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.

Kelp, causeways and inspiring young people.

Uist reflections!

I love travelling- it broadens my mind, and is a brilliant way to learn. It is great to be up here in Uist, and to spend time just being. It seems to be a land of picturesque stone causeways connecting different islands, and amazing colours and intricate patterns of kelp on the beaches.

Swirls of colours!

The landscape is stunning, even in the mist and dreich, grey skies. There are machairs full of wild flowers, beaches of white sand and kelp, and wildlife galore. Today I saw a majestic white tailed eagle, otters and red deer, and seals lazing on rocks, and they were all amazing.

I have learned much of the history of the place, from archaeological finds ( Kilphedar Kate) to stories about crofting and the clearances. The uses for kelp, eg dried out and used for bedding, are so varied. Such a hard life, making a living from the landscape, land or sea.

Something quite unexpected has been arriving during a Gaelic summer school, – Ceolas. Listening to traditional Gaelic tunes and songs has been very moving, even though I haven’t always known what they are about! Such a rich heritage, snd so encouraging to see so many young people involved.

One of the things I have so appreciated is listening to young people. The young people coming to Ceolas, full of enthusiasm and talent, eager to learn. And other young people who just love the animals and landscape here, and are brilliant advocates to help others appreciate Uist. There has been a lyrical kindness in so many people’ s souls, it has been a pleasure to be here.

I also really appreciated Andrew my son and Lauren, who came to get me when my car broke down on the way to Mallaig. I then set off in a different car, which unbelievably even for me, also broke down ( just for the record it was nothing to do with my driving). And then he and Lauren drove me to Mallaig in the middle of the night- so I wouldn’t miss my ferry. A very stressful start, but he was a superhero!

For all those amazing young people who quietly help others out, and try to make the world a better place- a blessing from Numbers 6:

The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you, the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

Gracious God, sometimes we listen to the tv and our spirits are heavy because of all the difficult and negative news. Lord Jesus, enlarge our vision, and remind us of all the good in the world, the richness of different cultures, the wild beauty of island landscapes, the generosity and kindness of many, especially our young people. Holy spirit, may we appreciate them, and encourage them, and pray for them in the midst of the pressures of the world. Thankyou for all the ways You inspire us each day, Amen.

Surviving on caffeine, sugar and prayer!

Too much?

Recently, I have been thinking about health issues, how to have energy, and to be as well as possible. I am not a great cook, so it can be hard to eat healthily! I have been known even to burn a boiled egg……..

I have noticed that over the pandemic, I have had some bad habits. Especially when I have felt low energy, I have turned to comfort food, chocolate and coffee especially. They have kept me going (along with prayer). I enjoyed them, and at times caffeine kept me awake, chocolate made me feel better.

However in recent days, I have questioned things. I have started to eat more vegetables, and more protein. And some one said to me that caffeine doesn’t give you more energy, it just uses the energy you have more quickly- hence the slump afterwards. I have found that really helpful.

So for the last two weeks, I have eaten less artificial sugar, and much less caffeine. It felt a bit strange at the beginning, but I have tried to persevere. To my surprise, I feel much better. I still have a long way to go, but feeling healthier is a big plus. I still have to work at conserving my energy, but it is better. The occasional treat is still fine, but I needed better balance, and more disciplined choices.

I remember the words from 1 Corinthians 6: 19-20 ‘ Don’t you realise that your body is the temple of the Holy spirit, who lives in you, and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a price. So you must honour God with your body. ‘

Sometimes we are preoccupied with so many things, we forget to look after our body. It is such a miracle that it works each day! But anything we can do to help it, is a help- exercise, rest, sleep, health eating, self care. We have been given such a gift, the gift of life itself. May we never take it for granted.

PS I have tried to ditch the caffeine and sugar, but I am keeping the prayer!

Gracious God, You are our Creator, and we are created in Your image. Each breathe we take is a miracle, each thought can be a blessing, each action an act of love. Lord Jesus, by your grace, You bought us with a price. Help us to realise afresh that we are precious in Your sight, and not to squander the health we have by not taking care of ourselves. Holy spirit, keep us from temptation, and reveal to each of us, how to look after our body, mind and soul, and to make decisions to be as healthy as is possible. Thankyou for the gift of life each day- may we treasure this, in Jesus name, 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.

Spiritual refuelling!

However illogical it is, because of the increase in fuel prices, I seem to think it will be cheaper if I run my car on a half tank of fuel. Somehow it feels as if it is costing me less!

There is a problem with this, as you might guess, because I seem to get to the bottom of the tank very quickly. The wee amber light on the dashboard comes on, to let me know how many miles I might have left. This is good too, except the last time I was out, I didn’t have my purse with me, just some coins in the car. And so I could only buy £6 of petrol. I have to say though, it got me where I was trying to go.

This has been meaningful to me, because it reminds me that even a little fuel can make a difference.

In my spiritual life, I often try to spend time with God to pray, and read the bible and to sing praises. But there are some days, when I feel spiritually dry, as the energy that I started the day with has gone. It is easy to feel depleted and empty.

