Waves of suffering everywhere.

Turmoil.

I choose to affirm the good in the world, that God is still real, loving and powerful, that there is still hope. But sometimes to make these statements takes such courage.

In the week where the details of Sarah Everard’s death have come to light, it seems that so much is broken, it is hard to ever imagine any kind of repair. Her trust was violated in so many ways it is hard to put into words. That people can be so intentionally cruel and brutal to another human being is terrifying.

I think however that the problem is that this terrible abuse of power, rape and murder just remind us of the reality of what goes on daily for many people. Whether you are talking about domestic violence or hunan trafficking, some one choosing to violently exploit and control another human being is all too common. Institutional corruption is endemic in so many places. And we often turn the other cheek. We pretend not to see, we pretend things will get better. And it doesn’t.

As a human race, we need to weep over the seemingly unrelenting brutality and violence in our world. We need to pray for it to stop, for us to support charities working in this area, to do what we can to support those affected by it in any way. There are too many children and adults traumatised by abuse and violence.

Jesus said ‘ come to me, all those who are weary, and I will give you rest.’ Matthew 11:28

When we are tired of putting on a face, being brave, of crying on the inside, we can come to Jesus and be honest, and pour out our hearts to Him. In the presence of God, we are safe, and can find shelter and healing. It might just be a first step in a healing process, but in the midst of the overwhelming pain and suffering of the world, it is an essential refuge. Even in the midst of heartbreak and sorrow, God’s love for us has never changed.

Gracious God, You are full of loving kindness and grace, and You created this world to mirror the beauty and harmony of who You are. But we have rebelled and sullied our planet and our relationships, and been exploitative and cruel. Lord Jesus, You who experienced the brutality and callousness of human beings on that Friday of Holy week, have mercy on our souls. In the ongoing spiritual battle, may we pray for evil to be restrained, and for the vulnerable to be protected. And please can your life giving holy spirit bring healing to all who have suffered at the hands of another, so that in time they might trust and heal once more, Amen.

A wistful emptiness

Anniversaries and birthdays of those no longer with us.

Today would have been Colin’s birthday. The date is etched in my soul forever. But what happens when the person is no longer here? For most people, it is just another date in the calendar- of no special significance. Yet for the people left behind, you are marking the date with the key person missing. There is no one there to open the cards and blow out the candles, There is such a mixture of emotions, sadness, thanksgiving, guilt and a longing for things to be otherwise.

Listening to other people’s experiences of loss, the guilt of remembering a significant date, is that other people think you should have moved on by now. As the years go by, in some ways, part of you does process things differently, but I think there is still a feeling of profound sadness.

In some situations of grief, feelings are exacerbated by the circumstances of a loss. Very often people choose not to talk much about these, as they can be distressing, and as a society maybe we need to make more space for people to talk more honestly about the messiness of it all.

At the risk of repeating myself, I find it hard to come to terms with what happened with Colin, as it was so unjust, and involved so much suffering, over decades. His head injury led to a long term degeneration through poorly controlled epilepsy. It was hideously painful to witness.

My consolation comes from my faith, that even in the darkest, most bleak and challenging days, God was with us. God blessed Colin with the knowledge that he was loved, even when nothing made any sense.

In psalm 86:15 it says: ‘You, Lord are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in love and faithfulness.’

I understand when people question where God is, when something awful is happening in their life, the illness of a child, a gradual loss of faculties, a painful treatment. Watching someone you love suffer is excruciating.

Yet in the most tearful circumstances, there can be a moment of lucidity, a glance of understanding, a loving connection, that can be transformative. And the power of prayer to help find meaning and hope can never be underestimated.

I just want to write to encourage people to know no-one is alone, even when we have bad days, or when we question, or when it all seems too much. We need to find people we can trust to talk to, even if it is to say the same thing for 100 times. There are some days on which that is just what it takes.

Gracious God, on the outside all looks well, but You see into our hearts- the painful memories, the regrets, the lament- why did it have to happen that way, why did that loved one suffer so much? Lord Jesus, you understand us, for You suffered at the hands of others, when it didn’t need to be like that, and You come alongside us with compassionate eyes and cascades of grace. Holy spirit, lift from us our pain and grief, and help us remember the moments of beauty and trust and love, that transformed even the hardest times. And on days like today, bring healing and a sense of peace, Amen.

Poignant celebrations.

Joy intermingled with sadness round the edges.

I feel so very privileged to celebrate my son’s birthday at the weekend. It was a lovely day, of being able to meet up with some family and friends. After so many days of not being able to meet because of all the covid restrictions, it is so appreciated to see real people again, and to talk and catch up.

The things that is tough though, is all the empty spaces. There are so many people missing for one reason or another, it was a little sad around the edges. It is such a mixed feeling of thanksgiving, but also of a realisation that things have changed, and they are not going to go back to where they were.

When you are grieving, this realisation seems to come back a thousand times. You think you know, that you understand, but then the loss of your loved ones take you unawares yet again. Your heart becomes immersed in old memories, the way it used to be, and for better or worse, it all feels so different and disorientating. The meaning is deeper, but somehow also more remote.

In Matthew chapter 5 verse 4, Jesus said ‘ blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.’

