Preach / / Service of Remembrance / / 4th Dec 2016

Talk from our annual ‘Service of Remembrance’, for those who have lost loved ones, at TRINITY Southover, 4th Dec, based on Psalm 46:1-7

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I expect many of you have read or seen the movie of ‘The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’, by CS Lewis?

In it, Narnia is in permanent winter, with no sign of Christmas or Spring. The cold is ever present, snow all around, lakes frozen, and with it much joy has been sucked from their world.

I sometimes wonder if winter isn’t a good analogy for pain and grief…

I mean I wonder if you have noticed the trees lately? it was just a few weeks ago I wrote a talk whilst gazing out my window and admiring the glorious autumn colours on the large Sycamore tree outside. Now it stands rather stark and bare with all that wonderful colour blown away.

Winter can be very stark. The trees are bare, looking like a shell of what they can be.

The air is often cold and crisp – on really cold mornings even breathing in can make us wince. The nights are longer, our afternoons fading into early darkness and we tend to find ourselves more often at home, wrapped up, shut in away from the cold.

 

There is something in the pain of losing a loved one that I think provokes those sort of feelings and reactions in us. We are stripped bare, we are not what we once were. Things can change so dramatically in such a short space of time. There may be mornings when we wake and find that drawing breath is such an effort.

We may want to hibernate, to shut ourselves away, as if we can hide from the awful reality that has hit us.

 

…o0O0o…

 

Grief brings with it such great uncertainty. The world as we knew it, will never be quite the same and how can we face the world with our new darker view of it?

At times like these finding some truth that we can hold on to, can be really helpful, a foundation for us to stand on when we need.

Perhaps that might be in a particular memory of our loved ones that we can cherish – nothing can take that away.

Or in something we do regularly just to have a moment of control, of certainty.

And for many of us, we find certainty by looking to the truth of God.

The Psalm we heard, Psalm 46, starts with these words:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

3 truths for us to hold on to:

 

God is a refuge.

God is a strength.

God is an ever-present help. Words of comfort and certainty and – because of those – our Psalm goes on:

 

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way

and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam

and the mountains quake with their surging

 

We may well feel that the earth is giving way under the weight of our grief.

We may feel surrounded by the swirling of roaring waters as our emotions rage out of control. BUT there is still that point of truth around which we can turn and perhaps sometimes it is all we can do to cling on to it.

 

…o0O0o…

 

Do you need that refuge – somewhere to hide?

 

Let him be that refuge.

Seek solace in him.

Psalm 91 is another that talks of God as our refuge, and verse 4 says:

 

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge…

 

What a wonderful picture – like a mother bird, drawing her young to her, protecting them, bringing them to the warmth of her own body, shielding them in their vulnerability from the outside world.

Perhaps that is where you need to be right now – just being, just being protected, being shielded form the world outside. Perhaps it is helpful to imagine yourself in that picture, under his wings…?

God is our refuge…

…o0O0o…

 

God is our strength too…

Or do you find yourself lacking strength to get though each day?

Pain, suffering, sorrow and loss are exhausting. Even the simplest of tasks can seem like mountains to be climbed.

Philippians 4:13 tells us

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

 

We need his help…

In our times of pain and weakness, God can be our strength. He longs to help us. In the Old Testament we can read of Moses, where he is facing a battle and at one point Joshua and Aaron come and hold up his arms when his strength is failing. All the while they are holding up his arms, they are winning the battle. And God can hold your arms up too.

I imagine for some of you, just coming here today might have been a huge step. If you are facing something that seems too huge, that you just don’t have the strength for, ask God for his strength – ask him to hold your arms up for you.

 

Jesus can be your strength.

 

 

…o0O0o…

And our third truth – Do you find yourself searching for that ever present God?

 

God is ever present? Sometimes that might seem laughable.

We may find ourselves questioning… wondering… not understanding

‘How could he let this happen?’

‘Why Lord?’

‘I don’t understand God…?’

And there may be no answers to those questions, there may never be, but he is always present – within what we are facing and what we are living with, of that we can be sure.

In Narnia, in the perpetual winter, there were rumours of Aslan’s return – Aslan, the lion, the king, who promised a hope for the future. ‘Aslan is on the move’ people would say. Fleeting glances were seen, snatched conversations were had amongst those who dared to hope even when they couldn’t be sure, when they couldn’t see him.

 

This is from the book after Aslan is mentioned…

And now a very curious thing happened… the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different…. At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in its inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music has just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer.

Just as the children experienced in the story, they didn’t see Aslan nor could they be sure that he would return, and sometimes God is like that for us. Sometimes we can feel that we just don’t know where God is, we are in that roaring water the Psalm talked of, or a stark swirling snowstorm, stuck in that perpetual winter with no Spring in sight. But perhaps, just perhaps we might see a fleeting glimpse, we might sense him with us, we might just feel a glimmer of Hope, or recognise a truth we can cling to within that.

