There is still good in the world!

Hope.

There are days that seem heavy, when things just don’t seem to be working out. It can be little things, a parking fine, the washing machine breaking down, or something more serious, like a misunderstanding with a friend. There are things that frustrate us, worry us, or can just seem like one thing too many. Often it is not just whatever that has happened, that is troubling. It is what it represents, or what we are already trying to deal with, that can make it seem hard. It can be the straw that threatens to break that camel’s back.

The danger is that when negative events accumulate, that we lose our sense of perspective, and the world can seem a dark place. It makes us not want to get up in the morning, or to want to escape our responsibilities for a while.

This week was very busy, and I seemed to run from meeting to meeting. One evening, about 8.30pm a young man came to my door, and asked if I had lost anything. I said no- reasonable confidently. Then he gave me my purse back, sealed in a transparent plastic bag. His girlfriend had found it, where I had dropped it, over 5 miles away, and they brought it back to me intact, and out of the kindness of their hearts. They didn’t want anything for it, they just wanted to reunite it with its owner.

In the midst of these turbulent days, it is good to be reminded that some people are just really kind. They have no hidden agenda, no selfish motives, they just want to do the right thing. And meeting these people is such a joy, and actually there are so many about. They remind us of the goodness in the world, and that there is always still hope.

In the bible, there are so many stories, where people make mistakes, or are struggling with purpose or loss, and then something brings them a glimpse of more positive possibilities. The psalms are full of such moments, and a recurring theme is that God’s nature never changes. It is so simple and yet powerful, like psalm 100 verse 5 ” For the Lord is God, His loving kindness is everlasting. ‘ We are so thankful.

Gracious God, we all have days when we feel down, when so many things go wrong- some are just frustrating, others deeply worrying, and they all deplete our energy. Lord Jesus when we feel like this, may we remember Your unrelenting goodness and grace, and find hope. Thankyou for people who quietly show great kindness to others. And when we wonder where these people are, may Your Holy spirit inspire us to be people of grace and care to others. Thankyou for all the good in this world, we praise You, Amen.

Starfish bring us hope!

God speaks to us every day!

Sometimes I question what my purpose is. I wonder if God can really use me, I am so flawed and feel so small. Can God ever use me to make any kind of difference?

Beaches are a place which encourage me to ponder and to pray. I wrestle with my dreams, and the difference between them and the reality of my situation. Sometimes I despair, because I want to help others know the reality of God’s love in Christ, but I make mistakes, say the wrong thing, and then pray for God to remake me, so I am more loving, thoughtful, considerate. I have such along way to go, as I feel a bit worn down by the experiences I have had in life.

I had the privilege of walking on Luskentyre beach on Harris this month, and when all this heavy stuff was going on in my soul, I saw this gorgeous star fish. And I remembered the star fish story. The synopsis is that some one was throwing stranded star fish into the water, and some one said why do that, there are so many on the beach. You won’t be able to help them all. And the person throwing them I to the water said ‘ it will make a difference for this one.’

We have dreams of making a difference in this world, inspiring change, supporting people on tough days. But the reality is on many days, we are grumpy and on hold, waiting to get through to an energy company, or frustrated that no one in the family seems to be able to pick their clothes up of the floor. There are so many frustrations and distractions each day.

However, God spoke to me through that starfish. If you help just one person, then that is enough. I can stop worrying about the things I can’t do, and just be thankful for small things I can do. Mother Theresa said ” we can do no great things, only small things with great love.”

In Matthew 25, Jesus famously talks about how just to give food to the hungry, or to give a thirsty person a drink, to show a stranger hospitality, to clothe the naked, or to visit some one in prison, makes a difference. ( verses 31-46).

Even just doing what might seem like an insignificant action, can cause a positive ripple effect for others. So we persevere in faith.

Gracious God, You encourage us and give us hope, when we question our purpose, and what our life is about. You remind us that even faith the grain of a size of a mustard seed can make a difference. Lord Jesus, please take our offerings, however flawed they are, and use them for Your glory. Thankyou that every starfish matters, every act of kindness and grace brings your kingdom closer. Holy spirit liberate us from worry about what we haven’t achieved, and help us to get up each morning, open to your leading, of maybe blessing just one person this day. By your mercy, hear our prayers, Amen.

