Overload- one thing too many!

Christmas is coming.

My goodness, I can’t believe that Christmas seems so close! Decorations are up in house windows, shops and streets. The lights are symbols of hope in dark days, and in many ways are welcome, however early it seems.

However I think there are mixed feelings for those who mourn, a desire to look forward with hope, alongside an awareness of the strain of missing a loved one, and feeling that no one else understands. You can be making plans, but some one us missing, the landscape feels different everything jarrs, if there is a Christmas card that never arrives, an empty chair, and a deep feeling of loss. Outwardly things might look very similar, but inside the feeling is different. People are often doing their best to help, and you don’t want to hurt their feelings. So you try hard to go through the motions, whilst nursing a broken heart.

We know the comforting bible verses inside out – ‘ God is close to the broken hearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit.’ Psalm 34: 18 and sometimes it is ok to stop filling our time with being busy, to pause, to let the hurt bubble up, and to weep. It is honest, and that is often when we feel God the closest, when we tell Him of our pain.

When we try to push the pain down, and don’t acknowledge it, that’s when we go into overload. It means that we overreact to unforeseen frustrations, pressures at work, the unexpected bill, the driver who cuts out in front of us, the ill judged words of a friend. Sometimes it can just be one thing too many which sends us into a tailspin. We are trying so hard, it doesn’t take much to derail us.

If we are hurting this Christmas, for whatever reason, a broken relationship, ill health, disrupted plans, the loss of a loved one, it is ok to take time to be with God and to cry out to him. He notices our every tear, and brings us comfort and grace, reminding us that we are never alone, and that our cries are heard. If we are able to slow down, and talk to God about our sadnesses, He can minister to us, and this is when we find the strength and the peace we need.

Gracious God, You search and You know us, before even a word is on our tongue, You know what is on our hearts. Forgive us for the times we pretend everything is alright, as sometimes we deceive even ourselves. We get so overloaded and so frustrated, short tempered and upset. Lord Jesus, come alongside us, and speak Your Word of truth, the truth that sets us free. Help us to know it is ok to be real with You, and with trusted loved ones. Help us through the power of your holy spirit, to find safe places to lament and to be real, so that we can find that healing and centredness we yearn for. Grant peace to all who are anxious about facing Christmas by themselves, and may they find that Your love will encircle and strengthen them, Amen.

Engaged and distracted!

Aching beauty even in times of change and loss.

Autumn is a stunning time of year- the varying colours and textures, the sounds of leaves crunching underfoot and the aching beauty of bare branches and naked trees. It is a time that speaks of loss and the inevitability of change.

November is a difficult month for me, and the heaviness of Remembrance seems all too near. The trauma and suffering of military personnel and their families seem tangible.

We seem to cope with trauma and loss in such diverse ways. There are times when we seem numb, when it all seems remote. The coping strategy is to look for distraction from the pain, to watch too many boxed sets, to go to the gym, to eat tubs of ice cream. We do anything not to engage, not to have to feel.

But every now and again, it catches us up, and we feel intensely. It could be a moment in a film, or a message from a friend, or just a word in a sentence, and it brings it all back, so that we crumple and fall apart.

Bessel van der Kolk says: ‘traumatised people chronically feel unsafe in their bodies. The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings, and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from themselves.”         p97 The Body keeps the score.

This is such a good description of that feeling of numbness. For short periods, it can protect us, as when we are in shock after something terrible has happened. But the danger is that if we stay there too long, that we lose ourselves. And so we need to find the courage to come out and face the pain, however excruciating that can be. Noticing and acknowledging the impact of trauma, is the first step. Often we need to go through this process in company with a trauma informed therapist, or grief counsellor, who can help people to work out what is going on, and to create a safe space to heal.

There are times when we need distraction from the reality of life, the pain and cruelty are too overwhelming. But at other times, we need to have the courage to engage with our story, and the impact it has had on us. At these times of honest engagement, then we are open to finding the long, meandering road to wholeness.

The words of Psalm 32: 7 reminds us that in God’s presence we find safety “You are my hiding place You will protect me from trouble, and surround me with songs of deliverance.” With God, we can find that safe place to be honest, to lament, and to begin to trust and to find the wholeness we seek. And so we take that first step…….

Gracious God, You see what happens to your precious children, that we hurt others and get hurt, that we experience loss, and disappointment and trauma. Sometimes we hide, and pretend everything is OK, just to protect ourselves from possibilities of danger. Lord Jesus, You show us such acceptance and love, that your presence is a safe place for us to be to be honest, so we can pour forth our hurts and our wailings. In your perfect timing, may we find courage to be truthful, even when that is uncomfortable and strips our souls bare. May Your Holy spirit help us find pathways through pain, to healing and trust and new growth, Amen.

