudes of war, so now we plead for God to bring some good purpose out of all this.

Having thought of shell-shocked soldiers in the deep mud of the trenches of the first world war, and the bombings of the Atlantic convoys in the second world war, of the IED’s of more recent conflicts, the trauma and inhumanity of war experiences, broken bodies and spirits, are all too clear. The cost of conflict in human lives is incalculable.

Yet this is not the end of the story, because exposure to these military stories and experiences, reminds us of our purpose as human beings, our deep yearning for shalom, for healing and goodness and forgiveness and love and peace.

I was reminded of the biblical vision of of a peaceful Kingdom in Isaiah 11: 6: ‘ in that day the wolf and the lamb will live together, the leopard will lie down with the lamb, the calf and the yellowing will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all.’

Desmond Tutu describes the fullness of biblical shalom ‘ God’s shalom, peace, involves righteousness, justice, wholesomeness, fullness of life, participation in decision making, goodness, laughter, joy, compasdion, sharing and reconciliatiom.’ In some ways, it seems like a long list of qualities, but shalom is just such a beautiful deep peace,the very presence of God- so it needs all these words and more just to catch a glimpse of it.

We have a deep yearning for a peaceful world, of justice and reconciliation and love. And the reason we have that, is because we have seen the alternative- a world where the loudest voice seems to win, where bullies get their own way, where lies prevail over truth, where mistrust and violence and conflict have become the norm. And the hurt and pain and tears are flowing in all nations and continents.

So let’s not just accept this as ok. Let’s not just put up with violence or abuse or exploitation. Let’s not say that the lives of children, or people with different views are lesser in some way. Let’s not say that where there is a dispute, that fighting and guns are the best way to resolve this. Have we learned nothing?

So may God give us a pure heart, to hear His voice. We need discernment, to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. We need the holy spirit of God to help us on our narrow path, and it is not easy.

Even if we resolve to do one thing, to pray for peace, to give to charity, to not escalate a dispute, to support a veteran, to breath before we speak- if everyone did these things, it would make such a difference. And because the task is great, may be not be put off, but have our inner compass always pointing to true North, to the larger purposes of God, for shalom for His people, for the world.

It is sometimes only when you have been through hard times, that you realise what is important in life. So out of the horror and brutality of conflict, may we yearn for something better, and resolve to work for Shalom in our lives and world, Amen

Let us pray, Gracious God, Maker of the Universe, You look upon our world, which you made to be so harmonious and beautiful, and You see the damage that our greed and selfishness has brought. Lord Jesus, have mercy upon us, and forgive us for our vindictiveness and struggles for status and power. Holy Spirit, humble us to seek the wellbeing of others before ourselves, to yearn for a true Shalom, and to be channel’s of your peace, Amen.

Remembrance- Lamentation and brutality.

War horse

Remembrance Day is one of the hardest of the year, thinking of all who have served, been injured and died in conflict and war. We think of the first world war 1914- 18 and the second world war 1939-45. But we also think of more recent conflicts and wars, Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, Iraq.

Many of us have relatives that have fought and died, and we seek to honour their memory. But the sad fact is that many veterans who come home, have PTSD and mental health problems which can become overwhelming, and which leaves them homeless on the streets of our cities. We see them every day.

The sheer brutality and violence of war is haunting and visceral. Whether it is in the muddy trenches of Flanders, or the streets of Belfast, at Dunkirk or the opium fields of Afghanistan, shooting, bombs and explosions maim, wound and kill.

We often see such conflict expressed in film, snd I remember especially seeing the film ‘War horse’. Seeing that horse entangled in the barbed wire, the barbs getting deeper into its flesh the more it struggled, and its cry of distress and pain, somehow embodies for me the cry of all who suffer the long term effects of violence and war.

The horse entangled in the wire on the battle field, reminds me of Jesus on the cross, innocent yet suffering such great pain. Jesus had done nothing wrong, but he suffered because of the guilt and violence of humanity, paying the price for our greed and selfishness, so we could be cleansed and forgiven.

