Thank you God for Winter Trees.

The trees at the bottom of our garden

I love trees, but never took much notice of them in the winter season.  It was always the elation of spotting the first spring buds and the diversity of unfolding green leaves that brought me joy and, in early summer, the blossom of Cherry and Magnolia.  Autumn, too, is a favourite season, with its dazzling display of gold, russet, purple, yellow and scarlet.  As the trees discard their leaves, I dread the onset of winter and spend much of my time longing for signs of the next season’s golden crocus.  

February, 2018

Our family was going through a particularly tough time.  We were in the midst of an unsettling house move while, at the same time, helping to care for my husband’s younger brother.  He had been diagnosed with lung cancer, which he endured for almost a year before it became too aggressive for anything more to be done for him.  It was devastating to witness Leigh’s deterioration.  He had always been full of energy and forever up to mischief.  He was a lovable rogue.  As the end approached we sat with him, his physically wasted body wrapped in a soft, peach-coloured comfort blanket.  Leigh lost control of all of his bodily functions except the ability to smile, and we will never forget his cheeky grin which was present right up until he lost consciousness.

Following Leigh’s death, I became increasingly depressed and, what was worse, I felt unable to fully support my husband. This made me angry with myself. On the nights when I couldn’t sleep, I would stand at the back door and stare blankly at the trees at the bottom of our garden.  As I stared, my exhausted mind numb and empty, I began to notice how beautiful they were.  Though dark, bare and skeletal, the naked branches were like black threads embroidered on the winter sky.  Sometimes the sky was cloudy but, often, as is found on cold, winter nights, there would be a clearly visible moon surrounded by a multitude of brightly shining stars.  This served to make the sight of the stark trees even more impressive.  I began to look forward to those nocturnal moments of peace and wonder, and they gave me the strength to, somehow, participate in the shared grief of our family.  

 Summer, 2018

What a beautiful summer we had here in the uk with, what seemed like, endless days of sunshine – unusual for our little corner of the world!  My husband, myself and our daughter, who still lives at home, spent lots of time just sitting in the garden enjoying each other’s company.  Discussions would sometimes be serious, such as the state of mental health welfare in the uk – a subject close to our hearts, but often our banter would be light-hearted like how the rose we had planted for Leigh turned out to be ruby-coloured, despite there being a picture of an orange rose on the packaging.  We laughed at that, imagining it was Leigh’s sense of humour at play.  We had initially chosen an orange rose as we felt that was the colour that suited his personality.  As it happened, whoever had caused the mistake in the packaging, blessed us … it was the most beautiful rose we had ever seen.  Life became more settled for us and I enjoyed those pleasant interludes, sitting in the garden amidst the summer blooms with the trees towering in the background, displaying foliage of all shapes and shades of green.  We were drawn together as a family and supported each other through our grief. 

 Now and then, though, I wondered how I would feel after the summer leaves turned to rustic autumn shades and, finally, ended up decaying on the lawn, leaving the trees in a naked state once again.  Would I forget how their beauty had helped me through my time of sorrow?  Would I, once again, become indifferent to them and only long for the arrival of spring?  

  winter, 2018

We’re well into winter as I write this and I am still able to be overcome by the beauty of the trees.  I had never taken the time during winters to notice how tall and graceful they stand and that, by shedding their leaves, how they reveal their full glory.  I thank God for giving me those special moments of appreciation and for the knowledge that he is always there.

 

   

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The True Code of Life

I’m reblogging this fascinating post that Mick has written. It particularly excites me because it reinforces my faith in that science and God are not contradictory, and many of the concepts are truly thought provoking.

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Unknown to most of the world is that within us all is an advanced deep intelligent system operating and programming and re-programming and creating us 1000s of times in minutes. If people knew the advanced computer system operating within them it would blow their mind. There is a depth of ancient wisdom operating well beyond what we are aware of and out of our control.

Our DNA is deeply advanced and is what makes us who we are. But what is DNA and what is it actually doing? Within our DNA is billions of data stored from our ancestors and all through time. It is still recording data now.

Humans share 99.9% the same DNA as other humans and over 90% with a mouse and 50% with a banana. This tells me that absolutely everything that has ever lived is related and is connected going back through history to the…

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Hundreds Attend the ASWA Memorial Service for Animals

All of God’s creation suffers during times of war. It’s right that we should remember the sacrifice of all of God’s creatures, humankind and non-humankind. What a beautiful tribute in the following prayers and intercession.

11.11.18 Park Lane

Hundreds attended the War Memorial Service for Animals, organised by the Anglican Society for the Welfare of Animals (ASWA) at the Animals in War Memorial in London’s Park Lane on Sunday 11th November 2018 at 3.00pm.  The service was led by Rev. Helen Hall.  Many wreaths were laid including those by ASWA, CCA and the Animal Interfaith Alliance (AIA).

