Extraordinary peace.

A butterfly basking in the sunshine!

Over a very emotional weekend, I had the opportunity to sit in the warm sunshine for a while. And while I was there, a stunning butterfly came and landed on my knee. It was just enjoying the warmth.

It sat there for about 20 minutes, and this was so good for both of us! Being still was so healing in itself, and having this beautiful creature to study was all absorbing. From the movement of the antennae to the fluttering of its wings, it was so interesting. It seemed so fragile, yet it had such a strong life force, choosing to sit in the sun.

Not to be dramatic, but it felt like a gift from God! A time of gratitude and awe and stillness that I really needed, a gift of peace and wonder, that has stayed with me, and given me strength.

I remember the verse from Philippians 4:19 ‘God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus.’ God is so often gracious, and blesses us with an encouragement and inspiration, just when we need it. May God meet the needs of all of us, when we cry to Him, and may we receive His message of love.

Gracious Creator God, we so easily become downhearted and unsettled, weary from too much sadness. Even in bleak times, open our eyes to the beauty around us. Lord Jesus, grant us moments of such awe and wonder, that we find healing and deep peace. Holy spirit, may we each receive the blessing You have for us, and find renewal and strength for each day, Amen.

Mystery in prayer!

To be honest, so many questions!

To my great surprise, I have had some answered prayer this week- a person came forward at just the right moment, another person was really encouraging, and a family member had a positive medical appointment. I am deeply humbled at some really lovely outcomes.

It made me realise however, sometimes when I pray, I just don’t know what to expect. I know that I pray to the King of all the universe, and that God delights in hearing his children. I know that God is good and loving, that He loves justice and is merciful. I know that nothing is impossible for God.

And yet my experience is that sometimes when I have prayed desperately for some one to be healed, or for a particular direction in my life, it has not worked out. Maybe healing for some one, is sometimes the healing that is in death- no more crying or pain. Sometimes too, in retrospect for some prayers, I am glad that God did not bring them to pass, for I was in danger of going in the wrong direction.

Yet it is so hard. There is so much mystery in prayer, so much that we don’t understand. It can really hurt, when what we prayed for seemed so reasonable. I was rereading some of Philip Yancey’s book ‘ Prayer’ and on page 239 he reminds his readers of Paul’s words ‘now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror, then ( in God’s nearer presence) we shall see face to face.’ 1 Corinthians 13: 12

We are so conscious that we only understand things in part. There is so much that makes no sense. The book of Job articulates this theme so well, when Job faces so many disasters in his life, but somehow can still say ‘ I know that my Redeemer lives’ Job 19:25. He trusted even when he didn’t understand.

This is my prayer for all of us today, that whatever our situation, whatever our story and our struggles, that we still able to trust God, to know that His love for us is unchanging, even when He seems far away. God is faithful, even when we doubt, and He is loving and forgiving, even when we cannot feel it. In the middle of doubt, questioning, and even anger, may we know that God never gives up on us, and always offers us a way back to Him.

Gracious and Loving God, we are so thankful for your perfect nature, Your goodness, and mercy and grace. We thankyou for your love in Jesus Christ, supplying all our needs. At times You answer our prayers in ways we recognise, and we are so grateful. At other times we are hurt and bewildered at how life turns out, and in danger of becoming bitter. Holy spirit, cleanse us of anger and resentment, and restore out faith in You. Even in the mystery of our prayer lives, speak to us of Your constancy and faithfulness, and enable us to trust, even when we do not understand, and even to find peace, Amen.

Windows to the soul!

There is an old saying that your eyes are the windows to the soul. It is amazing when you meet someone what their eyes tell you- they can speak of heartache or worry or joy or wonder, just by being.

My beautiful friend has dementia- some one I have known for such a long time. She has forgotten most things, and needs extra care to keep her safe. It is so gut wrenching to see her like this, and I have to screw up my courage to visit.

But when I get there, all I can see is her eyes, all I can feel is her spirit. Her Christian faith shines from her, and the holy spirit dwells within her. We can sing hymns together, and she tells me verses from the bible, even though she doesn’t know where she is. And her eyes sparkle and speak of such a deep love, that I weep every time. In her presence, I feel the presence of Christ, the product of a life time of prayer and obedience. It is so humbling, and so beautiful.

In Matthew 6:22 it says ‘ the eye is like a lamp, that provides light for the body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is healthy’ and this seems so true. My dear friend gives testimony to this every day. The light of Christ is in her body, mind and soul, and His love radiates from her. A poignant blessing.