When I think of my late husband Colin Gardner, and his struggles as a veteran having come home from mitary service, I think of his pride in his service, but also his colossal frustration with his disability, his perpetual recounting of traumatic experiences and his feeling that nothing else in his life could ever mean as much as his military memories. His pain, physical and emotional were enormous. This time of year and the 5th November and all the noises of the fireworks made him want to dive for cover, and to draw his gun, and retraumatised him.

The death of Jesus Christ, reminds us that on the cross, love ultimately wins, transcending hatred and cruelty, bringing forgiveness for all who seek peace. We learn even from the most horrendous pain and brutality, and find renewed purpose in working for a better world, a kingdom of justice and peace.

In this season of Remembrance, we remember all who gave their lives in conflict and war. We also give thanks for all who served, and returned, but whose experiences maimed and scarred them for life. We lament on their behalf and pray for them and for their families. May God bring to them the healing and peace they seek.

Jesus’s words from John 15:13 : Greater love has no- one than this, to lay down one’s life for his friends.’

Let us pray, ‘ Gracious Father, Eternal God of hope and peace, we cry to You to have mercy upon us, for our world continues to be a place of conflict and dispute, of greed and violence. Lord Jesus Christ, you died alone on a cross, because of the greed and selfishness of our race, to be the perfect sacrifice to bring redemption and forgiveness for all. Holy Spirit, cleanse us from our pride and wilfulness, heal us from our wounds, help us to support and pray for all who struggle with the nightmares and brutality of war, and help us find new strength and peace, so that we can build for the future, Amen.

The scream of trauma.

Edward Munch The scream

When considering the state of the world just now, the scream of trauma seems to reverberate across every land- the child in the refugee camp, the parent unable to feed their child, the person subject to sexual violence, the individual unjustly incarcerated. For no fault of their own, often  people end up caught in cross fire, suffering anguish which can damage and break a spirit. It can be so overwhelming to contemplate, and so we often switch off by not watching the news, saying that these scenes are too much to bear.

As a Christian, I can’t pretend these things are not happening, whether it is the war veteran struggling with violent memories, of the human rights lawyer in a Chinese prison, or a survivor of abuse. Some days I can’t do much, others I can pray, write letters, campaign, give.

Jesus never turns his back on those who cry to him, he understands mocking, physical assault, trauma, to feel alone in the darkness. On the cross he cried:                                             My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’        Matthew 27:46

In Isaiah 42: 3 the prophet says:                ‘ a bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuffout’                                                           and this reminds us of the tender care of God, for those who are hurting and feel bruised by life’s tribulations. God has a deep concern for those who are suffering, and in anguish.

So if some one has suffered trauma and abuse, what can we do? There are many routes in different circumstances, judicially involving the police or safeguarding where appropriate, and counselling, prayer and specialist help.

Last year I had the privilege of listening to Dr Bruce Perry talking about childhood trauma, and then reading one of his books ‘ The boy who was raised as a dog’. The book gives different case studies of traumatised children, and offers different approaches as to what helps. It is a hard but beautiful and deeply emotional read.

Dr Perry recounts true case histories of children, and tells us of the impact their trauma has had on their brain development. This in itself is such a detailed area of neuroscience, with so much to learn. And the things that can help bring healing are empathy, understanding, connectiveness, healthy relationships and love.

And so, when we think of that scream of pain echoing round the world, we pray for a powerful wave of God’s love in Christ, to heal and bring forgiveness, trust and places of safety, where people can find restoration and grace. And God often uses doctors, such as Dr Perry, and so many others, to bring understanding and healing for so many. We are thankful for all who work in neuroscience and psychiatry to bring support and help to others. And we are thankful for the wider trauma therapists also, for the wisdom and insight they bring. We need to be discerning in this area, but also to be thankful for God’s healing power in body, mind and soul.

Let us pray, Gracious God, You created this world to reflect the harmony of the trinity, but instead we fight and exploit and tear apart. Forgive us for our cruelty and greed. Lord Jesus may there be many wise healers, who heal not just with medicine, but with prayer and empathy, understanding and love. Holy Spirit, help us not to turn away from disturbing screams, from ourselves and from others, but help us to be honest, and through tears and lament, to find our healing, Amen.

