Legacy of love.

Today is the anniversary of the booklaunch of ‘Love song for a wounded warrior’. I am so grateful for all who have been so supportive, prayerful and understanding to our story. That has made such a difference.

I started writing Colin’s story because I was journalling. I have kept a prayer journal for many years. When Colin became too unwell to complete his writings, I wanted to use my writings to give context to his words, to try to explain that they were fragments of his experiences, because over time to lost the capacity to relate his memories. I hope to eventually feel a sense of completion to have honoured his wishes in this way. Thankyou to all of you for helping me do this.

One of the things I learned about Colin’s complex military traumas was that he felt better when he told his story, was heard and understood. He felt alive telling stories about his experiences, whether it was a critical incident or a car bomb. And so there is something so powerful about sharing something of your interior life, and being heard, even if just by one person.

For me, Colin has left a legacy of love. He showed me what courage looked like, humour in the face of distress, defiance against the odds, faith in no man’s land, in a bleak and desolate territory of nothingness.

So, now I have to ask God to continue my healing, and remind me of my purpose to let these experiences enable me to in turn support others. I want to use my legacy learnings for good in the world. God is guiding me through this process, and I am so grateful. One of my learnings is that I really enjoy writing, and I want to continue this, at least for this season. I think I want to write some more contemplative pieces also, so there might be more variety in what I offer.

In the ‘Four Quartets’ T S Eliot wrote ‘ in my end is my beginning’. The circularity of life cycles is striking, and I pray that for all of us, in the midst of grief and painful endings, new buds and new life will emerge.

I often go back to the words of Jesus in John chapter 12:24 ‘ I tell you the truth, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.’

This helps me make sense of life, for sometimes dreams, familiar ways of thinking, even people have to die. But in the mystery of all things, there gradually emerges new life and possibilities.

For anyone struggling with trauma, fear and grief, I desire healing and new possibilities for you. It is a difficult road, but our Saviour walks with us, and we explore the legacy of His love forever.

Gracious God, You know all things, You love us, and redeem our life from the pit, and crown us with love and compassion. When we are in that dark pit however, we grumble and complain and cry out to You, for we feel scared and alone. And through the cross, Lord Jesus, You offer us cleansing, and forgiveness and acceptance. You embrace us with the blanket of your love, and keep us safe. May we humbly receive your grace. Give us courage to tell our story, and to find our healing. May your holy spirit help us honour legacies of love, and use our learnings and insights to he an encouragement and blessing to others, Amen.

Love Song for a wounded warrior- first anniversary of publication!

This week, it will be a year since the publication of ‘Love song for a wounded warrior‘ a book aimed at telling the story of the late Colin Gardner, to publish his poetry and writings of his time in the military, and to share something of his experiences as a civilian coping with disability and trauma.

I am so thankful to everyone who has shared this journey with us, with grace, patience and prayer. I am so thankful for those who have listened and shared insights. I am so thankful for people who have become more aware of the plight of veterans, who often just can’t come to terms with what they have been through, and who struggle profoundly.

The book ‘ Love song for a wounded warrior’ is available by contacting me directly, or through Amazon. It costs £10, and all the proceeds are split between the Coming Home centre in Govan, and Epilepsy Connections. So far, over £3,200 has been raised, so thankyou again. There is purpose in raising money for these two excellent charities, so others might be supported.

One of the outcomes of this process that I did not understand when I set out, was the privilege of getting to know a new online community interested in this theme. It has been a real joy to hear your stories and we all seek to support each other. It feels like a healing community, gathered under this umbrella.

I found it very difficult to share our story- it was too intensely private and personal. A song that really helped me was Mandisa ‘s ‘Born for this’ based on the story of Esther. The idea is that there is there are times you feel compelled to speak, even if you are not invited, you don’t have the floor, but you feel you need to stand apart from the crowd, and find courage to speak.

This story is a tough read. Colin’s experiences were harrowing, and for us as a family trying to help him find the support to find peace, it was messy, frustrating and often bewildering. In the midst of it, our Christian faith gave us strength, and there were many poignant and humerous moments!

I am really humbled by people’s responses, and would encourage all of us to have the courage to speak, even when we feel hesitant or if feels painful. Much prayerful discernment is needed, and talking it through with the people closest to us, and listening to God. Sometimes however, we just can’t remain silent…..

Over this anniversary week, I hope to blog a few times about some of the themes of the book, and why I want to raise awareness. As a Christian too, I want people to have freedom to be able to express the messiness, heartbreak and trauma of life. Life is often tough, and we need to be real. Hopefully this encourages others to realise that they are not alone.

