Transforming wounds into scars.

Wounds of trauma.

There is a quotation from the American military leader Douglas MacArthur ‘the soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of battle.’

This week, I witnessed the aftermath of a road traffic accident, where a car hit a cyclist. The cyclist, a young man had a gash to his head, and was bruised and on a state of shock, and taken off in an ambulance.

Seeing his injuries, got me in touch with that feeling of what being wounded can feel like, the initial surprise, feeling faint, the pain, the blood. It is such a debilitating thing, where you feel helpless and vulnerable.

For many people, including veterans, our wounds are not just physical but also emotional and psychological. Past traumas can stop you functioning, as powerful memories replay in your mind, paralysing you, and stopping you function. Triggers, which bring buried memories back, can cause reactions which look random, but which are part of people’s coping strategies, and these strategies then often become part of the problem.

How can these wounds be healed? If it is a bodily injury, a wound needs to stop bleeding, for it to be cleaned out, and then for healing to take place. Wounds can be prone to infection, so sometimes they need to be cleaned out again, for ointment or antibiotics to be used. The healing can be itchy and uncomfortable, but eventually a scar is formed, at first looking angry and raw, but eventually fading.

For emotional and traumatic wounds, there is a similar process. There are practitioners in traumatic therapies, that can help people acknowledge the terror and the pain, and start the journey of cleansing, forgiveness and healing. The book ‘ The body keeps the score’ by Bessel van der Kolk demonstrates the range of possible neurological and community based programmes that can help.

In parallel to this, as a Christian, the balm of Gilead comes to mind. In Isaiah chapter 1 verse 6, the prophet describes a broken nation: ‘from the sole of your foot to the top of your head, there is no soundness, only wounds and bruises and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with oil.’ In a similar situation in Jeremiah in chapter 8:22 the prophet asks ‘is there no balm in Gilead?’ This balm was an aromatic and antiseptic medicine, to bring healing. The balm is often interpreted as the soothing and restorative love and presence of Jesus Himsrlf.

To transform wounds to scars, is a surprisingly raw and long process. It can involve prayer, the transformative healing power of Jesus Christ, and an understanding and loving community around you. It can involve wise and sensitive trauma therapies which allow the wound to be cleansed, and for deeper and lasting healing to take place. The scars will always remain, and they are not something to be ashamed of, but they are part of our story.

Gracious God, as a world we are so broken, and we hurt and are in pain – so much violence and cruelty. Lord Jesus Christ, thankyou that You are the wounded healer, and that You come alongside us, and remind us of the scars you bear. May Your Holy spirit guide us to individuals and communities that are supportive and wise. May despair and darkness never overwhelm us, for there is always forgiveness and love and hope. May the oil of Gilead flow, and bring healing to all haunted by traumatic pasts, to transform open wounds into healthy scars. May we all be channels of your grace and peace to others, Amen.

In memory of Colin.

Rays of light in times of heartache.

Sitting with the dying.

Today is the 3rd anniversary of my husband’s death. Somehow I thought that things would be easier. I have so much to be thankful for, but it is still a time of deep sorrow and difficult memories.

My husband was invalided out of military service because of a blow to the head which resulted in epilepsy. As the years went on, the seizures became more poorly controlled, and this brought degenerative damage to his brain. He was defiantly independent, and tried his best to work through traumatic memories from his service, but as the years went on,  he became less able. When he needed 24 hour care, he was admitted to a care home, where they took excellent care of him.

My son, myself and the dog visited regularly, as did other family and friends. However after another 4 years, and a broken hip, he was very weak, and had infection after infection.

And so many times I sat by his bed, with the doctor telling me there was nothing more they could do. All that was left, was to make him comfortable.

So many people sit by the bed of a dying loved one. And we know it is a privilege, time to play beautiful music, to express the things most needing to be said. But is is also exhausting and distressing, watching them gradually become weaker, less able to swallow, the morphine level having to be increased.

At times Colin was restless and agitated, at other times more subdued. At times he knew what you were saying and could respond, with a smile or wave. At times you could give him a little raspberry ripple ice cream- a favourite, and you were rewarded with a wan smile.

It was heartbreaking watching him becoming weaker, shrinking in front of me. On some days, there were rays of light through the window that landed on the bed, bringing him warmth and comfort.

And these rays of light spoke of many things. I was thankful that he was comfortable, and well cared for. I was thankful for family able to visit. I was thankful of the presence of Jesus in the room, ready to take him to be with God, in that moment Colin was ready.