The rhythm of the sea.

When people feel out of kilter or worried or sad, a healing place to go, is often the sea. It has so many moods, colours and tides, strengths and sounds- but somehow it can sooth the soul.

For thousands of years, the sea has had a great attraction to many. Yet the power and the dangers of the sea are many.

Vincent Van Gogh said: ” the fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found the dangers sufficient to remain on the shore.”

The power of the sea is immense, and a storm can cleanse the air and bring deep peace. The sound of lapping water, the ebb and flow of the waves, can soothe the soul- it is almost as if it resets our hearts. Helen Keller said ” I could never stay long enough on the shore. The tang of the untainted, fresh sea air, was like a cool quiet thought.” The poet George Herbert said ” He that will learn to pray, let him go to the sea.”

When we are overtired, or need refreshment for our souls, God can speak through the sea, to remind us of our smallness in His presence, to remind us of a healthier rhythm of life, or just to quieten a troubled spirit . If we have a chance this summer, may we find ourselves at the shore ( even if only in memory) and find the healing touch of God.

Let us pray, Creator God, the source of all life and beauty, bring us to places of mesmerising beauty, that brings perspective to our sadness. Lord Jesus, speak your Word of peace to troubled souls out in the storms, and may Your holy spirit bring a refreshment and vitality to our lives, Amen.

seeking healing for wounds.

The last 10 days have been very emotional, the book launch, replying to comments, sending out books to people. I am so grateful that the book is published, and my husband’s wishes honoured, and I thank people for their thoughtful insights, and encouragement. Colin would have loved that people heard his poems, and read of his experiences.

It has also been a time of pain – reliving things again, and realising that the impact of some of these things are still very much with us as a family. The memories don’t leave you, but we pray that they will become less distressing, and that we learn from them, and that God uses them for good.

Some people think that for a wound to heal, it needs to be exposed to air. This is controversial, but it could be that at times exposing an emotional wound can be helpful, so it doesn’t fester, and that talking it through in a safe place, might bring understanding and perspective. In life, we often have difficult experiences, and they can leave scars that tell their own story. God can bring healing in different ways, through being listened to, prayer, appropriate trauma therapies etc, often through connection, as it indicates in the quotation above.

One of the books that has always spoken to my soul is that of Henri Nouwen ” The wounded healer” and he talks about how the things that hurt us, can be redeemed. He says:

” nobody escapes being wounded. We are all wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually. The main question is not ” How can we hide our wounds?” so we don’t have to be embarrassed, but ” how can we put our woundedness in the service of others?. When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and have become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.”

When we are hurting, the pain is such that we are often immobilised. We cannot see beyond it. But once the healing process starts, it often helps to find some kind of meaning in what has taken place, wherever possible. I believe that God does not want to cause us pain, but that when things go wrong, that He can help us find something we can learn from it, even our hurt and shame. Telling our story can be part of that healing process.

In Isaiah 53: 5, it says of the Suffering servant ” By His wounds, we are healed”, and as Christians we know that Jesus’ death on the cross, brings us cleansing, forgiveness, and healing, the possibility of new beginnings. For all those who are wounded veterans, and their families, or people struggling with disabilities or mental health issues, or people weary of lockdown, may they trust in Jesus, and find the deep healing that he can bring.

Let us pray,

Lord Jesus – You understand the things that have hurt us and caused us pain,

The memories we struggle with, the injuries we have endured, and inflicted.

In your life, you were mocked, beaten, and died on a wooden cross,

Yet your Love shone, even then.

For all who hurt today, come along side us and bring healing grace and hope,

Bring healing in the way best for each individual,

So that we in turn, can provide a listening ear, prayer, and a safe space for others,

To feel heard and valued and loved. Holy Spirit help us we pray, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

“Love Song for a wounded warrior”

Dear friends, thanks so much for reading this. Like so many people, I have a desire to write, to connect. I want to tell people about the difference that Jesus’ love makes, and to encourage others on the journey through life.

