Running on empty!

With the recent rises in fuel costs, I got into the habit of putting less fuel in my car! Now I know that is not logical. Half filling the tank each time looked as if I wasn’t paying so much, but obviously just meant I had less fuel to get anywhere. And this meant that little warning light above keeps coming on- get to a garage, as you have very little fuel left.

This started me musing in other areas, for it feels as if for many of us, we are spiritually running on empty. In the time leading up to Christmas, we seem to be trying to do too much, without enough resources. It is like we are trying to make up for the last two Christmases, when the restrictions of the pandemic kept us isolated. And so now we have works nights out, trying to catch up with friends, travelling to see family. We have nativity services, community lunches, charity concerts, plus Christmas cards and trees and food preparation. And this is against a background of food and fuel prices dramatically increasing, and a whole series of strikes. And temperatures of minus 7!

The strains on our society are immense just now, in terms of health and social care, in education and transport. The degree of misery and despair for some is immense, people not able to afford food or heat, in debt, struggling to find appropriate care for chronic health conditions, dealing with complex losses and bereavements.

So how can we spiritually refuel, and find any hope? Well I think the story of the first Christmas helps. Jesus was born to Mary, and to Joseph far from home, round the back of an inn amongst the animals. Things were difficult and messy that first Christmas. Yet in the midst of this, they were thankful for what they had, they trusted God, and they recognised the wonder of Jesus, the Son of God being born into the world. And the wonder of it filled their souls with joy and reverence and peace.

Maybe we need to slow down a little in Advent, and to do a bit less. It doesn’t have to be perfect. And if things go wrong, and relationships are strained, and finances are tight, simplifying things is ok. The best moments in life can be quiet moments, unexpected connections, glittery spiders webs, laughter with friends. It is being grateful for what we have, and taking time to be in the moment. It is only when we take time, then we are replenished and more able to then support others.

‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ John 1:14. This means that God understands our struggles, grief and isolation. Jesus came into this world, to remind us of the enormity of God’s love for us, so we can receive that love and live in it. And the more time we spend in worship and contemplation, the more we are spiritually replenished and renewed. So may we take time to breathe, to enjoy sparkly lights, to listen to Christmas carols, to go to church, to notice and walk in the beauty of Creation. May we let God refuel our souls, so weariness might be replaced by peace, and emptiness by love, despair by hope.

Eternal Father, you sent Your precious Son Jesus Christ into this world, our Wonderful Counsellor and Prince of Peace, to bring joy to the world. At times our heads are down and our hearts are heavy, burdened by the grief and pain of our society. Even in our lowest moments, especially in these lowest moments, come along side us, and speak to us of your love and grace and truth. Babe of Bethlehem, Child in a manger, remind us that you are our Emmanuel, and that we are never alone. May we choose to make space to find spiritual refueling, and then to find strength to live each day. Holy spirit, breath new life into us, help us to have moments to rest, to give thanks, and to self care, for You love us with an everlasting love. Bless us with your peace. Amen.

Lighting a candle, who knew it could be so hard!

No matches……

I am so enjoying lighting candles in this season of Advent. Candles speak to me of light and hope and life. They are so calming!

So I went to light a candle this morning, and I had run out of matches. That seems like a small thing, but the thing was it had enormous emotional overtones too. For about 30 years ago, my late husband Colin bought a batch of boxes of matches. In his usual exuberant way, he bought 30 boxes at a time. And we have been using these boxes of Cook’s matches over all this time. But today, when I went to look, the last one has gone, and I can’t find any more. It is another link with him that is gone.

December is such a poignant month. So many symbols of hope and love, families coming together, concerts and nativity plays, and the reverence and joy of Christmas services, and the celebration of the birth of our Lord.

Yet at the same time, you miss the people who aren’t there, you think of old memories, you feel an ache of what is missing. The shadow side of it all, that is often unspoken.

I am going to have to go out and buy new matches. I might shed a few tears, for life seems to be moving on, and I have no choice but to go with it. A little thing in the universal scheme of things, but such incidents affect so many bereaved people. And so we listen to each other’s stories, and weep together, even in the unlikeliest of places.