Yet even just a short time with God can make a difference, where it is an arrow prayer, or going back to a relevant verse, or singing a meaningful song, can revitalise my soul. Even though it is just a wee refill, it can help reconnect with God, and sustain me through my day.

In Ephesians 5:18 Paul writes that we should ‘be filled with the spirit’ and it seems healthy, especially when we feel a bit run down, to just pause and spend some time with God, so we can find our spiritual fuel. Even just a short time, can give us the guidance and energy to complete our journey.

Gracious and Loving God, You give us an abundance of spiritual resources, Your love and truth and grace revealed in Jesus Christ. Yet sometimes we confess that we think we are too busy to stop, and we try to live in our own strength. And then we wonder why we struggle and feel disconnected. Lord Jesus, help us always to make time for you, even if sometimes that is just a spiritual top up. Holy spirit, we welcome you, and ask that we might slow down, so you can fill us, and help us to do Your will, and to fulfil Your living purpose in the world, Amen

‘The silence between the notes’

It could have been the composer Debussy or Mozart that said that ‘music is the space between the notes’. This quotation often recurrs in my thoughts, on the midst of busy and pressured days, full of conversations, things to do, places to be.

Life seems a little bewildering just now, full of adjustments to the latest information and recommendations re the covid pandemic. We also are trying to come to terms with losses of so many kinds, during lockdown, in our society, in our life stories. And so our thoughts swirl with regrets, sadnesses, information and possibilities. Often we seem to speak fast to convey the vast amount going on in our heads.

And so this quotation really helps me, that the music can somehow be the space between the notes- what is of significance, can be the timing of the silence. I like the fact that the intervals in pieces of music are called ‘rests’. That makes perfect sense to me!

Especially as we move through this time of pandemic, there are many profound questions as to how we should live. And there is a movement towards less frenetic activity, more reflection and quiet appreciation. Often we discover meaning not just in the moment, but in the time to reflect afterwards. That is when significance deepens, and the experience can be processed and absorbed.

In music, literature and art, so much seems discordant and noisy, exploring extremes, rather than the exquisite tapestry of light and shade in tone and subtlety.

I love the words from psalm 55 verse 6: ‘ Oh that I had the wings of a dove. I would fly away and be at rest.’

It would be such a blessing to have these moment of rest and reflection in every day, and in the rhythm of our week. When we live in a hurry, we might seem to get more done, but we lose part of ourselves. We need moments to breathe, to appreciate, to find space.

As we go into a new session of school and church, may we not go back to old ways of haste and hustle, a scramble to fit everything in. Instead, may we be more selective, asking God for His leading. May we have times to reflect and to pray, to receive the meaning and inspiration of experiences and encounters, and to savour them, and to let them shape our understanding and our being.

Gracious God, Creator of all things, we are told when You created the universe, that the seventh day was a day of rest, when You saw that what was done, was good. However we understand this, we know that times of rest need to be built into the fabric of our lives, times of quiet, of insight of appreciation. Lord Jesus, you often left your disciples and friends, to go to a quiet place to pray. Holy spirit teach us to ensure that in the regular rhythm of our lives, there are times to rest, to pray, to reflect and to be creative. May times of silence enrich and bless our souls, to deepen our understanding, and to strengthen and energise us for the the rest of life. Grant us that quiet wisdom, which illuminates all things, Amen.

Seizures and grace

Person in distress.

My late husband Colin had epilepsy. It sounds like such a little word, but it had such major consequences. He was  unfortunate, in that his epilespy was intractable, and so he would have 4-6 tonic clinic seizures a month, always when he was asleep.

A seizure would start with a loud guttural shout, the change of colour of skin and shaking of limbs, and then his body becoming more limp, and  the gradual restoration of a more rhythmic natural breathing occurred. It could appear pretty scary. Colin was again unfortunate, in that he had long post-ictal periods, so his brain function would not be fully restored for days.

My heart goes out to all who live with this disability. I know that many people have epilepsy that is well controlled by medication, and they have a good quality of life. However for those whose epilepsy is more difficult to manage, my prayers are especially with you, your family and friends.

I guess this is where the grace comes in. It seems like grace, when people around you are understanding. Grace when people call an ambulance when some one has a seizure on the street. Grace when people choose not to walk by on the other side of the road.

We were fortunate too, to have good support from various organisations, including Epilepsy Connections. This organisation provided great practical support, as well as a brilliant befriender. From another similar organisation, we found another support worker, who understood the nuances of how seizures can affect you, and was a brilliant help to Colin, even in demanding and unusual situations. So much grace.

Sadly I know from much personal experience how difficult it can be to support some one living with epilepsy. However it it certainly never dull, and teaches you much about love!  I hope that as a society, we might be better informed about seizures, and more open to learning, and being supportive, and I am grateful for all who work in this difficult area of medicine and social care.

In the bible, Jesus often met people having seizures, and was able to heal them, as in Matthew 4: 24. My prayer is that there would be many opportunities for healing for people with this condition.