You may wonder what the strap line ” including love song for a wounded warrior” means, and so i would like to explain a bit more, although it takes all the courage I can muster.

My husband Colin died just over two years ago, in April 2018 after a long time of ill health, as he had intractable epilepsy. Many People have epilepsy which is well controlled – but not him.

Colin had an head injury, sustained on active service, and this was the cause of his seizures. He had quite a journey in military and civilian life, seeking to live with his injury and its consequences. Colin wrote reflectively about how he felt, fragments that give insight as to some of the experiences that he had, and he always wanted these published.

To give his writings a framewoek, I tried to provide a context for these writings, about how Colin’s disability affected his family, as we sought to love and support him. These writings, including a piece from our son Andrew, are the material for our book ” Love Song for a wounded warrior” which we have written about Colin’s life – a story of sorrow, humour, frustration, anger, joy and thanksgiving!

We offer this story to the world, even though I am full of trepidation – it feels like a very personal story to share. Yet I am also relieved to finally be able to fulfil Colin’s wishes and tell his story, and I pray that through this story, others might be encouraged – especially family and carers of veterans and people with disabilities, who can find that their road often looks bleak and rocky.

The things that helped us on our journey were God, prayer and encouragement, family and friends, music, forgiveness, understanding, medicine, oases of care of the way, and the knowledge that God never forgot us. These things were often all intertwined. PTSD symptoms added to the melee, and added an additional layer of confuson to deal with.

The booklaunch will be on the 24th of June on zoom, and I am prayeful that these writings might do some good- to encourage another family to persevere, to remind people that every story is significant, to raise awareness of issues for veterans, people with epilespy and their families, and to raise funds for charity. All proceeds from this book go to Epilepsy Connections, and the Coming Home centre in Govan. More to come on this…….

A prayer – Dear God, the bible is a book of stories of ordinary people

Who placed their trust in You, who made mistakes, who struggled, who fell down, and then stood back up,

Help us to reflect on our own story, to notice all You have done, and to be thankful,

Help us listen attentively and tenderly to each other’s stories, with prayer and deep care,

As You have called us, Amen.

” sorrowful but always rejoicing”

an umbrella of healing love

2 Corinthians 6: 10

Friends, I have waited a long time before starting to blog. Often I have wondered what to say, and what my message is.

It is such a cliche that everyone has a story to tell, but it feels so essential to life and identity, that I want to try. I am a Christian who doesn’t have all the answers. I love Jesus, and God the father is my Shelter, and His Holy Spirit is gently nudging me to be more creative, to get in touch with my true self, and to have the courage to articulate a little of what that means.

In my core self, I am a bridge builder, a reconciler, an encourager. I am deeply flawed, I make loads of mistakes, I get things wrong, and I feel down at times because I feel inadequate to fulfil what I feel called to do. I wrestle with how to take things forward.

I am also frustrated with cliches in the Christian world – particularly about suffering and pain – eg ” that God has sent you this to make you stronger”. When you are sad and tearing your hair out, and everything is falling apart, with a restless noisy toddler, or a sick husband, these words don’t seem to help.

In psalm 45 verse 1, the psalmist says:

” My heart is stirred by a noble theme,

As I recite my verses for the King

My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.”

God has blessed me so much, even in dark and difficult days in my life, when things made no sense. He encouraged me, and gave me strength, and still brings me healing every day. In Glasgow, it is often raining, and God is like my umbrella, protecting me, keeping me safe, and enabling me to flower underneath His care. And so my blog is called ” an umbrella of healing love”. My prayer that this blog might give space to others to reflect on where they care, to know God’s abundant and compassionate love for themselves, and to connect with Jesus’ healing love in a deeper way.

Wishing you Christ’s healing love,

Fiona

An invitation to pray:

Gracious God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

I have so many questions, my heart is restless, I cry to You.

Lord Jesus Christ, reveal to me Your heart of Love,

Shelter and heal me,

Holy Spirit help me find the wholeness I seek, Amen.