So fed up feeling helpless!

Sorting things out?

It has been raining much of the day. It feels like it has been raining in my soul too. It is easy to feel downcast- the news from the Ukraine is searingly awful, along with news from Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and so many other places. I feel pretty helpless.

It seems a common theme. Today I went through some old papers of my late husband’s, and it just felt overwhelmingly sad. Rereading diaries, reawakening old memories and wounds. It was depressing.

There are so many times in life when we feel helpless. I remember when I had broken a bone in my foot, and I had made a doctor’s appointment asking for a ground floor appointment. Of course when I got there, it was an upstairs room that was allocated. I sat on the bottom stair,so frustrated, and thinking I am going to have to crawl, which is going to be just a bit undignified, but there was nothing else to be done.

Maybe this is a season of helplessness. Lent is the time when we think of Jesus alone in the desert, resisting temptation. It feels like a time of confronting reality, and it is so stark.

And yet, when we feel helpless, we know that Jesus is walking with us. Just as he came alongside Cleopas and his dejected friend on the road from Jerusalem, Jesus comes alongside us, and somehow we find strength.

We might feel helpless, but it is not the truth. When faced with the violent darkness of war, we keep praying for peace and doing what we can. When I reread old journals, there are some lighter memories also. When I was stuck at the bottom of the stairs, some one switched rooms, so I could have a downstairs appointment. It was just a struggle, but these moments of despair passed.

When we feel under pressure, or unable to do much, we remember God’s words to us: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you. I will strengthen you, I will help you. I will hold you with my right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

Gracious God, these feel like dark days, where we feel helpless to combat all the sadness and suffering in the world, whether personally or internationally. Lord Jesus, please come along side us, and through your loving presence may we find strength. May your holy spirit remind us that we are not powerless, for with You nothing is impossible. Help us to wait upon you, and to pray and to trust, and to know that help is on the way, Amen

Sparkling ice crystals

Wonder!

I have been called away to spend time with God. I am so relieved, as the cares of this world are so heavy. In the last week, there has been so much sad and tragic news. My friends are suffering, and it is so tough. Life can be so cruel at times.

So I am up here in the Cairngorms, and it is stunning, whether it is overcast, or blue skies or raining – and it has been all three in the short time I have been here. The searing wind definitely blows all the cobwebs away!

The majesty of the white streaked mountains, contrasted with the black contoured ridges in so many curvy patterns absorbs your attention, and helps you to just be lost in the expansive vastness of the universe. And I had to find lochs nearby, just for the reflection.

Just being still in nature, can bring restoration and hope, even in the darkness of times. We need to keep choosing to look for the good and beautiful, even when we don’t feel like it.

Some one said ‘ in order to appreciate the beauty of a snowflake, it is necessary to stand out in the cold.’

It can be in the hardest of times, when life feels cold and hostile, that we can glimpse the greatest beauty.

‘He makes everything beautiful in its time.’ Ecclesiastes 3: 11

I took a bit of a circuitous route to get here last night. It was dark and the road more of a track than anything. But I saw the moon reflect on a loch with snow covered mountains around. I met deer who crossed the road in front of me. It was a beautiful journey, that I would have never had if I hadn’t left the beaten track ( or correct road). Even when we are on the road less travelled, may we marvel at the beauty.

Gracious God, sometimes we are lost in the dark, unsure of our direction. Yet You still guide us, and reveal to us unexpected beauty in the landscape, sparkly snow or moonlight reflected on a loch. Lord Jesus, reveal to us Your goodness and mercy to us, so that we might be entranced once more by your love. Sometimes we are hurting deeply, and do not understand. Holy spirit come alongside us, and bring to us your consolation and peace, Amen.

Eeyore kind of days

A blue day!

Eeyore often seems to be feeling sad and gloomy. Even with his friends Winnie the Pooh, Tigger and Piglet, he can sound a bit mournful. And sometimes he just doesn’t seem to know why, he just is.

I think we can all have Eeyore days, when we seem to get out of bed on the wrong side, and it doesn’t matter how hard we try, we just can’t shake that feeling of heaviness. These are days when we are low energy, often irritable, and completely resistant to anyone who has the audacity of trying to cheer us up.

I guess, sometimes, we just need to give one another space to be sad. Sometimes there is a reason to be low mood- it could be an unpleasant conversation, a disappointment or a difficult anniversary. All these things could cause upset. At other times, there is no obvious reason- it is just a day we struggle.