Landscape of lament.

A cleit and dwelling places at St Kilda.

I had the privilege of visiting St Kilda this week. It is a group of islands over 40 miles from Uist off the west coast of Scotland, where for thousands of years, people lived in a very harsh enviroment. The group of islands and stacs are stunningly beautiful, with incredible rock formations, a vast and varied colony of birds, including puffins, and the physical remains of a community, who chose to leave in 1930, when the community was no longer viable. When we visited, the cloud was often very low, and it gave it all a very atmospheric and mysterious air.

Walking around the village, you can see the remains of blackhouses (traditional stone cottages from the 1830’s), almost 1,300 cleits ( stone larders), dykes, the church, the factor’s house, graveyard etc. There are sheep everywhere, and you can imagine a little of trying to work the land, looking after the sheep, and capturing birds for harvesting.

Traditionally in Scottish literature, the relationship between humanity and the land is depicted as harsh, think for example of George Mackay Brown, where in ‘The house with the Grem shutters’ rural life is seen as cruel and desolate. Or we might look at Lewis Classic Gibsons ‘ A Scots Quair’, and the changes that war brought to the farming community. People often work hard in all weathers, only for the crops to fail, or financial ruin to strike.

We sometimes have an ideal concept of farming life, but listening to the stories of the people on St Kilda soon dispels this. They were out in the fields in all weathers, and in the evenings spinning and crafting wool, distilling oil for export from birds, making skins into shoes etc, and often living with their animals. Life is depicted as relentless, and yet the people persevered, through illness and little medical support, and terrible storms, when the community were completely cut off. You can’t help but admire their stoicism. And when you visit, you almost here the song of lament in the air, for the loss of so many lives over generations.

Today, we perhaps face different types of adversities and obstacles, sometimes more subtle ones, but they are there- poor health, the loss of work opportunities, the impact of the pandemic, climate change, injustice in our society. We have to try to navigate these, whilst keeping our self respect, and a constructive sense of purpose..

Christians are not exempt from seasons of frustration and hardship. Everyone has to work through difficult stuff. Yet God always encourages people to keep going, and to have hope, even when things are tough.

In Galatians 6:9 it says: ‘let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season, we will reap if we do not give up.’

Creator God, You have made this beautiful world, yet we live in a state of rebellion and disharmony, and it is hard work to care for nature, and to make a living. We give thanks for those who persevere in what seem like impossible circumstances. Sometimes we lament for the pain people experience just trying to put food on the table, and we think of story of the people in St Kilda in the past, and many other places today. Lord Jesus, help us all to work together for a just and fairer world. And when it all seems too much, holy spirit give us courage to persevere, and hope that things can get better, 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.

After bereavement, who are we?

Intertwined reflections.

I used to think that once you lost some one you loved, that you were sad for a while, and then felt better. However often, grieving is such a complex process, and can be confusing and circular in form. You often seem to go round in a circle, rather than making tangible progress.

One of the things I struggle with, is about identity. Often in a marriage, you get to know the other person so well, you almost become one. And when the two people are no longer together, you can’t remember who you were beforehand. Another dimension can be if you are a carer, as your energy in in supporting your loved one, and your motivation and focus is their wellbeing. When that person is gone, you miss them profoundly. But you also can realise that you have then lost your self too. The simplest decisions seem too hard.

Part of the grieving process then, is allowing your wounds to heal, and then seeking space to find out what is left in who you are. It can be hard to remember, and the old ‘you’ is gone anyway. So I pray for God to refashion me into whoever I am meant to be now, a bizarre mix of genetics, memories, learning and likes and dislikes, limitations and scars.

We can work hard on trying to work out our new priorities, praying for inspiration, seeking wise counsel. Yet I think perhaps the best thing, is to pray for God to shape our lives, to remind us that He still has a purpose for us:

In Isaiah, the prophet writes ‘Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
    We are the clay, you are the potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.’ Isaiah 64:8

At times that can be what we feel like- a clump of heavy mishapen clay. Yet God is not finished with us yet, and can use even our cracks and blemishes, to make something beautiful. Though His spirit, may we each find our God given identity as His beloved child, and have courage to live in this truth, and to find our way forward.