I am inspired by Psalm 45 verse 1- this is the New Living translation: ‘ beautiful words stir my heart I will recite a lovely poem about the King, for my tongue is like the pen of a skilful poet.’

I am not a skilful poet, but I do want to honour God, by telling our story, and the difference that Jesus has made in our lives, so that it might encourage others in difficult and painful places.

Gracious Father, You are our Hiding Place in life’s storms, and You keep us safe. Lord Jesus You understand the ugliness and sadness of our stories, and You are with us, holding us in your love, forgiving our doubts and rebellion, and reminding us of your presence, even in the darkest places, when we feel alone and afraid. May your holy spirit always guide us, to reveal when we should be silent, and when we should speak, and may all our stories be a blessing and encouragement to others, Amen.

Support and inspiration on the journey.

It is a beautiful sunny day, a day to reflect on what I am learning. Even with my lack of understanding and weakness, I want to share this to seek to be a blessing to others.

It is over three years since my husband died. Foolishly, at this point, I thought this was rock bottom. I was a mixture of emotions- numb, exhausted, traumatised, desolate. What I learned subsequently, was that  I had buried so much, that I was not even aware it was there. A mixture of grief, vicarious trauma and painful memories. As Colin was a veteran, he suffered in his life, and that impacted not just him, but also his family. Gradually it has all surfaced, and I am so grateful to those who have so patiently  supported me on this journey of complex grief.

So what has helped? Beauty on the journey, the amazing restorative power of nature, especially water, the mischievous presence of my dogs, listening for hours to Christian praise music, retreats, the prayerful support of friends, the love of family. I am so blessed.

Another dimension which is crucial in my journey, is the work of Bessel van der Kolk and Bruce Perry. They have revolutionised my understanding of trauma, its impact on the body as well as the soul, enabling holistic ways of healing.

In recent weeks I have been reading a book ‘ What happened to you?’ describing a series of conversations between  Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey on trauma, resilience and healing. I would really recommend this book, as a great introduction to this topic. It gives lots of information about the spectrum of trauma, and how to find healing. A whole spectrum of neuro sequential tools are offered, with the concept of regulate, relate, reason ( p279).

In the midst of the information about different forms of therapy, Bruce Perry talks a lot about the importance of healing communities, including dance, music, sports. And He says that even better than a great therapist,(although that is highly recommended) is ‘having access to family, community and culture…… with cognitive, relational based and sensory elements ( p230). Connectedness is one of the greatest elements of healing, being seen and been heard.

People who have taken the time to hear me, have been so significant on my journey. And I pray everyone who feels marginalised, neglected or alone, will find a safe place to tell their story, and can find a community to connect with, where they will be valued. And it gives me a vision of what I think church should ideally be like, a place where God welcomes every individual, and brings healing to those who feel broken. I feel called to seek to develop this, but I am such an early stage.

I just want to thank you for reading, and if you have any ideas or inspiration, please do share them. I would love for there to be more places of safety and healing for people who are in difficult or dark places. As a community, may we do what we can.

Gracious God, Your presence is always a place where we can find refuge, safety, love and acceptance-  thankyou. Lord Jesus, you experienced so much trauma and suffering in your life, so much injustice. We weep at the way you were treated in this world. Yet Lord, out of the darkest, painful experiences in our lives, help us to find a wisdom that might help others. So many suffer and are fearful and restless. May your holy spirit encourage us to find our healing path, and as we grow stronger, to share what we have learned to offer this to others, Amen.

Broken, beloved and blessed!

Resurrection in the garden!

I adore Easter Sunday! I used to get stuck at Good Friday, as I contemplated Jesus on the cross dying for my wrongdoing, saying ‘Father, forgive’ even in the darkness and pain. The love and amazing grace of our Lord still humbles and astonishes me every day.

However, I have also learned to appreciate the difference resurrection makes, as I think of the women at the tomb, and the words of the angel ‘ He is not here, he is Risen’ Luke 24:6. The power of these words are breathtaking.

I am going to focus on Mary Magdalene, someone who knew Jesus well, who was described as having ‘ seven demons’ in Luke chapter 8. It is difficult to interpret exactly what that means, but at the very least it means she was troubled or even disturbed. But Jesus healed her, and she became his devoted follower.

