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.

God desires restoration for our souls.

Luskentyre beach, Outer Hebrides.

After dark times of trauma, grief and pandemic stresses and worries, we might all be forgiven if our mood is a little uneven. It is going to take a long time, maybe even generations for there to be healing or recovery for those who have experienced some of the bleak and tragic consequences of the impact of coronovirus.

When we feel overwhelmed or sad, many things help, the power of prayer, a listening ear, a promise kept, a thoughtful message, the paw proffered by a pet. God uses so many ways to lift up our souls, and to remind us we are loved.

One of the things I am learning to appreciate more and more is the stunning nature of Scottish countryside, especially the western islands. There are so many epic landscapes, towering cliffs, colourful machairs, dramatic coastlines, exquisite beaches, and an amazing variety of birds and creatures. Even in the drizzle, these have the power to speak to our soul of big emotions, of wilderness and tragedy and solace and inspiration. The stories from each community visited are so moving.

I am reading from the Passion translation of the bible just now, and in psalm 148 verse 1 it says:

‘hallelujah! Praise the Lord.  Let the skies be filled with praise, and the highest heavens with shouts of glory.’

Just connecting with Creation, can remind us of the glory and majesty of God, so that just for a while, our hurts and wounds can seem smaller. Just being able to be still enough to give thanks and to worship, reorientates us, and can bring hope and restoration to our souls. Whether it is the shrill call of a bird, changing light through the clouds, or the rhythm of the waves- may we be lost in wonder, awe and praise.  If we have opportunity in this summer period, may we intentionally spend time in some of our glorious landscapes, and to find God, and in Him, refreshment and hope.

Gracious God, at times our hearts are bruised by worry and grief- our cares are heavy, and often beyond words. Please speak to us that Word in season that we need to hear. Creator of all, as we experience the grandeur of your creation, may tears of appreciation run down our faces, as we bow down before You in worship and thanksgiving. Lord Jesus, help us to experience your Love in new ways, and find a broader perspective on our troubles. Holy spirit, in Your creation, may we find restoration for our souls, and your healing grace and peace, Amen.

The power of telling our story.

Learning to speak.

In recent weeks, I have been mulling over the power of telling your story. It is perhaps a bit of a cliche, but there is something that is cathartic about trying to put something you gave experienced into words. It helps you to reinterpret the significance of what happened, and to understand it in a different way. You often notice something that you hadn’t seen before.

It might look a bit selfish to be focused on telling your story. Yet I think the purpose is a deeper understanding of our humanity, and the connection that exists between us all. And you hope this might help another human being. Some one said ” the courage it takes to tell your story might be the very thing some one needs to open their heart to hope.’

This spring was three years after Colin’s death. I thought enough time has passed to make things more bearable, and I was taken aback by the pain all over again. This is not just about his death, but also about the trauma and behaviours around epilepsy and brain injury. So many difficult memories.

I am not saying this because I am looking for sympathy. Rather I am just saying this because that’s where I am at. The processes of grief don’t follow a neat path, but are an emotional storm that is unbridled and turbulent.

So I write this to help others who are grieving. So often people say ‘ you should be over this by now’ but it really doesn’t work like that. All we can do is find the courage to say where we are at.

I started to tell my husband Colin’s story to honour his memory, but in doing this, I told our story. I had to decide which bits to leave out, or to focus on, so there is always an interpretative context. Doing this, and writing ‘love song for a wounded warrior’ has changed me, it has helped me look into a time of suffering and pain, and to try to speak to challenge people about the suffering of veterans and their families. It has helped me notice things about myself, which have been hard to face, but which ultimately will be therapeutic.

Brene Brown said ‘ owning our story and loving ourselves through the process is the bravest thing we will ever do.’ I can understand that because I feel vulnerable and sad, and for many years I kept it all to myself. To speak of some of what happened has been tough, but also feels like a calling.

To anyone who is reading this, thank you. I think of Rick Warren’s words ‘ other people are going to find healing in your wounds. Your greatest life messages and your most effective ministry will come out if your deepest hurts.’ That is my prayer.

In the midst of all this, my Christian faith has been my strength. In psalm 45, the NLT translation it says: ‘beautiful words stir my heart. I will recite a lovely poem about my King, for my tongue is like then pen of a skilful poet’ I am not a skilful poet, but I do feel called to tell this story, to write, to connect, to seek to tell others of the wonders of God’s love, even in the darkest of moments, and to encourage and bring hope.

