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.

Sunset reflections.

Sunset in Lewis.

Sometimes I forget to slow down. I try to do too many things, I am always trying to catch up.

So one evening this week, I decided just to sit and watch the sun go down. It couldn’t be hurried, so I just sat and waited and reflected. It was a gorgeous still evening, with a soft light falling over the fields. Sometimes in the past, Colin and I would watch the sunset, and it was a time of connection and wonder.

The sunset was a time of aching beauty. It was breathtakingly gorgeous, but was also about change and letting go.

It the last 18 months, there has been so much heartache, pain and loss, through the pandemic and all the implications for so many lives. Times of questioning, isolation, depression, sadness. And in the midst of this, also stories of courage, humour and self sacrifice, as people sought to support others. Key workers, neighbours and others going the extra mile.

Gazing at the setting sun, was a moment that Wordsworth might have called a ‘spot in time’ a glimpse into eternity, a realisation of just how fragile life is, how easily it can slip away. And a deep appreciation for each day that we are given.

In psalm 90 the psalmist says ‘Teach us to number our days , that we might gain a wisdom of the heart’.

There is something profound in this, that we need to treasure each new day we have, for none of us knows how long we have. Sometimes the days fly by, and we wonder what we have achieved. In the midst of all things, may we take time to slow down, to ponder and to pray. If this was our last day on earth, what would we do? What is important to us? What is holding us back?

I am coming to the end of my break in the Outer Hebrides. It has been a time of stunning beauty, outstanding journeys, amazing wildlife, and of healing and space. I have loved this time. And watching that sunset, was a time of communion with God, of recalling the past, coming to terms with the present, and seeking purpose for the days to come. Whatever our situation, may God speak to each one of us that Word of encouragement we need to hear, as we continue onward.

Creator God, thank you for moments of clarity and peace, as we gaze on the beauty of your world. Lord Jesus You know our hurts from the past, the things we struggle with, the pain we feel. Forgive us, that we are sometimes too fearful to see the possibilities ahead. Help us have times of stillness in which we find refreshment and inspiration. May we make the most of each day granted. Holy spirit, grant us courage to step out into the next phase of our lives, whatever that might look like, for we trust in You, Amen.

Medication in the sock drawer.

The illogicalities of grieving.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A dark day of weeping.

A cascade of tears.

Yesterday was Good Friday, always an emotional day. To think that some one could love me enough to give their life for me is so much to take in, never mind that that person is the Son of God.

To read the narratives of the betrayal of Jesus by Judas in the garden, of his trial in front of the high priest, Herod and then Pontius Pilate, and then the crowds shouting ‘crucify’ is heartbreaking. And then it gets worse, the taunting and mocking of the soldiers, the spitting and jeering and beating, the crown of thorns, Jesus carring his cross, and then dying on that blood soaked wood.

And the words that Jesus said ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit’ Luke 23: 46, and then breathed his last. I was just so moved by the scene, with his mum Mary, the women, his disciple John all present. Jesus was surrounded by love and prayerful tears, even in the midst of his agony. They watched him commit his spirit to God and breath his last.

And something of the meaning of these words struck home, as I remembered the memory of my late husband breathing his last. The sacredness of that moment, the events leading up to it, the helplessness all came back into focus. And I wept hot tears for Jesus, for Colin, and all with those remembrances of sitting at the bed of a loved one. These moments of eternal significance  stay with you for a life time.

It is so hard to finish preparing Good Friday worship, when you cannot see the page in front of you because of your tears. Sometimes the flood gates open, unasked for, as you catch a glimpse of the rawness of grief once again, and that collective grief of the world, sorrowing over loss and pain and sin and violence. It gives a deep sense of the love that motivated Jesus to die for the sins of the world, and to open the way to eternally for all who place their trust in Him. And it brings clarity to that sense of the depth of sorrow of those round the cross, accompanying Jesus in that last journey.

Grief is like this, you are thinking that you are getting stronger, and then out of the blue that wave of pain and sorrow overwhelms. It is also a sense of loss that connects with the losses in all humanity, and is so very dark.

The idea that we grieve so much, because we have the privilege of experiencing the richness and fullness of love makes sense. In many ways to feel such pain, is the cost of love, and so it is a privilege. And after tears in the night, eventually comes the comfort of the dawn.

Gracious Father God, we cannot begin to understand your distress at seeing your precious and beautiful Son so cruely mistreated at the hands of others. Lord Jesus, even in your darkest moment, You demonstrated love and grace, and trusted your spirit into the hands of your Father. May we know too that sacred moments of life and death are held in Your loving and compassionate hands. Even in the midst of our tears, Holy spirit, help us not to fear, but to trust and find peace, for You are faithful. Thankyou Jesus, the Lover of our souls, 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.