So in many ways, Mary went through a time of brokenness, when she was upset, mixed up, distressed. And Jesus helped her find peace. But when she watched her beloved Lord be treated so cruelly, mocked, whipped and beaten, she must have felt so distressed once more, for it seemed that their dream of working for the kingdom of God on earth had died, and their hopes were in smithereens.

In John chapter 20, we have a narrative where the Risen Jesus speaks directly to Mary, and calls her tenderly by her name. And she tries to cling to Him, but he says it is not the time, for he must ascend to His heavenly Father. The whole encounter between them however, speaks of Mary being beloved to her Lord. She is loved and cherished by Him. There is such a depth of beauty in these words, that reminds us that this woman, who was once troubled and seen as an outcast in society, was now accepted and valued.

So Mary was broken, beloved and then blessed. She went to speak to the others, with reverent excitement and enthusiasm saying ‘ I have seen the Lord’s. She has witnessed a miracle, and feels blessed and ready to share what she has seen with the whole world.

This spiritual journey is so relevant to all of us, for we are all struggling or broken without God, but then spending time with Jesus brings healing and an experience of the depth of God’s love, that is life changing. And we are blessed so richly, that we are motivated to go out and share our story.

In these days of resurrection, and reflection on the Easter story, may we all find hope and healing and love, so we can travel from brokenness to wholeness, from estrangement to belovedness, from alienation to being blessed. God desires the best for our lives, so may we be open to all He has for us to receive.

May we pray ‘ Risen Lord, as you appeared to Mary, please come to each of us, call us by our name, remind us of your healing power and purpose for our lives. We may have gone though dark days of illness, trauma or grief, but You are still here for us. Speak tenderly to us in our brokenness and tears, and remind us that we are beloved, treasured by You, and that You want to bless us. Holy spirit, may we be healed and blessed, so we in turn might be a blessing to others. Empower us to do your will, and be a channel of your peace in this world, Amen.

The beauty of nurture.

Mother’s day.

Today being mother’s day is a very emotional one. I am so fortunate to have my beautiful mum, but have lost my mother in law. We owe such a debt to mums and loving patient adults who have helped form us and guided us along our way.

I was so privileged two years ago to attend Bessel van der Kolk’s conference on trauma in Boston. It helped me understand so much about trauma, attachment, neurodiversity, body work and different ways of exploring healing for those who are suffering and traumatised. As a lay person, I have so very much to learn.

In the midst of all the technical neurological and psychiatric therapies, a recurring theme was really simple and profound, because what is at the core of it all is the power of love, to create a safe space for people to feel seen, listened to, valued, cherished. Healing can then be explored in different combinations suited to each individual, when some kind of trust can be restored.

It was so exciting, yet so deeply challenging in a world where many feel abandoned, ignored, abused and mistreated. How to be supportive and prayerful, for that broken part within each of us is so difficult. How can we let God tend to that uncertain, hurting child within?

Listening to stories of the power of good attachment in the earliest years of life, reminded me of the vital nature of good nurture. To support babies and toddlers, to feel safe, and loved, to they can learn and play, can strongly influence children to grow into more contented and peaceful adults. We know this as people, but the scientific data regarding brain formation that confirms this is astounding.

In 2 Timothy chapter 1, we hear of the positive influence his gran Lois, and mum Eunice had on this young boy, in this case passing on their faith to him. It equipped him for his years ahead.

May we know that the choices we make, the attitudes that we have, the love we show, can make such a difference for all around, and especially for babies and children. As we give thanks for mothers’ day, may we encourage one another to nurture and love and play with the babies and children in our midst! By doing so, we are building a healthier society.

Let us pray, Father God, You love us all with a perfect and generous love. Lord Jesus, You delighted in having children around you, and their curiosity and playfulness. Forgive us, as a society, when we let babies and children down, when they feel unsafe and unheard. Holy spirit, teach us more about how to love and nurture babies and children, and our inner child too, so we can be healthy and whole and at peace, Amen.

Spring- the breath of life

Breathing deeply, finding peace.

The days are lengthening, there are crocuses on the ground and buds on the trees. Although there are still some rainy dismal days, there is also a feeling of greening, and of spring.

These are still such anxious days, and I am learning more about the importance of breath. We all know breathing is good! But there is so much more to it than this.

In the fresh air, our intuition is to breath deeply and slowly. We appreciate the air coming into our lungs, that it shows us down, and helps us be more in the moment, at peace and attentive to our enviroment.

