Remembrance!

Remembrance Sunday.

Each year we have the painful but very necessary opportunity to remember those who have given their life in conflict and war, those who have been injured or maimed, and to think of their families. It is so important that we do this, as it is too easy for us as a society to forget. We remember all wars, from the first world war in 1914-1918, till the present.

This year, many people are talking about how poignant it is especially for veterans who have fought in Afghanistan. After the sudden withdrawal of troops in August this year, the Taliban quickly swept back to power, and there are many people who are living in fear, women scared to go out, families without food. We think of the many who helped troops – interpreters and humanitarians, who are desperate to escape, fearful of reprisals, and worried for their safety, and of their relatives. It is tragic.

One journalist spoke to veteransfrom Afghanistan living in Canada, where they were talking about how painful it is to remember. There are so many unhealed traumatic memories causing flashbacks and nightmares, it is hard to re- engage. However we do so to remember those who gave their lives, and those who still live today. We are all privileged to do so, but it is so agonising and at times almost unbearable. So we choose to remember in different ways.

At Remembrance, I think of Colin, who was so proud to serve, and to try to make the world a better place. But the cost was so great, that it is is heartbreaking. At times it seems almost too distressing to contemplate.

When thinking of the pain of remembering, it reminds me of the last supper, where Jesus told his friends to remember him, by sharing bread- which was his body broken for them, and wine- his blood shed for them. He told the disciples that everytime they eat and drink, it was to remember him. The first time they did this after Jesus’ death and ascension must gave been so emotional, tearful, for their sense of his loss was so great. Yet it also brought them comfort, for through the sacrament, they experienced the nearness of His presence. And so we continue to remember today….

Remembering is painful, but we pray for all those affected by war, that somehow Remembrance Sunday might help. It hopefully reminds people that they are not alone, that what they did was worth something, that they have significance. We hope that in the silence, even in the moments where there are memories too deep to be expressed in words, that they might know the comfort of a God who cares. And also a feeling of solidarity with millions around the world.

Gracious God, You are the Eternal God, our Refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. In the midst of painful and sometimes excruciating memories, may we nestle in your arms. Prince of Peace, our Lord Jesus Christ, you call for justice and reconciliation, but at times we cannot forgive ourselves nevermind others. Please be with all those haunted by what they have seen and done, and bring your healing love, and your peace. For those living under threat today, may they find a place of sanctuary. Holy spirit be at work on this Remembrance Sunday, to help veterans know that they are seen, their pain acknowledged, and that somehow there is still a hope and a future for them. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Engaged and distracted!

Aching beauty even in times of change and loss.

Autumn is a stunning time of year- the varying colours and textures, the sounds of leaves crunching underfoot and the aching beauty of bare branches and naked trees. It is a time that speaks of loss and the inevitability of change.

November is a difficult month for me, and the heaviness of Remembrance seems all too near. The trauma and suffering of military personnel and their families seem tangible.

We seem to cope with trauma and loss in such diverse ways. There are times when we seem numb, when it all seems remote. The coping strategy is to look for distraction from the pain, to watch too many boxed sets, to go to the gym, to eat tubs of ice cream. We do anything not to engage, not to have to feel.

But every now and again, it catches us up, and we feel intensely. It could be a moment in a film, or a message from a friend, or just a word in a sentence, and it brings it all back, so that we crumple and fall apart.

Bessel van der Kolk says: ‘traumatised people chronically feel unsafe in their bodies. The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings, and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from themselves.”         p97 The Body keeps the score.

This is such a good description of that feeling of numbness. For short periods, it can protect us, as when we are in shock after something terrible has happened. But the danger is that if we stay there too long, that we lose ourselves. And so we need to find the courage to come out and face the pain, however excruciating that can be. Noticing and acknowledging the impact of trauma, is the first step. Often we need to go through this process in company with a trauma informed therapist, or grief counsellor, who can help people to work out what is going on, and to create a safe space to heal.

There are times when we need distraction from the reality of life, the pain and cruelty are too overwhelming. But at other times, we need to have the courage to engage with our story, and the impact it has had on us. At these times of honest engagement, then we are open to finding the long, meandering road to wholeness.

The words of Psalm 32: 7 reminds us that in God’s presence we find safety “You are my hiding place You will protect me from trouble, and surround me with songs of deliverance.” With God, we can find that safe place to be honest, to lament, and to begin to trust and to find the wholeness we seek. And so we take that first step…….

Gracious God, You see what happens to your precious children, that we hurt others and get hurt, that we experience loss, and disappointment and trauma. Sometimes we hide, and pretend everything is OK, just to protect ourselves from possibilities of danger. Lord Jesus, You show us such acceptance and love, that your presence is a safe place for us to be to be honest, so we can pour forth our hurts and our wailings. In your perfect timing, may we find courage to be truthful, even when that is uncomfortable and strips our souls bare. May Your Holy spirit help us find pathways through pain, to healing and trust and new growth, Amen.