Gracious God, You tell us in Your Word, that we are made in your image, and that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Help us remember this when have many questions, and we feel lost and disorientated. Lord Jesus bring healing to us, and in time help us rediscover our true self. In this season of Pentecost, may your Holy spirit bring life to dry bones, so that we might live again. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

The shenanigans of seagulls.

It looks harmless, but……..

Yesterday I travelled north (before the new covid restrictions were announced) and was walking along the streets in the town in which I had newly arrived. All was going well till splat, and a present arrived from a passing seagull. So there I was, in the middle of the street, trying to remove bird splatter from my hair with dollops of hand sanitiser. Not the best moment in my day. I got some very strange looks.

It reminded me that I have often found that in times of stress, trauma or bereavement, other things often go wrong. It could be a little thing, like forgetting something, or getting your jumper sleeve caught in the handle of a door you were endeavouring to go through. The week after my husband’s funeral, I took my son to the cinema, in the forlorn hope of distracting ourselves for a moment, and I managed to break a bone in my foot. In the cinema! How is that even possible?

I think though if you are a long term carer, or have been bereaved, so much of your brain is coming to terms with what happened, another part becomes less active, and you can become accident prone. The stress of everything on your body, seems to show itself in clumsiness, illness and even pantomime situations where ridiculous things happen. A grief reaction I hadn’t been aware of, is to laugh hysterically at something. I think it was the alternative to crying, but it looked a bit strange. I still do this!

I just want to encourage anyone who is going through difficult days, when things seem to go wrong around you. It can be so frustrating. It doesn’t last forever, or hopefully at least not in such an intense way!

In the midst of all the antics that happen to us, and around us, I remember the verse from psalm 3: ‘You, O Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the lifter of my head.’

When we feel besieged by adversity, God shields us with His love. When we are down, God lifts up our head, and gives us hope. What a Great God we have.

Let us pray, Creator God, we thankyou for all the creatures in this world, even seagulls! We know that when we feel sad or under strain, it can seem that everything is going wrong. Lord Jesus, may we know your understanding presence with us, and find strength, and be able to find a way forward. Holy spirit, console us when we are discouraged, help us to be patient, and to keep trusting, Amen.

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.

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.

Painting and dancing!

Free style painting!

Today has been a lovely, dry, spring day, and I decided to paint a wall in the garden. That sounds quite normal, but I had my music on as well, and was listening to the Christian band Hawk Nelson- songs like Diamonds, Parachute and Never let you down. They are such great songs of faith, I couldn’t help but dance. I think I had too much paint on my roller, and I ended up a bit painty,  as did the grass, the bush and one or two other things. I think it was quite creative, but rather messy.

Next month will be the third anniversary of my husband’s  death, and it occurs to me that I still feel guilty for dancing to a song. Some one said it was ‘survivor’s guilt’ that you feel it is not fair to enjoy music when your loved one can’t. It is a way of thinking that is hard to let go.

The grieving process is so lengthy and so complex. You think you are coping with one thing, and then something else starts bothering you, or worse still, something from the past you thought you had worked through, comes back in a new form. It can be so disheartening and exhausting.

Every day, we have to choose once again how to live. We are often sad, or struggling with difficult memories. Yet I believe that part of the healing process, is how to learn to be thankful to God all over again for each day of life. And sometimes that means laughing hysterically, or being still for a long time, or dancing when you are painting! God wants to set us free from grief and sorrow, even just for a few moments. Whatever we are going through, may we all know these moments in life.

We remember God’s promise in Isaiah 61:3

‘ to all who mourn in Zion, God will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.’

Let us pray, there are so many reasons we may feel sorrowful- illness, the strain of the pandemic, the death of a loved one, and it can feel that the weight of heaviness and darkness will always hang over us. Lord Jesus, You remind us that from the pain and suffering of the cross, came forgiveness and new beginnings. Holy spirit bring healing to us, so that in moments, we might have hope and so we can still dance for joy in your presence, Amen.