At times however, I don’t think those who mourn feel very blessed, rather just tearful, confused and exhausted! Yet the thing is, when we are at the end of ourselves, then that is when we rely more heavily on God, when we cry to Him for help, every moment of the day, and truly learn to shelter under the shadow of His wing. It takes all our energy just to rest in His love, and pray for healing. And we know that God never forsakes us. God us so patient and so merciful.

For anyone whose heart is sore and hurting, may you know the love of God enfolding you, and His healing grace, and the hope of things one day getting better. And may we all persevere meantime.

Gracious God, You watch over us with your angels, Your provide for us with such tender care, and sometimes we feel guilty for questioning or being sad. Lord Jesus Christ, thank you that you know your sheep, and you love us even when we groan or grumble that our life is tough. Please lift from us that need to pretend we are ok – yes to give thanks, but to acknowledge also that the ache is still there. Holy spirit, comfort us, strengthen us, and help us to smile even through our tears, for You say that all will be well. May we trust this promise, Amen.

Comfort and deep sorrow.

I am grateful that I live in a country where I have been able to have my two vaccinations against covid19. I know they should help prevent the virus affecting me severely in the future, and that is a great blessing.

However, I am also cognisant of the many millions of people in other lands, who have no access to effective medical care, never mind a vaccination programme. And it means I live in a state of comfort, but also great sorrow. Although sometimes I cannot bear to watch the news, I can still see the pictures in my heart of people struggling to get medical help for their loved ones, in hospitals that are overwhelmed. Their tears and cries of lament and despair are everywhere.

This is perhaps an empathetic response. It is the same with people diagnosed with cancer or other medical condition, and that feeling of shock and bewilderment. Or being aware of the cries of wounding and terror on battlefields, echoing throughout the years. Glencoe, however hauntingly beautiful, is a place where you are conscious of the massacre that took place there.

We have to self care, to focus on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy, as it says in Philippians 4:8, but we cannot forget the cries of those living on the margins, the sick, the lonely, the traumatised, the impoverished. These are people with names and stories, and they are hurting.

Feeling it is part of our humanity. How we respond us the next step? We might pray, for particular friends, groups of people or countries in need. We might choose to give to a charity that works there, or to encourage a friend who works on the front line. In some circumstances we might be called to raise awareness, or even to go there ourselves.

I love Christianity, as it is not remotely airbrushed. The Bible shows human nature for all it us, at times brutal and nasty, at other times courageous and self sacrificial, the best and worst of humanity nature. And on the cross, Jesus saw the worst of humanity the cruelty and callousness with which he was treated, and sins of the world. And yet he said ‘ Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.’ Luke 23:34 And he showed that love can overcome even the most awful malevolence.

We remember some of the words of Desmond Tutu: ‘goodness is stronger than evil, love is stronger than hate, light is stronger than darkness‘.

May these words minister to our souls.

Gracious and Everlasting God, sometimes it can all seem too much, the cries of the wounded and neglected and damaged. We are in danger of being consumed by sorrow. Yet Lord Jesus, by your life and example, You call us to transform that pain, into a strength to do what we can, to pray and love and act, to love mercy and to act justly. Holy spirit, forgive us when it is too much, and we just sit in a corner and howl. Please lift us up, and inspire us to get involved, and to be on the side of the angels, 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.

After the rain……

Black clouds and then ethereal beauty.

I was fortunate enough to be away for a few days up north. I so appreciated the change from the normal frantic pace of life, to a time of space and light and rest. I was so blessed. The weather was often amazing, but there was a particular day when you could see the black clouds gathering up ahead. There was nothing I could do, but wait for the inevitable rain. The deluge was heavy and torrential and the puddles deep.

However, after the rain, it was magical. There is a softness in the light, and the whole of creation seems to be coated with a reflective shimmer, that adds brilliance to all things. It was magnificent.

Often we question why there is so much suffering in the world, so much heartache and pain. There are no easy answers to these profound wrestlings about meaning and purpose.

Yet often on our journey, we find that after the rain and the sorrow, we develop a patience and a softness to us, that we have learned in the midst of trauma and sadness. We learn what is important, and what really doesn’t matter at all.

The temptation when skies are dark, is to become overwhelmed, to doubt, to become full of self pity or resentment. Why has God allowed this to happen, we shout.

Yet, even in the darkest and coldest experiences, we discover the tender presence of Jesus alongside us, we find a flicker of light, an act of kindness that brings comfort and a deep sense of connection. And these moments transform all things, and help us trust that God is still good.

I was thinking of the verse from Leviticus 26:4 ‘ I will send you rain in season, and the ground will yield its crops, and the trees their fruit.’ Even the rain has a purpose, and can bring new life and growth.

Creator God, You have created a beautiful world of light and shadow, rain and sunshine, heat and cold. Every experience can have significance and purpose, and we learn from each one. Lord Jesus, you teach us that after the most terrifying storm, can come peace, and that after rain can come a deep calm and serenity. Whatever adversity we have faced, or are facing, may your holy spirit help us to find a deeper insight and new perspective, which brings us wisdom which we can share with others, and draws us closer to You, Amen.