Perhaps in a passing sense of him truly being our refuge, a feeing of safety. Or maybe an unfathomable strength in a moment we thought we couldn’t face.

 

Psalm 56:8 notes:

 

You keep track of all my sorrows

You have collected all my tears in your bottle.

You have recorded each one in your book.

 

I know for myself, there is nothing God is afraid of, nothing he can’t face with us. He has been with me through illness, through pain and suffering, through dark times and sometimes his presence, fleeting as it might have been, has been the one thing that gave me the strength to keep going.

He is there in our joy and celebration, and he is there in our grief too. He knows our pain and walks with us in it.

God is an ever-present help in trouble

And my prayer is that you will recognize his presence with you as you walk through your own journey.

 

Back Update // Week 4 Post-Op

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Small pleasures, brand new ‘TOMs’ for walking in…

Another update on my back…

So this week is week 4 since the op and it’s been a week of two halves. People told me at week 3 I’d start to feel a lot better and that was true, last week I felt I really turned a corner, stopped taking all pain killers (woop!) and was able to do quite a bit more. The result of this was (which I was also warned about) that I did too much and then was exhausted and in pain again. And when I say overdid it, I mean just a few outings of about an hour each. So then, Tuesday this week became a write off as I pretty much went back to bed. I’ve been quite taken aback just how tired I am and how the simplest of things takes so long to do. I get up, have breakfast or a shower, then have to go back to bed for an hour. Get up for a walk, then go back to bed… and so on, that’s the pattern of the day. Apparently this is normal but I still wasn’t prepared for it. Pre-op Googling that suggested some people were back to work after 2-3 weeks! frankly, they must have been lying…

On top of all that but last week we made the final decision to cancel our holiday, which was gutting as we had booked it a year ago and would have been going with friends. But to be honest it would have been too much of a risk and based on what I can do at the moment would probably have set me back in my recovery. So then we thought we’d just find somewhere local, maybe hire a cottage and just hang out together somewhere away from home. We miraculously found somewhere near the beach and then a day later (also on Tuesday) the owner decided they wanted it that week and they cancelled our booking. Gutted again.

So, Tuesday I think was the lowest point so far. Funny to think of all I, well we, have been through and it was 4 weeks post-op that that point came. I guess it was just a culmination of all these things, doing too much, being exhausted, the holiday fiasco and as the kids have now broken up from school too, realising that I was going to a pretty dull Mummy this summer.

Henna fun

So, in all that where was God? Of course right next to me as he always is! But I have to admit, I had a few moments of wondering. In the end all I could do was to go back to my iPod, and the ‘epic worship playlist’, set it going and fell asleep. Yet again the scripture ‘Be still and know that I am God’ has been my comfort. When all I could do was lay down and cry, I know that he was right with me. I refuse to give in to the enemy, whatever is thrown at me will just draw me closer to my heavenly Father. Matt Redman did an interview at our church a few weeks ago (available online here) and he talked of those tough times when you just pray ‘help me’, but also how important it is to also pray ‘hallelujah’. That’s what I choose, to seek him and praise him, whatever I ‘feel’.

I’ve been delving into John this week, I really love his more spiritual approach, and I’ve been struck in Chapter 3 where Jesus says again and again ‘I tell you the truth’, and finally in verse 21:
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‘but who ever lives by the truth comes into the light says it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God’.

The only way I can remain positive, full of faith and upbeat, is through the truth of Jesus Christ and who he is in my life. 

So, with that in mind, the positives… thankfully the week has improved and I have to remind myself (again) it’s only a few weeks since the op. I am now walking up to 1 1/2 miles each day and the weather is beautiful so this is a real joy. I mean it would be a joy anyway having been cooped up for so long but in the sunshine it is doubly so! Plus I can walk with the kids as they are off, stopping off at the village cafe for an ice cream each day. I’ve enjoyed spending time with the kids, playing card games in bed, watching cricket with them on the ipad (Hashtag TheAshes !) and having fun with henna with the youngest.

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Date ‘hour’ on the beautiful South Downs.

We also managed a date night (or date hour) for the first time in weeks having some time to hang out and chat with my lovely husband without discussing back pain, surgical intervention or how we would manage the week ahead. Chips on the South Downs, just for an hour, but lovely…

And finally I got my nails done this week! When I was first off I decided to get gel nails (never had them before) as a treat to cheer me up. Then I found out I couldn’t have them for the op, then I found I couldn’t sit long enough after it, so finally I got them done this week and they look fab – thanks Kim!

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funky nails!

I have also taken a decision to really focus on my health – if that’s not an obvious thing to say after all this! – but I realised having totally lost my appetite after the op I hadn’t yet re-gained it and just wasn’t feeling hungry, let alone enticed by any food. So I’ve set myself a little programme of healthy snacks and things to give me energy, and tried to get excited about cooking again – which I can now do to a certain extent (with the help of kids now on summer hols!) plus I’ve started talking multivitamins too.