Gracious God, thankyou for the way your light shines, and the darkness cannot put it out. Thankyou that even when people are unwell with illnesses or dementia, that Your love for them can still be seen in the tender aspect of their eyes. It is so deeply moving. Lord Jesus, in a society where so many have memory problems, teach us to be respectful, and to support and care for vulnerable people in the community or in care homes. Help us keep them safe. And may your holy spirit always be at work in their lives, so they know they are loved and treasured. Bless all those who care for a vulnerable loved one this day, grant them patience and wisdom, in Jesus name, Amen.

So many spiritual casualties.

I have been travelling, and loved it. Recently I watched some swallows going in and out of a nest, so graceful in their flight, playing and dancing and darting about. They looked so free, and their nest was the centre of the action.

A swallow ready to fly!

It reminded me of the verse in the psalms, in psalm 84 about God’s house; ‘ the bird has found a house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young.’ Psalm 84 talks about how the house of God can be a place of the presence of God, a place of safety and worship.

It got me thinking however, about how many people have not found the church to be like this. Over the years I have met so many people who have been let down by the church, and hurt by the people in it.

I know some people find me difficult, and I apologise to anyone who I have hurt, or forgotten something important. I am so very human, and I grieve over mistakes I have made.

Church families are very human too. Often we are trying our best, but when personalities disagree, or there is conflict, we sometimes forget the ways of Christ, to pray, to talk, to seek forgiveness, to be peacemakers. And even when we try, sometimes with the best will in the world it doesn’t work out. We don’t know each other’s stories, we can judge the other harshly but excuse ourselves. And it is so very painful.

Whatever happens in a church, the most important thing is that we know that God’s love for us is unchanging, that He looks at us with eyes of mercy, and that because of Jesus Christ He forgives us for our faults, and welcomes us into His family. God is always faithful, He does not turn us away. He welcomes us with open arms. And this never changes

Gracious God, Your house in meant to be a place of safety, love and blessing. Forgive us when it becomes a place of hurt and pride and judgement. Forgive us when we hurt others or turn them away. Teach us to live differently. Lord Jesus bind up the wounds of the spiritual casualties around us, people who feel rejected and unvalued from experiences in churches. Holy spirit please be at work in our churches and communities to that people know how much You love them, and that they can find healing and peace in You. May every person have an encourager alongside, to remind them that they are seen and loved, for Lord Jesus, this is why You came, Amen.

Space to be- even at the airport!

Making space in the crowd!

I recently have had the privilege to travel. It has been so good to visit wonderful friends, and I am so blessed.

However the journeying process was challenging, especially some of the baggage checks. The queue was busy, and you had to put your stuff in plastic trays to go through the scanner. But to get the plastic tray on the conveyor belt, you had to make a space, and basically that meant pushing some one else’s stuff out the way. For a while, I chose not to do this, but as time went by, all that happened was that everyone else pushed passed. I would have been there for the whole day, if I didn’t choose, very reluctantly, to push away a tray on the conveyor belt to make space for my tray.

This sounds like such a trivial thing, but it became enormously symbolic. In order to live well, we all need to have space to be. It didn’t harm anyone to put my tray up, but what it did, was release me to get on with my journey.

In the Christian life, we desire to love and serve others, and this is such a privilege. We take up our cross, as Jesus says in Luke 9:23. It is a great choice to make, but sometimes the danger can be that we burn out. We are so busy making space for others, we do not have space to be, to pray, to receive from God, to play, to enjoy. We need good boundaries, in order to be well enough to love and serve others.

Our holiday with our amazing friends is such a blessing, and it is a wonderful time to reflect, and to rediscover the importance of space and beauty, prayer and connection. God reminds me that he calls His children to enjoy Him and His stunning creation, and to know the comfort, healing and guidance of His spirit.

Sunrise!

May we all find space to be, to take time to heal, to rest, to find perspective, to start again.

Risen Lord, we desire to take up our cross and follow you. Sometimes the load is heavy, and we are worn down. Holy spirit, whisper your words to us, that Word from God in season, that we need to hear. Creator God, help us find space in our lives to come and rest with You, to receive Your love. May the things of this world not crowd You out, or diminish Your voice. Teach us to prioritise, to have space to listen, to heal and to find restoration and peace. In your Son’s precious name, Amen.

Hallelujahs- finding perspective through praise!

Praise in the darker days.

‘O come let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker’ Psalm 96:6

At the moment, it feels as if we are all going through every emotion- Christmas approaching, a new virus variant, so many stories of tragedy, local and international. These are such turbulent days.