Gracious God, Your story is told in Your beautiful book, the Bible being full of Your grace and love towards a broken and fragile humanity. Lord Jesus, things happen in life that are so difficult, beyond the power of words to tell. Yet I thank you that You understand. Bring healing to all those who suffer and are in pain. Holy spirit, give us the courage to tell our individual stories, howeber messy, and somehow may they bless others. And as we speak, may we also find fresh insights, which enable us to grow stronger and find deeper peace, 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.

Spring- the breath of life

Breathing deeply, finding peace.

The days are lengthening, there are crocuses on the ground and buds on the trees. Although there are still some rainy dismal days, there is also a feeling of greening, and of spring.

These are still such anxious days, and I am learning more about the importance of breath. We all know breathing is good! But there is so much more to it than this.

In the fresh air, our intuition is to breath deeply and slowly. We appreciate the air coming into our lungs, that it shows us down, and helps us be more in the moment, at peace and attentive to our enviroment.

There is so much science to this- that slow, deep breathing reduces anxiety and feelings of panic, that it helps us relax, brings more oxygen to the blood, and releases endorphins. Breathing in should be deep and measured, and breathing out even more slowly. This calms the parasympathetic system and the vagus nerve, and brings a feeling of deep peace. So many practices of Christian meditation reflect the importance of this type of breathing, even from thousands of years before. It is an ancient and healing practice.

Exploring practices that help bring healing to people who are anxious or traumatised, seems so very important in today’s age. Whether it is the use of breathing techniques and trauma informed care in schools or medical settings, it seems such a beneficial and holistic tool to offer. And in churches also, maybe we need to learn more from ancient Christian practices of meditation, to enable us to be more fully in the presence of God.

In Job 33:4 it says ‘ the breath of the Almighty gives me life’ and this is not just giving us the capacity for life, but also quality of life and spiritual awareness. The modern worship song ‘ Sound of our breathing’ by Jason Gray, captures something of the rhythm of our breathing, and of God’s breath within us.

Let us pray: ‘ Eternal God, You breath Your life into this world, into every human being- may we notice and cherish this gift. Lord Jesus, when we are stressed or anxious, help us to slow down, and breath deeply, and exhale slowly. Holy spirit, bring us your healing and calm, shape our lives, and enable us to live more fully for You, Amen.

Peace beyond understanding.

Deep rest.

There are so many sad and disturbing things going on in the world just now, it can be hard to be still. There is too much to make our minds race, and to disturb our equilibrium. The number of people unwell, especially ill with covid 19 at home and in hospital is difficult to comprehend, and the consequent human misery and loss that is resulting for so many families.

In the midst of all this, it is hard to know how best to pray, I pray for the virus not to spread more, and for healing of those who are sick. But I also want to pray for peace for those who are critically ill.

I am so fortunate, as I am relatively healthy, but in times when I have been unwell, I can remember my body feeling so busy fighting infection, that my mind felt very far from reality, as if everything in the world was so far away, I was actually very peaceful. Ironically it felt like quite a safe place to be, where nothing bothers you, because you are not really thinking. You can hear people and respond in your soul, but not necessarily physically.

I was watching a you tube clip of Joni Eareckson Tada the other day, a woman who recently had covid 19. It is quite a challenging, direct and emotional video, so watch it only if you feel able – a summary is below- https://youtu.be/squAX6lV2Aw        

Joni is quadriplegic, so when she got her diagnosis of covid 19, she thought she would die. She was in hospital, fighting to breathe, when she felt a deep trust in Jesus, and an odd calmness- she knew that whether she lived or died, she was with God, that she was resting in the shadow of the Almighty. And she was at peace. She wants everyone to share this peace of Christ, which is why she shares her experience.

People have different experiences and spiritual understandings, but that resting in the Almighty, that deep peace and trust is surely something that we want people to have. So they are not worried or anxious or fearful, but rather completely at rest.

In Philippians chapter 4, Paul encourages the Christians in Philippi to trust God, to present their requests to Him, and then he says:

‘ and the peace of God, which passes all human understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’ Verse 7

When I feel worried or uncertain, I know I can trust Jesus, and He often shares that sense of peace with me. To be honest, there are still times when I still struggle or am restless. But God wants to bless us with His peace, and that is the gift He longs to share.

May we pray: Lord Jesus Christ, our hearts break over the number of people unwell and dying because of covid 19. We give thanks for all the paramedics and medical staff working with patients, especially in ICU wards, for their medical care and kindness to their patients and their families. Please bless them all, and especially those that are critically ill. May your holy spirit bring to them, that deep peace that passes all understanding, and may they know that whatever happens, that they can find safety in your loving hands, Amen.