Gracious God, You want all people to be well, to be loved, to be at peace. Yet in our world we see such suffering and illness, including epilepsy, cancer and other diseases and conditions. Lord Jesus bring healing, through Your love and power, through medicine, and through wise individuals, willing to go the extra mile. Holy spirit, when people are ill and distressed, by your grace, may there always be some one there to care, to helpfully intervene and to bless,  for in that way Your kingdom comes, 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.

Remembrance- Lamentation and brutality.

War horse

Remembrance Day is one of the hardest of the year, thinking of all who have served, been injured and died in conflict and war. We think of the first world war 1914- 18 and the second world war 1939-45. But we also think of more recent conflicts and wars, Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, Iraq.

Many of us have relatives that have fought and died, and we seek to honour their memory. But the sad fact is that many veterans who come home, have PTSD and mental health problems which can become overwhelming, and which leaves them homeless on the streets of our cities. We see them every day.

The sheer brutality and violence of war is haunting and visceral. Whether it is in the muddy trenches of Flanders, or the streets of Belfast, at Dunkirk or the opium fields of Afghanistan, shooting, bombs and explosions maim, wound and kill.

We often see such conflict expressed in film, snd I remember especially seeing the film ‘War horse’. Seeing that horse entangled in the barbed wire, the barbs getting deeper into its flesh the more it struggled, and its cry of distress and pain, somehow embodies for me the cry of all who suffer the long term effects of violence and war.

The horse entangled in the wire on the battle field, reminds me of Jesus on the cross, innocent yet suffering such great pain. Jesus had done nothing wrong, but he suffered because of the guilt and violence of humanity, paying the price for our greed and selfishness, so we could be cleansed and forgiven.

When I think of my late husband Colin Gardner, and his struggles as a veteran having come home from mitary service, I think of his pride in his service, but also his colossal frustration with his disability, his perpetual recounting of traumatic experiences and his feeling that nothing else in his life could ever mean as much as his military memories. His pain, physical and emotional were enormous. This time of year and the 5th November and all the noises of the fireworks made him want to dive for cover, and to draw his gun, and retraumatised him.

The death of Jesus Christ, reminds us that on the cross, love ultimately wins, transcending hatred and cruelty, bringing forgiveness for all who seek peace. We learn even from the most horrendous pain and brutality, and find renewed purpose in working for a better world, a kingdom of justice and peace.

In this season of Remembrance, we remember all who gave their lives in conflict and war. We also give thanks for all who served, and returned, but whose experiences maimed and scarred them for life. We lament on their behalf and pray for them and for their families. May God bring to them the healing and peace they seek.

Jesus’s words from John 15:13 : Greater love has no- one than this, to lay down one’s life for his friends.’

Let us pray, ‘ Gracious Father, Eternal God of hope and peace, we cry to You to have mercy upon us, for our world continues to be a place of conflict and dispute, of greed and violence. Lord Jesus Christ, you died alone on a cross, because of the greed and selfishness of our race, to be the perfect sacrifice to bring redemption and forgiveness for all. Holy Spirit, cleanse us from our pride and wilfulness, heal us from our wounds, help us to support and pray for all who struggle with the nightmares and brutality of war, and help us find new strength and peace, so that we can build for the future, Amen.

Praying in desolate places- finding courage!

Holidaying in Scotland is mixture of experiences, some of colour and vibrancy, but also of mist on bleak grey landscapes.

At times, when you have got soaked yet again, you question the meaningfulness of wilderness experiences. Traipsing through the horizontal rain and squelching mud can be challenging. But then the clouds lift a little, the light changes and you find unexpected beauty that takes your breath away. It is all worthwhile.

Recently I have been reading Brene Brown ‘s ‘ Braving the wilderness’ about having the courage to be your authentic self, even when it might unsettle or offend. Her insights into the vulnerability and empathy and belonging are so very moving, and encourage us all to have the courage to be honest. For me, writing ‘ love song for a wounded warrior’ has felt like telling our story in a wilderness of fear and potential judgement.

I was reading Maya Angelou the other day, and she said ‘ there’s no greater agony than having an untold story within you’ and certainly it can feel like a festering wound. After a while, the fears around telling the story become less than the consequences of not telling it.

The wilderness is often part of a journey. For the Israelites, they were 40 years in the wilderness, learning to rely completely on God before they got to the promised land. For Jesus Himself, when he was tired and burdened, he often withdrew to desolate places to pray. In these bleak landscapes, there are no distractions or places to hide- it is just us and God, and so His tender love becomes our sole focus and reality- the moment of illumination that we seek.

Whatever place we find ourselves today, even in a place of questioning and shadow, may God help us find the courage to pray and to be our true selves, ready to speak the words that are on our hearts, let us pray

Dear God, when clouds gather, we confess that we tend to like the days of sunshine more than the rain- forgive us our selfishness.

Thank you that even in the most dark dreich wildernesses, Lord Jesus, You call us not to be afraid, to surrender all that is false, and to commune more deeply with You, so that this enables us to find the courage to be both vulnerable and honest.

Holy spirit, You transform our lives through your loving purpose and inspiration. Summon out our courage, and creativity, to be true to our calling , and to journey forward, in Jesus’ name, Amen