Yet is still hurts- not just Colin’s death, but all the years of suffering he experienced, recounting traumatic stories, and having seizures. All the times when he was frustrated and despondent because of his limitations and disabilities. All the years of behavioral issues, of carers and hospital admissions, and the toll it took on his loved ones.

In the last two years, both Colin’s parents have died, and that just adds more layers to the trauma and grief.

I pray for all carers looking after a loved one, but especially those sitting at the bedside of a dying relative. I pray for the person not to be in pain, for loving and attentive care, for words of love to be shared, and for a peaceful passing.

And I am thankful for loving family and friends, who prayed for us and supported us, and for moments of humour in the midst of sadness. I am grateful that I have been able to honour Colin’s memory by telling his story, and to raise awareness of the plight of veterans. I am glad we could raise money for charity- for the Coming Home centre in Govan, and for Epilepsy Connections in Glasgow. I am thankful for all these rays of light, and hope and love. But it still hurts….

Eternal Father, You know what it felt like for your precious Son to die on the cross. You know what we humans go through, when we sit with a loved one who is dying. We are anguished and sorrowful. Lord Jesus, thankyou that You are there too, with an invitation for people to place their trust in You, and find their eternal home. And that your holy spirit enables us to say our goodbyes, and to find peace. Help us as mourn, to honour our loved ones, and then when we are ready, to find our healing, and new direction. May rays of light always fall across our path, 🙏Amen.

The book about Colin’s writings and poems, and the story of his life is called ‘Loved song for a wounded warrior” and can be purchased by contacting this website or on Amazon. All proceeds go to the two charities mentioned above. Thankyou.

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.

The anguish of war movies.

Under fire

When I first wanted to start understand my late husband Colin better, as well as listening to his military experiences, we watched some war movies together. This was to give me more insight as to what war could feel like.

Over time, we watched movies like Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse now, Letters from Iwo Jima. At the time, I felt this was really useful, helping me realise the confusion, brutality, senselessness and anguish of violence and conflict. Another film that was particularly memorable and disturbing was Jacob’s  ladder, thinking of the delusions and sheer hell of war.

Whilst these films enabled us to talk through issues of war, justice, the horror of impossible choices, the loss of humanity involved in battle, I think they often retramatised my husband rather than helped him. They reminded him of duty, comradery and courage, but also reinforced all the nightmares of darkness and pain and questioning.

At this point in time, I can’t  bear to watch any of these movies any more. They just speak to me of the senselessness and savagery of combat, which brings overwhelming sorrow and anguish. The cries of the wounded and maimed seem to echo forever in my head.

And so I look to Jesus for guidance. Our Saviour personally experienced the worst cruelty and violence of humanity, yet His love was never diminished or tarnished. He kept forgiving, was full of goodness, kept working for an eternal kingdom of truth, goodness, justice and peace.

In different seasons of our lives, different things are helpful. Films, plays, books can all remind us of the moral complexities of conflict, their longlasting and often devastating impact on individuals and communities. There are theological and philosophical challenges as to what constitutes a ‘ just war’. Having any understanding or insight into each context, helps us pray and campaign and protest, as our conscience leads us.

I am struck by the extent to which I felt, and can still feel as if I was in some of these military conflicts with my husband, because of all the memories he shared. PTSD is not just experienced by veterans, but also often by their families. This vicarious trauma, is because of their exposure to repeated stories and re enactments of violence and suffering.

My concern therefore is that veterans and their families get the support they need to work through these traumas, and find a self worth, understanding, healing and peace. These can come through various trauma therapies, and ultimately from Jesus Christ, as our Healer and the Lover of our souls.

Meantime, we also need to find balance, by focusing on the good, the brightness of sunshine, the joy of a pet, the taste of a good meal, the encouragement and prayers of a friend, the inspiration of the Holy spirit.

I remember the words from Philippians chapter 4, where Paul writes: ‘finally dear friends, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things’. As a corollary to thinking of the darkness and barbarism of humanity, we need to remember the light and beauty and nobility, and so these words speak to my soul.

Let us pray, Dear Father God, you look upon us with the mercy and kindness of a beloved parent. On this earth, we fight and squabble, we often loose sight of our humanity, we use torture and violence all to easily, especially in times of conflict and war. Lord Jesus, please forgive us, heal us, restore our humanity, bless our veterans and families, and give us wisdom as to when war is ever necessary. Holy spirit, help us to notice the good, the pure, the lovely things in our midst, and to find our peace, Amen

” a million thankyous”

On behalf of Andrew and myself, I want to thank everyone so much who attended, and showed an interest in our booklaunch ” Love Song for a wounded warrior“. We are so greatly humbled by your prayers and good wishes and comments, and are very moved by the support of so many.