Unexpected angels in our midst, even Gabriel!

A Christmassy Gabriel!

Everyone has their own favourite film at Christmas, from Elf, Love Actually and It’s a wonderful life. There are many films to choose from, and it seems important to enjoy them, especially with the latest locdown restrictions announced today. People are so worried about the virus, disappointed about their plans to see loved ones have now been cancelled, concerned about loved ones unwell or having the virus. We need some escapism, to help us to cope.

It’s a wonderful life, is particularly popular, as it reminds us that when we are questioning what our life is all about, that maybe God has used us to accomplish more than we know. Clarence the angel, is maybe not what we imagine angels to be like, but he appears just at the right time to save a life.

There are so many angelic appearances in the bible, and in the Christmas story, Gabriel the angel speaking to Zechariah in the temple, to Mary in the house, to Joseph in a dream. Angels are described as heavenly messangers, that stand in the very presence of God. They do the bidding of God, answering prayer, intervening in situations, revealing God’s will.

Especially in these days of difficult death statistics, restrictions and isolation, we pray for God to send His angels into this world- to remind the lonely person that they are not alone, to visit the despairing person in a hospital bed or prison cell, to remind that bereaved person or traumatised child that God wants to comfort them.

On the hillside, the angels praised God amongst the shepherds, and brought news of great joy for all people, for a Saviour was born to bring glory to God, and peace on earth. The purity of angels praising God must have been inspirational.

I believe that God still sends divine messengers to this earth, to encourage, to guide the lost, to be with the dying. Sometimes God might choose the most unlikely people to fulfil His purposes, unexpected angels are all around. And this brings us hope.

We know that in the new year, the various vaccines will be rolled out, and that this will make a difference. We know that these restrictions will not last forever. We know that the number of people ill with the virus will gradually lessen. There is much to be hopeful about.

Right now, as we look at the dark nights, and the rain drops rolling down the window pane, it is easy to feel down. May we know that God has not deserted His people, and that the angels still sing. May we notice the angels in our midst, the prayers said, the acts of kindness around, and may this strengthen us, and remind us that there are better days to come.

May we pray. Eternal Father, news of a new more spreadable variant of the virus, is hard to hear, and the new restrictions have curtailed so many plans to meet up at Christmas. Help us to remember that the first Christmas was tough too, a long journey, a birth of a child in less than ideal circumstances. Yet God provided for the holy family, and He provides for us today. Holy spirit, help us notice the angels in our midst, the heavenly singing, the prayer, the acts of kindness. And may we find peace, trusting in You, Amen 🙏

Longing for Shalom.

A quest for peace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing colours of autumn.

This weekend, the weather has been glorious, and the colours rich and vibrant. The soft autumn sunshine, azure skies and soft clouds floating by are idyllic. The sun has been surprisingly warm, and if you find a sheltered spot, it is like being touched by the love of God.

Yet the message of all of this, is that the seasons are changing, that the leaves are starting to turn, and then to fall, sometimes gently, sometimes in a stormy frenzy of whirl.

Autumn brings hope, because it reminds us that change can be beautiful. As human beings, we often seem stuck, stuck in grief or trauma or illness. We get used to it, and forget that there is another way to live.

Jesus was always on the move, going to different places, meeting new people, praying, challenging people as to how they could follow him. He was never static. So we too are called to be open to learning, to explore our creativity, to deepen our spirituality, to be fashioned into the very image of Christ. The Holy spirit is ever at work within us.

When we enjoy the changing autumn colours, I think God is also inviting us to change- to somehow find deeper healing from the past, and the courage to move on. This seems to be slow, painstaking work. We complain as the leaves fall, as there is so much to let go of, regrets, old patterns of thinking, difficult memories, dark hurts. Yet if the tree lies bare for a winter, by spring there is new life, new growth, new colour.

For all those entranced by the melancholy beauty of autumn, may we allow God to search our souls, guide our thoughts, to help us to choose wisely, to establish a new rhythm of life. It might be a painful transition involving reflection and self awareness, but my prayer for all of us, is that we are able to keep going forward

Let us pray, Lord Jesus, we strive to go forward, to move on from the past, but unbidden memories can force their way to the surface. Cleanse us by your holy spirit, and give us the vision of better things that are to come, of new growth and energy. And on days when it just seems too hard, may we just rest in the warmth of your love, and find your gift of deep, healing peace in your rays of light. Thankyou Father God, that we can rest with you, to marvel at Your beauty, and be in communion with You, Amen.