I think at times it can all feel overwhelming. For people who have experienced trauma and bereavement, it can be even more unsettling, because there are so many triggers, and so many old wounds are reopened. What can we do, to rediscover our equilibrium when we feel troubled and off balance?

For me, I need to spend time with God, time with His Word, time in worship. This reminds me that God is still present, and that His goodness and mercy never fail. Worship reminds me of the bigger picture, helps me remember that I am a child of God and restores my perspective.

The psalms express something of that perspective, people being real, questioning and lamenting. Rereading this book of prayers and praise can help in days of dismay and weariness.

There are days however when it can be hard to concentrate, and so beautiful praise music can be ideal to find connection with God, and opportunities for worship.

On days when we hunger for God’s presence, music like ‘Nothing else’ by Cody Carnes, can remind us of the beauty and wonder of God’s presence. If we are experiencing a time of waiting and uncertainty ‘While I wait’ by Lincoln Brewster can transport is into the presence of God. If we are experiencing sorrow ‘ When the tears fall’ by Tom Hughs is so deeply moving. The song ‘ Broken Hallelujahs’ expresses that we can worship, even when we don’t understand and are hurting. We might not find all the answers, but we find a God who cares.

Sometimes we think that in order to pray or to praise God we need the right words, or we need a certain amount of faith. But Jesus calls us to come as we are, with faith even the size of a grain of mustard. He accepts our faltering words, and mumbling groans. And so we are thankful.

Merciful God, we know that we are created in Your image, to live in relation to You, to receive Your love, and to share it with others. Yet sometimes we get hurt, and are sorrowful and disillusioned, and we are in danger of retreating inside ourselves. Lord Jesus, You understand the pain of human existence, and You came to save us from our sins, to bring healing, to set us free. When we are struggling, may we ask Your Holy spirit to help us reconnect to You, to sing our Hallelujahs, even when they are just a whisper echoing down the corridors of eternity. Even when we are crawling, and on our knees, may we worship and trust, and somehow gain perspective, to know that we are heard and loved, for You are faithful. Enfold us in Your love, that we may find peace and strength, Amen.

A vision of harmony!

Patterns of light.

I have been so blessed to have had some time out with family in a sunny place. I realise how very much I have missed opportunities just to rest and be, in a warm climate.

I have especially enjoyed the light here, the amazing variety of colours in the sunsets, and last night the moon reflecting its silver glow across the expanse of the ocean. The bright luminous path in the sea in the starry night was wondrous.

(not my picture, but this was the idea!)

The ripples of light in the water, as I have been swimming, have also been mesmerising. I have felt harmonious with the water and the air, as new patterns and ripples appear in a pool, or you become one with the rhythms of the waves in the sea.

The wonder of these experiences have been so good for my soul. For a short while I have put to one side images of conflict, poverty and distress, and I feel at peace with nature, and the Creator of all things. It has reminded me of my desire to be in harmony with God, to be at one with Christ, to just rest in God’s love.

I used to think that this was selfish, but now I understand that these moments of connection refresh my soul, for the days ahead. Finding time to refuel in the pandemic was strangely difficult, because although there was more time, at times I had to fight a sense of claustrophobia and sadness. I think for many people, the pandemic left us all more isolated, and not able to process our grief in community. So being able to travel has reminded me of that sense of freedom and space and connection.

Ultimately, one of the most beautiful Bible passages about harmony is in Revelation 22:1-3

‘The angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing 12 crops of fruit. And the leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations.’

I love John’s vision of the future, where people are with God, full of praise and worship. It seems no surprise that there is water, clear as crystal, at the centre of the city, bringing healing and beauty and life to all, for the leaves of the trees are to bringing healing to the nations. That spiritual refreshment offers possibilities of transformation for all. Vision such as this brings us strength and hope for the journey ahead.

Gracious God, our Creator, You have created a world of intricate patterns of light and shade, and of jaw dropping moments of revelation and connection. We worship You, grateful for possibilities of harmony, when the lion and the lamb lie down together. Lord Jesus, in You all things are held together, as the forgiveness You offer through the cross, brings an invitation to reconciliation for all. There are times in this life when pride, grief and violence seem overwhelming. But when we look to You, you remind us of the truth of who You are, and we are reassured and find peace. Through your holy spirit, inspire us to work towards healing and harmony even amongst the brokenness, and grant us a clarity of vision to energise us each day, 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.

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.