There is so much science to this- that slow, deep breathing reduces anxiety and feelings of panic, that it helps us relax, brings more oxygen to the blood, and releases endorphins. Breathing in should be deep and measured, and breathing out even more slowly. This calms the parasympathetic system and the vagus nerve, and brings a feeling of deep peace. So many practices of Christian meditation reflect the importance of this type of breathing, even from thousands of years before. It is an ancient and healing practice.

Exploring practices that help bring healing to people who are anxious or traumatised, seems so very important in today’s age. Whether it is the use of breathing techniques and trauma informed care in schools or medical settings, it seems such a beneficial and holistic tool to offer. And in churches also, maybe we need to learn more from ancient Christian practices of meditation, to enable us to be more fully in the presence of God.

In Job 33:4 it says ‘ the breath of the Almighty gives me life’ and this is not just giving us the capacity for life, but also quality of life and spiritual awareness. The modern worship song ‘ Sound of our breathing’ by Jason Gray, captures something of the rhythm of our breathing, and of God’s breath within us.

Let us pray: ‘ Eternal God, You breath Your life into this world, into every human being- may we notice and cherish this gift. Lord Jesus, when we are stressed or anxious, help us to slow down, and breath deeply, and exhale slowly. Holy spirit, bring us your healing and calm, shape our lives, and enable us to live more fully for You, Amen.

Courage to cross thresholds.

Beyond

We are heading towards the end of 2020, a threshold between the present and the future. In celtic spirituality, thresholds are often equated to thin places’ places where the divine is more readily experienced. It can be a spiritual place of suffering or loss, where the usual material certainties have lost their attractiveness, and we learn to rely on Christ, as our Strength in our weakness and confusion.

2020 has been a year of such darkness and suffering- so many dying from the virus, people with long term effects of covid 19, loved ones unable to see each other, even in end of life situations. So much weeping.

I think of all those I have lost this year, personally and in the church family, and it is so hard to take in. All the people that I don’t get to speak to again, at least in this life. I miss them.

Yet in 2020, I have also had cause to be grateful. I have listened to friends heroically looking after loved ones in impossible situations, people showing great kindness above and beyond the call of duty, prayer warriors, and encouragers and those who have sacrificially served others. It has been humbling.

I am also so deeply grateful to God, for enabling me to publish ‘ Love song for wounded warrior’ this year, a tribute to my late husband- his life as a veteran, and his struggles with his subsequent medical condition. This time last year, it seemed like an impossibility, I was editing and rewriting drafts, and questioning why I would even think about doing this.

But God opened the door, and held it open so I could walk though. I faced delays and setbacks and struggles, but I felt a sense of call to honour my husband’s memory, and God enabled me to do this, and I am still amazed that it actually happened. I am grateful that your donations too, have been a blessing to the Coming Home centre, and Epilepsy Connections. Thankyou.

I still don’t know where God is leading me. I have been so encouraged by people’s insights and prayers, and telling our story has been the right thing to do. It has also been costly. I feel called to continue to explore ways of finding healing for people who have experienced complex trauma, but I need courage and wisdom.

For just now, I am humbled that God has given me courage to write, to try to express what is going on my heart. All I can do, is to continue to share the themes that I struggle with, in the hope that it will help another human being, to be honest about the rubbish in our lives, to seek prayer and healing and support.

At this juncture between the old and new, I am grateful that God helped me find my voice. Thankyou too for reading this blog. I seek to be faithful to Christ, and to continue to seek supportive communities for people to find healing and hope. For we are never by ourselves, and God is always here. What an encouragement.

Let us pray, Lord Jesus, the pain, sorrow and brokenness of 2020 is almost too much to bear. Yet in the midst of the darkness and despair, You shine the light of your presence, a lamp to my feet, and a light for my path. Guide us all by Your Holy spirit, through the door of your choosing, and the new life beyond. Grant us hope for the new journey ahead, to put one foot in front of another, and help us to follow Your healing calling, wherever it may lead, Amen.

Longing for Shalom.

A quest for peace.

War and conflict are greatly reflected upon, at this time of year. We have thought of legacies, lamentation, and now we seek to explore our longings. Out of a November remembering the horrors and visicitudes of war, so now we plead for God to bring some good purpose out of all this.

Having thought of shell-shocked soldiers in the deep mud of the trenches of the first world war, and the bombings of the Atlantic convoys in the second world war, of the IED’s of more recent conflicts, the trauma and inhumanity of war experiences, broken bodies and spirits, are all too clear. The cost of conflict in human lives is incalculable.

Yet this is not the end of the story, because exposure to these military stories and experiences, reminds us of our purpose as human beings, our deep yearning for shalom, for healing and goodness and forgiveness and love and peace.