And another big achievement this week (well it will be, as not yet happened!) is that I will be at church preaching on Sunday – all being well. My Vicar told me not to worry when he realised I was on the rota, but I really want to do this, simply so I can stand up there and give glory to God for all he has done in the last few weeks. I won’t be able to do the whole service but I am really excited about this!

So there were are. Still rather up and down but I am improving and God is still good!

Some More Thoughts on Being in Pain

This post first appeared on blogger here on 12/5/15.

So a few weeks ago I visited Premier Radio and made the most of the freebie mags in the reception area, stocking up my bag for later reading. Yesterday as I sat in a pain/drug induced heap I reached for the nearest thing to me to try and take my mind off my failing body. Youthwork magazine was on the top of the pile and in no coincidence I’m sure, features this fabulous article by Danielle Strickland about pain. She suggests, in a nutshell, that not only do we need pain but that it is a gift and through it God speaks to us.  (Note there is a link above but to read it you need to sign up for the free trial, or subscribe, sorry about that).
Do read it if you can, I’ve read it three times now and keep finding more things to ponder upon and it’s sent me straight back to the book of Job for some theological reflection (my Tutors at #VicarSchool would be so proud).
Like Strickland, I’ve been taught in the school that says pain and suffering is never of God and that we should pray until it’s gone. I don’t disagree with that but equally I’m not sure I sign up to it 100% either. I’m not even thinking about the whole predestination thing or what prayer is about, I’m just thinking: why should we expect to go through a life without pain or suffering? Which is basically what this school of thought expects – a life of ‘unsuffering’. I mean where does that come from? The bible is full of people suffering and in pain and yes I know there’s also masses of healing too, but there’s also those that live through it.

I think I see the idea of life without pain and suffering as the ultimate goal, the kingdom of God here on earth, which we’ll one day see. But by the same token, although that kingdom is here and now, it’s also not yet.
The danger of believing that pain can be dealt with by praying it away is that when it doesn’t, where do you go? I spent months if not years praying against exhaustion and CFS. There was no instant miracle, there was a gradual recovery and perhaps that was of God, after all I did improve and I do lead a relatively normal life. But it was not what I was seeking. In fact I think it was when I let go of waiting for a miracle that I was actually able to find God in it all.
So now. Today. Still in pain but better than the day before. I want to sit and just be, but I’m not sure I’m capable of it so I’m varying my day with some reading and some vegging. And in the reading, as I said, I find myself drawn back to Job. I do find the book of Job a comfort. I did when I was ill with exhaustion and I do now. There’s something about the not understanding what’s going on and why awful stuff is happening, that Job helps with. And what is his reaction to the hideous things that happen to him? Simple: he falls down and worships God. Not after a good moan, then he turns to God. Not once he’s got angry and shouted, then he turns to God. Not after the initial shock, then he turns to God. No, the first thing he does is to worship. And Job didn’t just have a bit of back pain, he lost everything (except his wife – I’m sure there something in there to reflect on…). Everything. Home, business, family, all gone in one day.
I wish I could say I reacted as he did. But I am choosing to today. To seek God in it all. I don’t think he made this happen, I don’t think it’s what he wanted to happen but I sure do believe he can redeem this pain. Even in my drug-pain-fuddled state, I choose to see this as an opportunity. An opportunity to spend time with him and to listen. I was scribbling notes in my journal earlier only to see at the bottom of the page written: ‘Be Still and know that I am God’ from Psalm 46.
Yes. Just this…

Practising being still

I have been challenged recently about resting, and about being still. more specifically being still and resting in Gods presence. Being still and knowing that He is God. Being still is not something I do naturally but I have been trying for some time to be more so.  Today has been very restful, after a rather emmotional rollercoaster yesterday (will be posted about later..). today I have spent time with my mum and aunt having morning tea, for 2 whole hours. 2 hours!! this never happens – usually my tea goes cold because I go onto something else and forget it is there. Then I have had a leisurely lunch in the  garden whilst reading Jeremiah (this is where I have got to in the reading through the bible project I set myself some time back. lets just say Jeremiah is not an easy read..)
Anyway in pursuit of stillness I just sat for a while in the garden. Just sat, no praying, no reading, and this is what I noticed:

: a sparrow dance across the garden and catch a bee in mid flight
: swallows swooping beautifully over the field behind us
: the incredibly loud hum of a host of flying insects enjoying the privet flowers
: wafts of flower fragrances
: a bird feeding its young in the nest in the roof
: colour – the colours of blooms against each other
: the shape of an interesting leaf
: how high the hazel tree has grown in a few weeks
: the amazing angle of a plant stem hanging over the grass seeming to defy gravity
: the heat of the sun on my skin
: the sound of a birds wings beating together just over me
and more…
These things are of God. No, they are God. All these things which I just take for granted, but how amazing to just take a few moments and relish them for what they are.  If ony we all did this more often. Wonder at the things around us. the simple things, yet the things that are God, all around us, every day.
Be still, and know that I am God…  Psalm 46:10