A house full of feathers!

Expressing loss- a dog’s way.

I was away for a few days last week, which I loved, and my son looked after our handsome dog Gabriel. I am grateful to him, and others who walked Gabriel when I was absent.

My son was telling me what a good dog he had been, until I got in the door. In the hour he had been away, Gabriel decided to say he was fed up, and ripped a pillow to shreds, leaving a mountain of feathers everywhere. He didn’t look remotely concerned about this, as you can see. I think it was just his way of saying he wanted company!

For those who have experienced loss of some kind, it can be difficult to put into words how that feels- an ache in the soul, a lethargy, a heaviness. It is the feeling that is with you first thing in the morning, and last thing at night.

Grieving can cause us to do different things- not always to rip up a pillow, but to decide not to go out, to put off replying to a letter, to want to break things! Sometimes the emotional cost of choosing to do something difficult or new, can seem overwhelming.

We all cope with these in different ways. Sometimes we talk to an understanding friend. Sometimes we binge watch net flicks, just to distract ourselves from the pain. Sometimes we just want to be walking at a beach, or just alone with God, pouring out our soul.

Where we can, it is good to choose healthier options to express anger, loss and pain. We seek to give our regrets and guilt to God, over things we might have wished to be otherwise. We ask for cleansing, and a gradual coming to terms with what happened. Sometimes we shout at God ‘ why’- because we find it all hard to understand. And we pray for peace in our souls, and strength to tackle the new day in a holistic way.

A verse that has been speaking to my heart recently is from Isaiah 26: ” you will keep in perfect peace, the one who is focused on You, because he trusts and takes refuge in You.’ Sometimes when we are hurting, the temptation is to withdraw or to question. These are a healthy part of the process, but we pray that gradually through the ebb and flow dance of grief, that we begin to find a deeper and lasting peace.

Gracious God, Creator of all, thankyou that in the beauty of this world, the shade of a tree or the refreshment of a cool breeze, we are reminded of your presence. Lord Jesus, you wept at the death of your friend Lazarus, and you know the shock and pain of bereavement. Thankyou that You weep with us. Holy spirit, in the midst of our loss, help us to find safe ways to express our heartache ( that doesn’t involve feathers!) Thankyou for our beautiful pets, and may we always treat them well. We thank you for the interconnectedness of all things, and pray for the gift of peace and a sense of belonging for all who cry to You this day, Amen.

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.

Medication in the sock drawer.

The illogicalities of grieving.

There are just so many anniversaries in life. Just when you have worked your way through one, along comes a other.

Today is three years to the day since Colin’sĀ  funeral. Some of the memories are still so vivid, the people who came, the sound of the singing, the positioning of the coffin. My son Andrew and I are so appreciative of all the people who were so supportiveĀ and prayerful at this time. It was such an expression of care, at a time of pain and loss.

Going through times of grieving is so complex, even after three years. I think other losses in these years exacerbate the process. One day you think you are feeling a little better, another day you suddenly hear a piece of music or a letter comes in the mail, and it brings waves of unbidden emotion.

There is little logic in it. As the grieving person, you begin to realise that you are not only missing the person, but also your old way of life together. You also begin to realise that habits you adopted, especially to support a loved one who was unwell or disabled, are no longer appropriate.

An example of this, was that one of the conditions my late husband had was epilepsy. This meant that anytime we went anywhere, the first thing we did was check we had his medication with us. If we were going abroad, I would have it in my hand luggage as well as the cargo hold, just in case. It is drilled into my head to take Colin’s medication everywhere I go.

So this is not working for me now! I need to retrain my brain not to think of this. But it is very hard. And so my confession today is that I have kept some epilepsy medication in my sock drawer, just in case. Just in case of what, I don’t know, but it it just one step too far to dispose of it. In my head I know this is ridiculous, but my heart just doesn’t want to let go.

So when people say they are still struggling with grief, even three years on, please be kind. The multilayered significance of the loss of of the person, their life, their life together, and a way of living, is so hard to articulate. There are so many decisions and accommodations that you make in life, that then have to be relearned. It is a slow, laborious process of reformation, but God strengthens us and gently leads us forward, for He shows mercy to the sorrowful.

‘God heals the broken hearted, and binds up their wounds.’ Psalm 147:3

Gracious and Eternal God, we give thanks that You understand our hurts and sadnesses and convoluted thinking. Lord Jesus, thankyou that You are gentle with those who are sorrowful, and heavy in heart. Holy spirit, help us to become unstuck from repeating old ways that were so important in the past. Lead us from grief and old patterns of thinking and being, so we can find healing and freedom to be our true selves. Amen.