AIA wreath

Fr. Martin Henig read some of the prayers including the following intercession:

Father, we pray for all the animals, who have suffered in war as a direct result of armed conflict, we remember , in particular on this day, the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended the First World War, those killed in that conflict, while serving the aims of humans. Let us not forget our own sin, our own culpability in so often treating other animals with indifference and cruelty.
They could not choose:
Let us remember them.

Father…

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She refused to hate

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The purpose of Remembrance Sunday is to remember and honour those who lost their lives in, not only the ‘Great War’ (World War I 1914-1918), but all wars, past and present.  There were millions of deaths during World War I, both military and civilian, due to fighting in battle and war-related famine and disease, as well as millions who went missing, presumed to be dead.

We should also remember and honour  animals who served in war, through no choice of their own.  “Horses, donkeys, mules and camels carried food, water, ammunition and medical supplies to men at the front, and dogs and pigeons carried messages.  Canaries were used to detect poisonous gas, and cats and dogs were trained to hunt rats in the trenches.”   The Imperial War Museum (GB)  You can read more here.

While we remember and honour the dead, I believe Remembrance Sunday can also be a time of reflection,  a time to embrace peace and a time for finding compassion.  We can do this by looking inwards because peace begins with ourselves, and by acknowledging that it isn’t only our own people who suffer during war, but those from opposing sides also.

This is a passage from the book  ‘Etty Hillesum: A Life Transformed’  by Patrick Woodhouse.  Etty lost her life in Auschswitz at the age of 29.

“Sorrow is also, she says, not a private fenced-in thing.  It crosses boundaries.  As you learn to sorrow, you will find yourself united with all sorrowing peoples, even the sorrowing hearts of the enemy, even with German mothers, ‘for they too sorrow for their slain and murdered sons’.  And not just mothers, as though it is the men who fight and the women who wait at home and weep, for elsewhere she writes,  ‘… German soldiers suffer as well.  There are no frontiers between suffering people …'”

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Etty Hillesum refused to hate  She says,

“Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it towards others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will be in our troubled world.” – ‘An Interrupted Life: The Diaries and Letters of Etty Hillesum 1941-43’

It is worthy to honour those who fought for our country, but if we cannot find compassion for others who died – people just like ourselves – then how can we hope to be an example to our children and bring about a more peaceful world. We also need to pray for our leaders, that they will make wise decisions and do all they can to promote peace.

God of Love, God of Peace,
This fractured world
Cries out in pain,
Burns deep into my soul,
And challenges me,
To make a difference.

God of Love, God of Peace,
God of this world,
Scarred by grief and tears,
Ignorance and fear,
Soften hearts of stone,
And begin with mine.

God of Love, God of Peace,
Create within me
A heart for people,
A desire for change,
For new beginnings
To start this day.

(John Birch  faithandworship.com)

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Experiencing Heaven

I was going to write a post about Etty Hillesum, a brave, young woman caught up in the holocaust, and then I came across Simon’s post. He has written it perfectly, so I’m re-blogging his post instead.

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I am reading a wonderful book at the moment which tells the story of a girl called Etty Hillesum. Etty grew up in Holland in the 1930’s in a non-practicing Jewish family that was very dysfunctional. By the early 1940’s when Germany had overrun Holland she had left home and was living quite an unrestrained life style as a chaotic and troubled young woman. Over the next two and half years she was transformed into someone very different who went on to inspire many who were suffering under the hands of the Nazis. She herself eventually perished at Auschwitz. She was an avid diary writer and this book I am reading uses her diaries to tell her story. It is an amazing story of a girl who lived in a hell but found out how to transform herself to experience heaven while still surrounded by such evil. It was not…

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Love Letter to You from God

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My Beloved (insert your own name here),

I want you to know that I share your pain.  I suffer with you because you are my precious child.  I loved you before you were even born and I will always love you.  You might feel that I am far away right now, but I am here beside you and I will be with you for every step of the way … and my way is love, so even though you may wonder at times why life seems too difficult, I will always open your eyes to the good that can come from bad.  Believe me, my child, I am not the author of your pain, but I will walk through it with you until it passes and, even then, I will never leave you.

I want you to know that I am here.  I am your Father –  I am your Mother, and  you fill me with joy.  Our relationship is special – our bond is unbreakable, and nothing can separate you from my love.  What I want most for you is to come to know me as I truly am, share my love and live a life of joy, resting in the knowledge that whatever lies ahead you will never be alone.