I always remember the story of Job’s comforters, who sat with him whilst he was questioning why so many bad things had happened to him. He lost his children, his home, his livelihood and his health. He lamented his plight, with tears and angst. His friends who sat by him, were a comfort, till they opened their mouth. They tried to provide answers, when there were none, and so they only made it worse. They even tried to suggest it might all have been Job’s fault, and they increased his sense of distress.

When we are hurting, or just feeling a bit lost, we know that God is always willing to be with us. He never rejects us or belittles us. Rather In Isaiah 41:10, it says: ‘Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be dismayed for I am your God, I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.’

When we are having a difficult day, God tells us not to fear, for He is with us, and will strengthen us. When we are unsure He will steady us, and help us. We have such a wonderful and faithful God!

Gracious God, sometimes we have so many questions, we are in so much pain, that we can’t begin to articulate what is wrong. We are just having a sad, kind of lonely day. Thankyou Lord Jesus, that You are the one who stays with us in our distress, that you are closer than a brother. Your love lifts us up from the pit, and you encircle us with grace. Holy spirit, thankyou that when we have no answers we don’t need to hide, that we can be honest, and that you give us people who will sit with us in companionable silence. Thankyou for those people, Amen.

Grief creeping in round the edges.

Exhaustion and beauty together.

Christmas Day is now passed. It is a time of thanksgiving, for people that we have spent time with, gifts exchanged, worship in church – atmospheric and inspiring! So much to appreciate.

Despite my strenuous and best efforts, I still find it hard not to grieve as well. I think that I have lost three close relatives in three years, and there is something about the intensity of that, exacerbated by the restrictions of the pandemic, that just seem hard to overcome. I suspect I need to try less hard, and just let things be. It is exhausting trying to be content.

My parents in law, loved showing hospitality at Christmas. They would have the flat decorated, their table would look amazing, they loved to cook food, and for people to chat together. There were elegant candles and tiny shiny angels. They were truly convivial people, and they enjoyed creating a welcoming and lovely space.

There is a cliche about loss, that when some one dies, that there is an empty place at the table. For me, it feels so much bigger than that because the table itself has gone. There is a loss of the whole experience, which will never return.

I am so grateful for the patience of God. He lets me be sorrowful when I need to. When I am trying hard to be optimistic, He gives me space to acknowledge my grief. In Matthew chapter 5 verse 4 Jesus says ‘ blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted’. And in these days of mixed emotions, the presence of God is indeed a solace.

Eternal God, You are so patient and loving when we hurt. Sometimes we try to hard to heal, as it feels as if we should be better by now, that people don’t want to listen to our continued sadnesses. We exhaust ourselves trying to be upbeat, and grief creeps back in around the edges. Lord Jesus thank you that You love us as we are, that You are our Emmanuel, the God who is with us. Thankyou that You reach down to us, and enfold us in your love, and let us rest. Holy spirit we know You transform our souls, in your perfect timing. Meantime, help us just to wait, quietly, patiently, but with the hope that one day things will indeed be better, Amen.

Putting up the Christmas tree – special memories!

This is a photo from about 14 years ago. The memories are lovely, because everyone loved putting up the Christmas tree- as you can see! We put on Christmas music, found the decorations in the loft, brought everything downstairs and started. Many decorations were made by Andrew, or chosen on a special occasion. There was tinsel everywhere, and the result wasn’t always the neatest. As a family it was a fun activity to do together, with food and drink and even some dancing!

I so miss this. Today we bring the box down from the loft, and wonder who has time to untangle the lights, or get new ones. It has become a bit of a chore. There are so many fewer presents, as people are no longer here. It feels as if it has lost its sparkle.

If we have a Christmas with family all around, it is good to give thanks, and to enjoy all the people interactions, all the bustle and noise. If there are small children involved, then appreciate their wonder and even their tantrums!

Quieter Christmases are just different. There is more space to read, and walk and enjoy music. The Christmas tree eventually goes up, although there is a hint of sadness in its branches.

I remember the verse ‘ Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ 1 Thessalonians 5:18

There is something about giving thanks when it is busy, there are toys, and visits and laughter and chaos. Yet also giving thanks when Christmas involves fewer people, and less variety and voices. The challenge is to create new rituals and traditions, to form new communities and to find peace.

Gracious God, before Your face, generations rise and pass away. Thankyou for Christmas, and all the ways that we celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ into this world, the Babe of Bethlehem. We give thanks for the wonder and joy of children, and that they bring this dimension into the day. And we give thanks even when the place settings are empty, and a number of years have gone by. We remember with deep thanksgiving, and we treasure what we have. Holy spirit touch the lives of all for whom this Christmas is tough, and the loss of a loved one so raw. May we all find comfort, and in time courage to create new traditions, for the sake of our Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

Overload- one thing too many!

