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.