A torrent of tears.

So many losses…

There are days when things feel better, and there are signs of hope. And then there are other times.

For me, I have had a difficult couple of weeks. It all started with the death of Mikhail Gorbachev about ten days ago. I had watched the poignant Storyville interview with him, a few years before his death. When he led the USSR through glasnost and perestroika in the late 1980’s and sought to act amicably on the world stage, he changed the course of the world for good. Yes of course he was flawed, but he was courageous and advocated free speech, reform and often championed non violent solutions. He has been blamed for the collapse of the Soviet empire, and he didn’t get a state funeral. Yet even at the end of his life, he retained a vision of what he was trying to do, and why it was important. He stood by his convictions, and greatly suffered as a result.

And then this week, there has been the death of HM Queen Elisabeth. Whatever your views on the institution of the monarchy, she dedicated her life to serving her people, and for over 70 years sought to fulfil that promise, whether it was though her travel through the Commonwealth, her thoughtful role at state events, and her listening, encouragement and insights shared with so many. We all saw her in the photos on Tuesday inviting Liz Truss to form a government, just two days before her death, with the Queen looking frail but dignified, deeply engaged in what was going on, and very much at peace in her surroundings. Somehow these pictures made the news of her death on the Thursday much more shocking. We have lost now just our Queen, but the stability and continuity she represented, and that feels so emotional. Between the impact of the pandemic, the war in the Ukraine, and the worry about the cost of living crisis, the amount of profound changes we are living with keep stacking up, and are disorientating and unnerving.

For me, yesterday was also my late husband’s birthday, and that too was gut wrenching. It brought back memories of tines when we had tried to make his birthday special, but he was too unwell to always enjoy it. I was often so helpless to support him, as his ongoing health deterioration didn’t ameliorate for special occasions.

The tears have just flowed- not just for all these losses, but because of what they represent. We seek to honour flawed people, and we are all deeply flawed, but people trying to do their best, showing extraordinary courage in very different contexts. We lament, as we also give thanks for their lives.

I remember the verse from psalm 126 verse 5 ‘ those who sow in tears will reap with joyful song’. At the moment, that feels difficult to imagine, yet we trust………

Eternal God, from the rising of the sun to its setting, Your name is to be praised. We go through seasons of loss and heartache, where our tears are so raw, we can no longer discern the specific cause, as loss piles upon loss. Maybe part of getting older, is witnessing all the changes in the world, and learning to find acceptance and peace. Lord Jesus, you look upon people with compassion, You see our earthly struggles and our many tears. Not a tear falls, that You do not see. We give you thanks for the richness of life, for the inspirational people who seek to do good. Holy spirit, as the tears flow, comfort us in our grief. Thankyou that there is always a rainbow after the heaviest shower, a ray of hope after the darkest night, eternal life with God, after our mortal life on this earth. We live with both a torrent of tears, and also with the prospect of new birth and resurrection, and so we find strength and peace. Thankyou, heavenly Father, Amen.

A torrent of tears.

So many losses…

There are days when things feel better, and there are signs of hope. And then there are other times.

For me, I have had a difficult couple of weeks. It all started with the death of Mikhail Gorbachev about ten days ago. I had watched the poignant Storyville interview with him, a few years before his death. When he led the USSR through glasnost and perestroika in the late 1980’s and sought to act amicably on the world stage, he changed the course of the world for good. Yes of course he was flawed, but he was courageous and advocated free speech, reform and often championed non violent solutions. He has been blamed for the collapse of the Soviet empire, and he didn’t get a state funeral. Yet even at the end of his life, he retained a vision of what he was trying to do, and why it was important. He stood by his convictions, and greatly suffered as a result.

