Funeral Teas and picnics in enemy territory – the theology of comfort

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A silly Facebook conversation sparked by the shocking revelation that most Americans don’t know what a sausage roll is has had me thinking about church funeral teas. (I know, my mind is a funny place to live!!) It got me to thinking that everyplace I have lived in has marked the passing of a loved one with gathering together around food. The food changes from country to country, but the tradition of bringing food to the bereaved and sharing a plate together is the same. I remember in Ireland after my mum’s passing being loved by plateful of scones and traybakes (for those who don’t know what a traybake is you really need to visit Northern Ireland but there is one recipe in photo above). This happened both at the house and at the church after the service – no one went home without having shared a cup of tea and a bite to eat. In Malawi I have sat around shared plates of nsima and stew. In South Africa I shared tea with samosas and milk tart amongst other yummy sweet thing. There is comfort in eating together and bringing food to share is a tangible way of showing our care.

God says He brings us that same comfort in Psalm 23

Psalm 23.4-6 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil;my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Now, I’m not someone who easily loses her appetite, but for many people eating whilst stressed, in trouble or grieving eating can be hard. But God says to us that even amongst your enemies, the place where you are most afraid and scared I’ll set up a picnic for you. He says in tough times when you don’t know where to turn – sit down and eat with me.

He did the same with the disciples when they were running scared after’s Jesus’ crucifixion:

John 21.12 -13 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.

So I figure that when we bring someone in trouble or sorrow a plateful of something yummy to share it is a God-image way of saying: I love you, I care for you. Of saying that things look bad, but let’s take a breather and have a cup of tea together.

The next time that I feel overwhelmed by what is around me I plan to take the same strategy – sit down, take a deep breath, make a cup of tea and have a chat with my heavenly father who lays on picnics in enemy territory.

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Suicide Prevention Day and Missing Mum – Part 2 aka I’m okay

Wow – I was a bit taken aback by the response to my last post about Mum’s suicide. Thank you for all the love and kind comments. I feel I needed to add one more thing. Although mum’s death sucks (see I’m still trying to get that term adopted by theologians!), I am okay. At the time it felt like the world was going to end – I think Auden summed that feeling up well

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come…..

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

H. Auden

But the clocks didn’t stop and life carried on.

(For some people a suicide of a loved one can trigger more suicides within their community – it seems a weird thing to say or describe but once you know someone who committed suicide it becomes an option that maybe wasn’t there before – if that is how you feel speak up (Samaritans are here if you don’t have anyone you feel you can speak to))

You see God has a way of working with broken hearts – He doesn’t leave us that way.

Isaiah 61. 1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion– to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. 4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. 

Yes, I miss mum, she has missed out on so many ‘big’ events in my life and so much of the little stuff. But life has carried on and good things have happened. How did it happen? Well I know they say that times heals wounds, but honestly it is more like God and His people do. The care and love that I have received from my church in Cape Town and my church at home in Belfast has been amazing. The friends and family who just stood on our doorstep in tears of sadness and shock have become people who enjoy sharing fond memories of mum and who comment when they see her personality in me. God takes what is broken and, if we let Him, heals it. I love the picture that He binds up the broken hearted – He doesn’t magic it back together – there may still be cracks and scars. It is not the same without Mum, but that is okay.

So if you are going through a loss, by suicide or by any other means, know that life does carry on and that is okay. Don’t feel guilty about it. Let God’s people come around you – yes they don’t know what to say to make you feel better, yes they may say the wrong thing sometimes (this didn’t happen to me, but I have heard many shockers!!), but more often than not they are also broken hurt people too trying to muddle their way through. Muddle together.

And what is the result? God says He will make us into Oaks of Righteousness, that He will use us for rebuilding other people who have been broken. Oaks are wonderful trees – tall and strong with very hard wood, with roots that shoot out deep looking for water in dry times. They live long and grow in many conditions.