Gracious God, You are our Creator, and You have made this universe and planet to be good and beautiful. Yet there is a season for all things, and along with enjoying what is lovely, we are saddened by death and loss. Lord Jesus, be our light and shine in the darkness. Little things can have such resonance. We feel the pain, but know that life cannot stand still. Hope spirit, breath new life and energy into us, comfort us, and give us courage to move on, for Jesus sake, Amen.

There is still light in the sky….

Still hope…..

I was driving a few weeks ago, and it got suddenly very dark. I was on narrow country roads, and then there was a diversion. The rain was heavy, the roads were flooded, and even with  the high speed movement of the windscreen wipers, it was difficult to see. It was a very disorientating evening, and I wondered if I would ever arrive.

The thing that helped, was that there was still a little light in the sky. It was just a narrow band but it made all the difference. It orientated me in the midst of the twists and turns, and helped me keep my bearings.

Life seems so difficult these days, so much harshness in our society, health worries and concerns about how to keep a roof over our heads. Sometimes it can seem very dark.

I love the season of Advent, and the lighting of that first candle, however fragile and flickering. It just seems like a statement that there is still light and hope and love in the world. Even if we feel we are sitting in darkness just now, somewhere the light still shines. Whether we are wrestling with low mood, anxiety or sadness, God’s love is still our Guide.

In John chapter I verse 5 it says; the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness could not put it out’ Whatever we might be struggling with today, there is always hope, and possibilities of forgiveness and new beginnings. May we find courage to believe.

Gracious God, sometimes the world seems so dark, with conflict and ugliness and greed. It is easy to lose hope, and to despair of things getting better. Lord Jesus, thankyou for the Advent message of Your coming into the world as a vulnerable baby, revealing the very nature of God, and your promise to one day come back. Holy spirit, reveal to us more of the light, and may that light diminish our darkness, and help us find our path. Thankyou that there is always some light in the sky, in Jesus name, Amen.

Memories, painful, therapeutic or both?

War memorial on Cumbrae

Memory is such a powerful but mysterious part of our minds and our souls. We all remember in different ways, sometimes we are good at remembering numbers, or names, or faces. Sometimes our memories are coloured by subsequent happenings, and so are hard to work out. Memories can be strong or fuzzy, or different for different types of experiences. So much is inexplicable.

This season of Remembrance is vitally important. The principle of remembering those who gave their lives in the service of their country, along with those who returned, and thinking of their families is part of being a compassionate society. When people have sacrificed so much for the sake of others, they should be honoured and remembered.

The nature of the remembering is more tricky. Everyone has their own individual experiences and perceptions, so the overall experience can be varied. It can be hard to have balance- one veteran remembers with great thanksgiving the life of a fallen comrade, whilst another is lost in the traumatic memory of a grenade exploding. Remembering is poignant.

Sometimes we want to try and forget, to repress difficult memories, but then the danger is that they bubble back to the surface after doing much damage. So we need to remember, even tough recollections, so we can process them, and become more healthy. There are many therapeutic ways of doing this, if you find the right person to be supportive. All too many veterans come back with ptsd, and need specialised support and don’t always have access to this, causing damage to self and to others.

I think of Jesus at the last supper, saying about eating the bread, and drinking the wine ‘ do this in memory of me’. He wanted his friends to know that he was willing to lay down his life out of love, snd to keep this love central in the life of the community, by continuing to celebrate this sacrament. Remembering had a sad dimension, but also had an aspect of hope.

This Remembrance Sunday, I pray that no one is struggling with dark and traumatic memories of conflict and war alone. I pray that everyone would have a safe person to be supportive, and when relevant, to signpost them to effective help. In a day of powerful emotions, may there even yet, be a sense of love, and the possibility of hope.

Creator God, You created human beings to be so amazing, and to be so beautiful, yet we can also be so conflicted and damaged. Lord Jesus, thankyou that You suffered on the cross, and that You understand our struggles and traumatic and painful memories. May the light and love of Christ dissipate the power of experiences of darkness and violence. Bring healing to all who suffer the vicissitudes of war, so that each one can find peace and meaning. May your holy spirit heal our memories, so we are free to breathe and live once more, in Jesus name, 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.

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.