And then this week, there has been the death of HM Queen Elisabeth. Whatever your views on the institution of the monarchy, she dedicated her life to serving her people, and for over 70 years sought to fulfil that promise, whether it was though her travel through the Commonwealth, her thoughtful role at state events, and her listening, encouragement and insights shared with so many. We all saw her in the photos on Tuesday inviting Liz Truss to form a government, just two days before her death, with the Queen looking frail but dignified, deeply engaged in what was going on, and very much at peace in her surroundings. Somehow these pictures made the news of her death on the Thursday much more shocking. We have lost now just our Queen, but the stability and continuity she represented, and that feels so emotional. Between the impact of the pandemic, the war in the Ukraine, and the worry about the cost of living crisis, the amount of profound changes we are living with keep stacking up, and are disorientating and unnerving.

For me, yesterday was also my late husband’s birthday, and that too was gut wrenching. It brought back memories of tines when we had tried to make his birthday special, but he was too unwell to always enjoy it. I was often so helpless to support him, as his ongoing health deterioration didn’t ameliorate for special occasions.

The tears have just flowed- not just for all these losses, but because of what they represent. We seek to honour flawed people, and we are all deeply flawed, but people trying to do their best, showing extraordinary courage in very different contexts. We lament, as we also give thanks for their lives.

I remember the verse from psalm 126 verse 5 ‘ those who sow in tears will reap with joyful song’. At the moment, that feels difficult to imagine, yet we trust………

Eternal God, from the rising of the sun to its setting, Your name is to be praised. We go through seasons of loss and heartache, where our tears are so raw, we can no longer discern the specific cause, as loss piles upon loss. Maybe part of getting older, is witnessing all the changes in the world, and learning to find acceptance and peace. Lord Jesus, you look upon people with compassion, You see our earthly struggles and our many tears. Not a tear falls, that You do not see. We give you thanks for the richness of life, for the inspirational people who seek to do good. Holy spirit, as the tears flow, comfort us in our grief. Thankyou that there is always a rainbow after the heaviest shower, a ray of hope after the darkest night, eternal life with God, after our mortal life on this earth. We live with both a torrent of tears, and also with the prospect of new birth and resurrection, and so we find strength and peace. Thankyou, heavenly Father, 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.

Living, not surviving!

Life in full colour!

It feels at the moment, that we are all just surviving, rather than living. The covid 19 virus has affected our lives in such a profound way, not just in terms of the number of people with long covid, or who have passed away. It has also meant we have been isolated from one another, seeing our homes as safe, and going out as being risky. Familiar patterns have become more time by ourselves, less outings, less socialising. It seems as if we are all in danger of becoming a recluse!

If we were trying to cram too much into life before the pandemic, a bit more space can be beneficial. However for many people it has meant that we feel cut off from the rest of the world. We are thankful to have food and a roof over our heads, but we are at risk from becoming more self orientated, and less socially engaged.

Surviving can look different for different people. Maybe we are going to work, seeing family and watching TV. Maybe we are waiting for an operation, and struggling with ill health. Or perhaps we are a bit disappointed with life, a bit low mood. It is as if we are living in black and white instead of colour.

When we are healing, whether from health issues, trauma or bereavement, surviving is sometimes all we can do. Hopefully as the wound heals, and we get stronger, we can gradually begin to live, to find our identity, to dance, to dream. Let’s not live life as second best, but to appreciate every moment, and to explore and be creative, to travel and to have adventures again.

In John 10:10 Jesus said ‘ I have come that they (my sheep) may have life, life in all its fullness ‘

We are reminded that God wants us to live full lives, lives of love, of learning, or prayer and compassion, and of sharing the richness of our faith with others. He still has a good purpose for us, even when for a while we cannot imagine what that could be. May we never give up hope, but be willing to go forward, at times maybe fearful or with reservations, but also with a sense of wonder and expectation.

Gracious and Generous God, You lavish Your love on us, even when we are in dark places, just going through the motions in our lives, just surviving, because anything else is too hard. Lord Jesus when we are ready, lift us out of that chasm so our feet are on the rock, and so we can see the world in colour again. Holy spirit, open our eyes to Your beauty and goodness, and breath your life into us afresh so we can live in your freedom, with hope and joy once more. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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.