I was reminded of the biblical vision of of a peaceful Kingdom in Isaiah 11: 6: ‘ in that day the wolf and the lamb will live together, the leopard will lie down with the lamb, the calf and the yellowing will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all.’

Desmond Tutu describes the fullness of biblical shalom ‘ God’s shalom, peace, involves righteousness, justice, wholesomeness, fullness of life, participation in decision making, goodness, laughter, joy, compasdion, sharing and reconciliatiom.’ In some ways, it seems like a long list of qualities, but shalom is just such a beautiful deep peace,the very presence of God- so it needs all these words and more just to catch a glimpse of it.

We have a deep yearning for a peaceful world, of justice and reconciliation and love. And the reason we have that, is because we have seen the alternative- a world where the loudest voice seems to win, where bullies get their own way, where lies prevail over truth, where mistrust and violence and conflict have become the norm. And the hurt and pain and tears are flowing in all nations and continents.

So let’s not just accept this as ok. Let’s not just put up with violence or abuse or exploitation. Let’s not say that the lives of children, or people with different views are lesser in some way. Let’s not say that where there is a dispute, that fighting and guns are the best way to resolve this. Have we learned nothing?

So may God give us a pure heart, to hear His voice. We need discernment, to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. We need the holy spirit of God to help us on our narrow path, and it is not easy.

Even if we resolve to do one thing, to pray for peace, to give to charity, to not escalate a dispute, to support a veteran, to breath before we speak- if everyone did these things, it would make such a difference. And because the task is great, may be not be put off, but have our inner compass always pointing to true North, to the larger purposes of God, for shalom for His people, for the world.

It is sometimes only when you have been through hard times, that you realise what is important in life. So out of the horror and brutality of conflict, may we yearn for something better, and resolve to work for Shalom in our lives and world, Amen

Let us pray, Gracious God, Maker of the Universe, You look upon our world, which you made to be so harmonious and beautiful, and You see the damage that our greed and selfishness has brought. Lord Jesus, have mercy upon us, and forgive us for our vindictiveness and struggles for status and power. Holy Spirit, humble us to seek the wellbeing of others before ourselves, to yearn for a true Shalom, and to be channel’s of your peace, 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.

Honouring a legacy?

This week, one of our very long standing church members died, and had a funeral that celebrated her long and incredibly full life. It was very moving, to reflect on all that she did, and she was described as a pioneer of her time. One of our challenges as a church, is how we live up to her legacy.

This started me thinking about what we leave behind us. None of us knows the number of our days, so how do we make them count?

I found a quotation from the 4th century Greek statesman Pericles:   

          ‘what you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the life of others.’

I started writing because I wanted to honour my late husband’s life. Somehow, telling his story, helps us as a family, to find meaning in what has taken place, and to honour his legacy.

Part of this is shaped by a desire to raise the profile of the need for more effective care for veterans. The damaging nature of the long term emotional, spiritual and physical injuries after serving in armed conflucts, cannot be over estimated. And the impact on relationships and families can be immensely destructive.

It also feels important to raise awareness of the need for more research into epilepsy, and the exploration of possible new treatments. If some one’s seizures are well controlled by medication that is great, but if their epilepsy is intractable, life is challenging.

To honour Colin’s legacy, in the midst of these two strands, I also want to give thanks for people who have supported and prayed with us. God gave us kind people around us, guided our path, and sustained us on the darkest days, granting us all we needed.

And so Colin’s legacy is that even in the midst of trauma and disability, we are not to give up, that God gives us strength each day, leads us to helpful people, enables us to laugh, helps us find an internal resilience that we did not know we had. Every day of life is precious. God gives our lives a quality of love and grace that is life changing.

At times, I question writing about all this, because it makes you so vulnerable. But this feel like our purpose to try to encourage others,, and the best way I can honour Colin, so I pray for strength to do so, especially in these days leading up to Remembrance.

In Ephesians chapter 5, verse 2 it says:    ‘ live a life of love, love others as Christ loved us’                                         The legacy of Christ, is indeed love, and so sharing that love, truth and grace with others, is our greatest calling, let us pray.

Gracious God, forgive us that we often don’t think what our spiritual legacy is to the next generation. Lord Jesus, may we be inspired by generations of Christian people, who have faithfully and creatively followed you. May our life’s purpose be to honour the legacy of all who have gone before, and may your holy spirit guide us as to what to do, as we seek to pass on your life changing and transformative love and truth to others, Amen.