Shalom,

Your loving Parent.

 

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Digging Out

This post from James is a wonderful example of how healing can begin, no matter how crushed we may feel. Believe it is possible.

DiggingOutJust a couple days ago, I drove home with my car window down, enjoying the milder weather and an unusually sunny day here in Pittsburgh. What a difference a couple days make! This morning, I could barely get my storm door open with the ice lodged between the concrete and the metal frame. After that minor struggle, I looked out to my lawn covered in 5 inches of snow, and reached around the side wall for the snow shovel so that I could begin the process of digging out.

Thanks to Facebook’s “On this Day” feature, I was reminded that it was today, five years ago, that I went back to church. It was the first time I had attended a service at Celebration Community Church. Well, the first time I had attended there was about a month before, for my wife’s memorial service. This church, specifically their pastor, had…

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Merry Christmas! Not always …

“For some people, the holidays are pure torture. It’s not cheerful, merry, or anything to celebrate. It can be a time for heightened anxiety, fear, depression, solitude, and dread. To help people understand, a graphic designer named Emma Rose created illustrations adapted from interviews of real people living with mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and bipolar II.”

via Surviving the Holidays with a Mental Illness Using Illustrations — Ophelia’s

This is an excellent post which has helped me to understand that Christmas isn’t a happy time for everyone. (Lesley)

 

What Jesus wants for us in 2018

What does 2018, a new year, hold for us?

Many of us might be afraid to look too far ahead, or have no motivation to think about it at all … for reasons of what we may consider to be personal failure, hurts caused by others, or we could be in the grip of the terrible despair of depression, whether situational or the kind that always seems to be there, passed down from one generation to the next.  It could be a multiple mix of causes, leaving us feeling helpless and without any optimism for what others see as the wonderful prospect of a whole new year ahead.

Perhaps the best thing is not to think too much about our own desires for now.  Our present feelings of hopelessness could destroy any wistful hopes and dreams for the future … and if we seek any comfort from the church,  it’s not difficult to see how that often comes to no fruition due to the perpetual emphasis on how sinful we are – hymns that tell us what a ‘wretch’ we are and how, as newborn babies, we are born sinners.  Forget all those emotionally abusive terms and human-constructed concepts that have nothing to do with what Jesus came to teach.

First of all, he wanted to teach us about love – how to love God and how to love and care for each other.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and the greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  Matthew 22: 36-40 (New International Version)

Secondly, Jesus did not teach condemnation.  Neither did he judge.  He did, however, want us to enjoy life and to live it to the full.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  John 10: 10 (New International Version)

So, for now, let’s not think of what we would like to happen lest we talk ourselves into defeat, but think instead of how Jesus feels about us and what he wants for us. Jesus was the best example of a person who enjoyed the closest of relationships with God and he wanted to show how this is possible for us too.  Let’s allow ourselves to be loved by Jesus and let him lead us into a relationship with God.  His invitation is open to everyone, no one is excluded.  Once we truly feel this love and put God first in our lives, we will find things fall into place.

“Seek the kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”  Matthew 6: 33 (New Living Translation)

Most importantly, Jesus doesn’t want us to dwell on a future heavenly kingdom.  He wants us to be a part of it now, a kingdom where we are able to love and respect ourselves and others and to learn how to care the way that Jesus does.

Happy New Year!

daughter

 

 

Doctrine – does it really matter?

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I read a blog post yesterday in which someone was writing about why people who are from the Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints (commonly known as Mormons) denomination are not Christian.  Another person from that church replied in defense of their beliefs.  I won’t go into detail about the content of the post and the ensuing replies, but I felt terribly saddened.

We debate needlessly on things that don’t matter.  We all do it. Should we wear a cross or not and is it a crucifix? – if so, Christ rose from the dead so the cross should be empty. Was Christ really born on the 25th of December?  Should we take our confessions to a priest or directly to God?  Should women cover their heads in church?  And so it goes on. These were not the subjects of this particular post, by the way … I’m just giving examples of things people from all denominations/religions often argue about.

I don’t think that God cares much for doctrine.  Arguing needlessly over it takes our focus away from the important things in life – the things Jesus taught, such as loving and taking care of each other.  Why do we put ourselves into little boxes with set rules and then criticise others for their own particular box and rules?  If we believe that we have the freedom to formulate our own beliefs then, surely, it is only right to allow others to do so also without confronting them.

If only we could understand how much each of us have in common.  We are all loved by God, however we define him/her/it, and we are all made in God’s image – just wrapped up in different packages, that’s all. If we could learn to recognise the divinity that is in each and every one of us, we could also learn that petty differences of doctrine don’t really matter at all.