The idea of this book was to honour the memory of my late husband Colin, who wanted his memories and recollections of his time in military service, especially northern Ireland, to be published. Last night at the booklaunch, I read out one of his poems, and I was so heartened by people really listening to what it was about, and relating to the horror of war. Just in that one part of the meeting alone, it fulfilled so much of what we hoped for.

We were also grateful for the words of Shirley from Epilepsy Connections, who spoke so caringly, and with such insight as to the situation of so many people with epilepsy in Scotland, and the struggles they face. And to have Allana with us was so lovely, from the Coming Home centre, who has such a passion to support veterans and their families on their return to civilian life. The work of these two charities is inspirational and they go the extra mile to help others.

We were delighted that the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Rev Dr Martin Fair could come along, and for his words of encouragement and grace. We also heard the words of Rev Jock Stein, who edited and published the book, and who was such a brilliant support in bringing the book to this point.

Andrew speaking about the way his dad’s disability affected him, gave very real insight into the difficulties that can be faced by children of veterans. After a time of questions and answers, the meeting came to a close, but it was such a wonderful time to hear people acknowledge Colin’s story, and both he and his parents would have been so pleased.

” In my end is my beginning”

The Four Quartets – TS Eliot

I was thinking of these words – how God can bring something good, even out of the most dark and difficult of circumstances, and praying that our of this book, might come fundraising, and also conversation about how to better care for people who are veterans, people with epilepsy and brain damage. The conversation seems to have started already, and I hope that out of Colin’s life and death, God can bring something with will bless and help others.

An enormous thank you all, for participating in this process with me, whether near or far. Our society is under such pressure just now, but anything that can help us to think about how we can support people with complex needs and difficult behaviours, is surely central to that question about what it means to love and care for some of the most vulnerable in our society. I will keep blogging, because somehow I always seem to have something to say! But just now, thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Dear God, we give thanks for Your faithfulness in difficult days,

For the support of friends and family, for moments of connection and care,

That out of despair and pain, can come possibilities of new beginnings.

Lord Jesus, bless all those today, who are veterans or veterans’ families,

Who are carers for people with epilepsy or disabilities,

Grant them the right support, respite, wise guidance, humour and love

In the midst of the challenges of every day life,

And guide and sustain all those who seek to support them, Amen

“Love Song for a wounded warrior”

Dear friends, thanks so much for reading this. Like so many people, I have a desire to write, to connect. I want to tell people about the difference that Jesus’ love makes, and to encourage others on the journey through life.

You may wonder what the strap line ” including love song for a wounded warrior” means, and so i would like to explain a bit more, although it takes all the courage I can muster.

My husband Colin died just over two years ago, in April 2018 after a long time of ill health, as he had intractable epilepsy. Many People have epilepsy which is well controlled – but not him.

Colin had an head injury, sustained on active service, and this was the cause of his seizures. He had quite a journey in military and civilian life, seeking to live with his injury and its consequences. Colin wrote reflectively about how he felt, fragments that give insight as to some of the experiences that he had, and he always wanted these published.

To give his writings a framewoek, I tried to provide a context for these writings, about how Colin’s disability affected his family, as we sought to love and support him. These writings, including a piece from our son Andrew, are the material for our book ” Love Song for a wounded warrior” which we have written about Colin’s life – a story of sorrow, humour, frustration, anger, joy and thanksgiving!

We offer this story to the world, even though I am full of trepidation – it feels like a very personal story to share. Yet I am also relieved to finally be able to fulfil Colin’s wishes and tell his story, and I pray that through this story, others might be encouraged – especially family and carers of veterans and people with disabilities, who can find that their road often looks bleak and rocky.

The things that helped us on our journey were God, prayer and encouragement, family and friends, music, forgiveness, understanding, medicine, oases of care of the way, and the knowledge that God never forgot us. These things were often all intertwined. PTSD symptoms added to the melee, and added an additional layer of confuson to deal with.

The booklaunch will be on the 24th of June on zoom, and I am prayeful that these writings might do some good- to encourage another family to persevere, to remind people that every story is significant, to raise awareness of issues for veterans, people with epilespy and their families, and to raise funds for charity. All proceeds from this book go to Epilepsy Connections, and the Coming Home centre in Govan. More to come on this…….

A prayer – Dear God, the bible is a book of stories of ordinary people

Who placed their trust in You, who made mistakes, who struggled, who fell down, and then stood back up,

Help us to reflect on our own story, to notice all You have done, and to be thankful,

Help us listen attentively and tenderly to each other’s stories, with prayer and deep care,

As You have called us, Amen.