I’m glad that God can turn what has broken my heart into something that can bring Him glory and help others in their hurt. I’ll gladly be an Oak seedling for Him. Yes, Mum’s death still sucks, but I am okay.

Healing by Life

 

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(Photo credit: Doug Wheller)

Yesterday’s sermon has been rolling around my mind – Pastor John spoke on healing. Sometimes God heals dramatically, sometimes gradually, sometimes though medical science. I have been thinking about another way that God heals and that is through life.

If I think back to when we lost Mum through suicide it felt like the world should stop and that living would be too painful. Yet looking back now over the past years I see that our family has healed. By healing I do not mean that things are back the way they were before – often healing leaves marks and scars, just a healing a cut does. Yet I am ok, I can breath again. What happened between then and now? Life happened. God did not stop the world when it felt as if my world had ended. There have been births, deaths and marriages since then. There have been other blessings and other sorrows. Life crept in and brought with it healing.

Matthew 5:45 He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

For me one of the ways God brings healing is through the continuation of everyday life – the rain falls, the sun still sets, even though you feel it should not. And little by little life and healing creep in.

Colossians 2:15 He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

In Him all things hold together. He is the one who keeps the universe going when you wish it would stop.

I don’t want to be so crass as to say that time heals all wounds – that is not true. But I do believe that God does – though miracles, though medicine and also though life.

Eight Years

Eight years are the words in my mind today. Eight full years since we lost mum. It is hard to believe that time has gone by so fast – at the time it seemed like the world stood still. Yet we have continued, and on the whole we have done well and grown stronger. Most of the times thinking of her does not make me sad, in fact as a family we mostly share happy memories, yet at the time words like ‘suicide’ and ‘mental illness’ seemed unbearable and insurmountable.

As time passes grief changes, yet it does not fully pass away. Each new phase of live brings a new grief of things she missed out on. Wedding dresses picked out without her, newlyweds not getting motherly advice, recipes unshared and now motherhood. The thought that she will not get to hold my baby girl when she is born is a fresh grief as raw as the first grief eight years ago.

Yet as time moves on and grief changes its face I am still reminded and rely on the fact that although we grieve we are not without hope. Mum loved the Lord so I know that our separation is temporary, I know that in heaven she is completely healed and restored and I know that Jesus is still in the business of transforming my grief into something beautiful that will bring glory to Him.

Isaiah 61:1-4  The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,  2  to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn,  3  and provide for those who grieve in Zion– to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.  4  They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.

In His hands my grief does not lead to despair. So although I may be sad sometimes about what Mum has missed and about what I have lost in not having her with me I choose to hand over my grief to the One who is acquainted with sorrow and to the One who can transform it into something of splendour, something that rebuilds and restores. I choose not to hold tightly to my grief but to entrust into the hands of the One who loves me enough to give me the costly gift of His Son.

Meringue-a-thon

This weekend has been a meringue-a-thon for me – cooking lots of little bite sized meringues for a friend’s wedding next weekend. As I was packing the last of them into the freezer (yes, you can freeze meringues) I laughed to myself about what these lovely fluffy bites were made of (the recipe I use is here). In actual fact these bites of lovely sweetness are nothing more than 4 slimy egg whites, a heap of sugar and a splash of vanilla (I forgot the vanilla in some batches!). Eaten on their own the slimy egg whites would make me gag and the heap of sugar would make me chock and I have never been tempted to take a swig of vanilla start from the bottle. But if you take these same three ingredients beat them madly and then stick them in a hot oven a little miracle happens – more-ish meringues fit to celebrate a wedding.

Our lives are so often like these meringues. If we try to break our lives down into the basic ingredients many parts seem to be unpalatable – we have things we go through that we don’t enjoy, suffering, periods of stress, difficulties. Yet in the hands of God he can transform these seemingly simple ingredients into something wonderful.

Romans 5:3-4  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  4  perseverance, character; and character, hope.