Actively involved in the healing process!

Participating is hard work!

I am so grateful that healing is such a strong theme in the bible. Whether it is the healing of Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20, or Jesus’s amazing healing ministry depicted in the gospels, God loves to heal in body, mind and soul.

I fully recognise the complexity of this topic, as sometimes we pray for people and they don’t seem to get better. We don’t know why some prayers don’t seem to be answered. Maybe sometimes the damage is too great, or the process to get better just too arduous for a human being to bear. We just don’t know, and it is distressing and exhausting trying to work it out.

I have been reading a lot recently about healing from trauma, and about finding ways of feeling safe and becoming more whole again. And I am always surprised at how much hard work it is. Working with topics like low self esteem, childhood or adult trauma, anger management etc seems so tough. For example, if for whatever reason, you don’t like some one shouting at you. You learn this insight, and what experience caused you to think like this, and to respond like this. Investigation complete, so you think.

However this is actually just the start. For identifying the trauma, then starts you on a path of what you do to cope, what your protective mechanism is, eg to avoid angry people, to withdraw etc. And often the coping mechanism then becomes part of the problem, because it forms an unhealthy pattern of behaviour, a bad habit. So then if there is a loud voice or angry behaviour, you recognise the impact it is having on you, and you then learn to choose to respond differently. You choose to stay in the room, take a deep breath, and give a boundaried answer.

That sounds great in theory, but putting it into practice is exhausting. And putting this into practice with multiple different traumas, makes it complicated and wearisome. It is one step forward and two back.

I am so blessed to have the resources to think this through, and to seek healing. God is so faithful, He never lets us down, and always provides a safe place to ask difficult questions, and to ask for strength to change. The Holy spirit challenges us, and brings insight, strength to change, and much healing. However we also need to intentionally participate, to face up to difficult memories, and to be open to change. May we all find continued motivation and perseverance to continue on this path.

The verse from Isaiah 64:8 comes to mind: ‘O Lord, you are our Father:we are the clay, and you are our Potter, we are all the work of Your hand.’                                             We all need to be fashioned, to be willing to change, for the clay to be soft and malleable in the hand of the potter, for something beautiful to be created.

Gracious Creator God, You see the brokenness in our world, the distorted thoughts, the shattered self image, our doubts and fears, our negative ways of thinking. Heal us we pray, in Jesus’ name. And even when it is wearisome, repetitive work, where we need to pause, and choose to respond differently, give us courage. May your holy spirit help us let go of destructive and negative ways of thinking, so we can live in freedom, and find the deep and lasting wholeness we seek, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Guarding our hearts.

There is so much which feels overwhelming. The effects of the pandemic continue on, the winter is round the corner, the health services seem over stretched and under resourced.

In the midst of this, if you are sitting with chronic illness, living with trauma, or grieving, there is another dimension to things, with feelings of frustration, helplessness and isolation. We can be bewildered, tired and hurting, and so we we protect ourselves by putting up barriers to prevent further pain or heartache.

The problem with this is, that the solution becomes worse than the initial issue. We end up becoming numb, locked inside ourselves, unwilling to venture out, and reluctant to trust. It might keep us safe in the short term, but longer term it actually imprison us.

So what do we do? If we are in a caring profession, how can we keep loving, even when we are close to burn out? If we are in difficult relationships, how do we care for people, who we do not easily relate to?

I wish I had the answer. A verse that is an anchor however is from Proverbs 4 verse 23:

‘Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.’

We need to know that our heart, our emotional wellbeing is precious. Sometimes if we have experienced loss or hurt, whether that is in relationship breakdown or death, we get lost in a maze of feelings of questioning, an emotional paralysis and deep ache that oscillate in intensity and can incapacitate us. Our hearts seem broken, and no longer able to function.

I believe that God heals the broken hearted, but it can be quite a long, turbulent process. At times we seem in danger of getting stuck. It is so hard to be patient, and to trust. Sometimes we need time out, to be able to find the support we need to recover, and to know that this is ok.

So we seek to guard our hearts, to make decisions not to over extend what we are trying to do. We need to ask God to keep us from temptation, to slow us down and to give us wisdom, to show us how to live. And I think living a life of prayer is key, for if we know how much we are loved by God, then that loving relationship breathes new life into us each morning, and gives us courage to love that the day ahead. And that is all we need.

Gracious God, some days we feel empty, rejected or alone. The temptation is to bury our feelings deep down just in order to survive. Forgive us. In Ezekiel chapter 36 You say You will take away our heart of stone, and give us a heart of flesh. Lord Jesus, may Your heart beat in ours, and give us courage to feel and to care. Holy spirit, keep us from temptation, and help us live so closely to Jesus, that we have tender hearts, able to love and be loved. Please fill us with your love every day, and this might somehow then spill over into the lives of others, Amen.

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.