Christmas is coming.

My goodness, I can’t believe that Christmas seems so close! Decorations are up in house windows, shops and streets. The lights are symbols of hope in dark days, and in many ways are welcome, however early it seems.

However I think there are mixed feelings for those who mourn, a desire to look forward with hope, alongside an awareness of the strain of missing a loved one, and feeling that no one else understands. You can be making plans, but some one us missing, the landscape feels different everything jarrs, if there is a Christmas card that never arrives, an empty chair, and a deep feeling of loss. Outwardly things might look very similar, but inside the feeling is different. People are often doing their best to help, and you don’t want to hurt their feelings. So you try hard to go through the motions, whilst nursing a broken heart.

We know the comforting bible verses inside out – ‘ God is close to the broken hearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit.’ Psalm 34: 18 and sometimes it is ok to stop filling our time with being busy, to pause, to let the hurt bubble up, and to weep. It is honest, and that is often when we feel God the closest, when we tell Him of our pain.

When we try to push the pain down, and don’t acknowledge it, that’s when we go into overload. It means that we overreact to unforeseen frustrations, pressures at work, the unexpected bill, the driver who cuts out in front of us, the ill judged words of a friend. Sometimes it can just be one thing too many which sends us into a tailspin. We are trying so hard, it doesn’t take much to derail us.

If we are hurting this Christmas, for whatever reason, a broken relationship, ill health, disrupted plans, the loss of a loved one, it is ok to take time to be with God and to cry out to him. He notices our every tear, and brings us comfort and grace, reminding us that we are never alone, and that our cries are heard. If we are able to slow down, and talk to God about our sadnesses, He can minister to us, and this is when we find the strength and the peace we need.

Gracious God, You search and You know us, before even a word is on our tongue, You know what is on our hearts. Forgive us for the times we pretend everything is alright, as sometimes we deceive even ourselves. We get so overloaded and so frustrated, short tempered and upset. Lord Jesus, come alongside us, and speak Your Word of truth, the truth that sets us free. Help us to know it is ok to be real with You, and with trusted loved ones. Help us through the power of your holy spirit, to find safe places to lament and to be real, so that we can find that healing and centredness we yearn for. Grant peace to all who are anxious about facing Christmas by themselves, and may they find that Your love will encircle and strengthen them, Amen.

Unexpected laughter!

The freedom to laugh like a child!

Laughter can be a great gift, as there can be such freedom in seeing the humour in a situation, and to be able to express that. Laughter can lift your spirits, help release tension and help you see things from a different perspective. It brings feel good endorphins and dopamine into your system.

However I have noticed that there have been seasons where I have been laughing for no obvious reason. Meetings are not always the best place to start laughing, but sometimes if you notice an incongruity or unconscious humour, it can be hard to look serious for too long, however hard you try.

I haven’t quite worked it out, but I think my laughter has often been related to my grief and pain. When you are bereaved, you can have all this sadness and tension inside, and somehow this pain can express itself in hysterical laughter. It seems like some kind of release mechanism, to let some of the pain out in a laughter response, that is so deep you often indeed end up in tears. I don’t know if this will make sense to anyone else, but it has been my experience, so I just thought I would try to express it. ( I also understand if you don’t want to sit in a meeting with me!)

I always remember the words in Nehemiah chapter 8 verse 10 ‘do not grieve for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’ The people gathered to hear God’s word in Jerusalem that day were sad because of all that had happened in the past, but the joy of being in God’s presence helped them to find joy, even then. The people ended up both laughing and crying together.

In Ecclesiastes chapter 3 it says that ‘there is a season for everything under the sun’ and I think as we cope with the joys and sorrows of life, our body can often respond in unexpected ways. Maybe we need to be patient and understanding, even when we don’t fully comprehend. Fortunately this season of unexpected laughter has lessened in frequency and intensity, but every now and again………

Gracious and Eternal God, You are the Giver of every good gift, You are so wise and gracious. In our brokenness, we confess that at time we do not understand ourselves, or why we react the way we do. Lord Jesus thank you for your mercy, that even with our eccentricities, You look upon us with love. We are humbled and amazed. Whatever we are struggling with just now, may Your Holy spirit heal us, and help us to live life in all its fullness, even with tears and laughter, 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.

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.