It is the tough times – the beating, the cooking – the uncomfortable times can transform the seemingly random and unpalatable ingredients of our lives into something beautiful.

Verses that I keep returning to since mum’s death speak of this beauty that comes after suffering:

Isaiah 61:1-3  The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,  2  to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn,  3  and provide for those who grieve in Zion– to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.

So while I do not enjoy the tough times – they taste bad to me – I do recognise that in the hands of a loving heavenly father they can be transformed into something beautiful that displays His glory. So while I think some of the ingredients of my life are unpalatable I hand them all over to Him who can transform them into something sweet and more-ish

A community for broken hearts?

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I’m not great at fixing things. I don’t always have the patience to do a good job. This week a cycle of Grief Share finished at the church – lives have be touched, people have been comforted in the grief, but Oh how I wish I could tap them on the head on the way out the door and say you have been fixed, no more grieving for you. But grief is not an easily containable and controllable emotion – you think you have it tamed and then someday it bites you when you least expect it.

While not everyone I know has lost someone in tragic circumstances, I am discovering that most people have some hurt or burden that they are bearing – a broken relationship, abuse, guilt over a mistake – we are all bruised in some way – by others or by our own choices. We have just become experts in hiding it, like hiding away our wounds so that no one can bump them or make them worse.

One of my favourite passages is the declaration of Jesus’ work in Isaiah:

Isaiah 61:1-3  The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners

I love that one of Jesus’ missions is to bind up the broken hearted – there is no mention of who is to blame for the heart break – if it is self inflicted, by others or just by being bumped around in a fallen world. He wraps firmly the broken heart – this word for broken heart can also be the burst heart, the crushed, the in pieces.

One of the ways that I have discovered that Jesus does this is through the help of others. I have found that there is healing in sharing our hurts and brokenness with others. By sitting together and tenderly sharing our stories there is a binding that happens that helps heal us. I think James meant something similar:

James 5:16  Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

Somehow through sharing there is healing. God has put us in a community of believers. If we are vulnerable enough to share our weaknesses and hurts, to bear one another up, then we can be a community  healing and binding hearts. Too often we tried to heal our hurts on our own and to fix things ourselves, but God didn’t design us that way. Are you willing to share your heart and bear another’s burden? God is in the business of binding up the broken hearted  and that is Family business in which I think I can find a place.

Beholding Glory

Transforming Headgear

I’m just not a hat person. Watching the royal wedding I found most of the hats very amusing.  Perhaps I just don’t have the courage to go out with a giant pretzel on my head, but also I just don’t have a head for hats – too much out of control curly hair. (One old guy in the Church calls me the Wild Irish Woman – which I think is a reference to my hair – I hope!) I even remember having to make a hat in art class when I was about 13 – I made a hat with a giant leech coming out the side, so you see I don’t even have good enough taste to wear a hat in public! But there is some headwear that I appreciate – it is the headwear that God gives us. When we lost mum to suicide I wondered if we could ever recover – she was the one whom the family rotated around – the one with the mad ideas and plans. But inexplicably, under God’s hand, I can see that our family has not sat down in the ashes of mourning and stayed there. You see God is in the business of giving out headwear to that transforms us.

Isaiah 61:1-3  The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,  2  to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn,  3  and provide for those who grieve in Zion– to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.

Looking back, although we are still the same motley bunch there is something beautiful that has happened to those of us who have let God take our pain. To see peace and service, joy and comfort after grief is a beautiful crown.

I have a plan for my crown through – I still don’t think I’ll ever have a head for hats, but I will cling onto it until the right time.

Revelation 4:9-11  Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever,  10  the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:  11  “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”

You see no matter how beautiful the headgear is it won’t compare to the beauty of Jesus. So I’ll cling onto my crown for now, thankful for God’s transformation from ashes to beauty, but when the time is right I think I lay it down before the One who is truly beautiful and the one who transforms us.

 

Beholding Glory