Remembered

“At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them.” Robert Binyon

November is a traditional month of remembrance. It’s customary for us to wear poppies during this month to remember all those lost to us during wars and conflict. It is also, in the Catholic tradition, the month of ‘Holy Souls’ where we pray and remember all departed friends and family.

November is also the month my mother died – on the 14th to be exact – three days before my birthday. So, each November since, when I celebrate and remember the day I was born, I also find myself remembering and mourning the very person who gave me that birthday.

My mother died on a Saturday and we had been out to dinner to celebrate my birthday when the call had come through. I saw my phone screen light up with “private number calling” and I knew. I can remember the rush to the hospital. I can remember trying to call a taxi. I can remember worrying that we wouldn’t even get one at that time on a Saturday night. I can remember the ridiculousness of trying to run along the hospital corridor in heels. I can remember us arriving on the ward, the noise of which awakened some of the other patients. I can remember the wait, as they found someone to speak to us; it felt too long.

“Where is the urgency? Don’t they know?” I angrily asked my husband.

“They’re doing their best,” he gently told me.

I can remember them pulling back the hospital curtain and asking them, “Is it too late?”

“Sorry she’s gone,” was the reply.

I don’t really remember much of that night after that.

Life and death

That first birthday after she died, my 25th, I remember my friends and family nervously presenting me with a combination of sympathy cards and birthday cards. “I am so sorry for your loss!” and” Happy Birthday!” mumbled by them in quick succession.

Once all the visitors had left I took all the birthday cards down and just left the sympathy ones. I remember thinking at that moment that I would never celebrate my birthday again. Away from my faith at that time, I didn’t have any hope that my mum had ‘gone on’ to anything and, maybe because of that, I didn’t have much hope that my life would go on in any meaningful way either.

Until I became a mother myself, I had no idea how important my birthday had been to my mother. She always made a big deal of birthdays , every year, even when circumstances made that very difficult to achieve. It’s something that she passed down to me and I always make an incredible fuss of everyone’s birthday but, of course, especially so for my children.

In the July after my mother died, my son turned one. The night before his birthday, my husband and I spent the evening talking through “this time last year” and remembering his birth. His birthday was, of course, his day to celebrate, but also one of the most special days of my life and suddenly I knew what it had meant for my mother.

My birthday was her day as much as mine, and I began to celebrate again in memory of her. But while that was progress of sorts, I was not yet living for me.

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:8-9

During the month of Holy Souls, we remember our faithfully departed and, as Christians, as we move from November into December we arrive at Advent – a time when we remember and prepare for the celebration of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.

And really, it is through his life, death and resurrection that we are given the hope of eternal life.

Coming to faith, for me, has meant coming to new life. Through Jesus, I now realise the true gift of life that I have been given and that I am meant to live that life to the fullest. But more than that, I now know I have hope of ‘more’!

The souls of the virtuous are in the hands of God, no torment shall ever touch them. In the eyes of the unwise, they did appear to die, their going looked like a disaster, their leaving us, like annihilation; but they are in peace. If they experienced punishment as men see it, their hope was rich with immortality; slight was their affliction, great will their blessing be.Wisdom (3:1-9)

This month, I will be remembering those I have loved who have died and I will be mourning their loss. I will also be celebrating their lives and, more than that, celebrating the great victory over death won for them – and us – by Jesus.

My mum celebrated on my birthday each year the gift of life that she had been given in me; it is the same gift I celebrate on each of my children’s birthdays. It brings me great peace and joy to know that I am now living that gift to the full, as I know this is all my loved ones would have wanted for me.

I will remember, this month especially, to honour that great gift, as I remember and honour them.

“Eternal Rest grant unto them O Lord and Let Perpetual Light Shine Upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen

May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen”

Starlight

He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Psalm 147:4

“Will you PLEASE come inside now, stargazer!”- was a refrain I would hear often when I was little. I used to spend hours sat in the field behind my house, looking at the stars. A born planner and a born dreamer, I would spend my time doing a bit of both. I was planning my escape (I had rather a lot to escape from) and I was dreaming BIG – one day I was going to reach the stars!

“He also made the stars.” Genesis 1-14:16

For many people, when they contemplate space they are reminded of their insignificance: how small they are in comparison with the vastness of the universe. I never used to feel that way, during all those hours that I sat in the starlight. Instead it felt like God had turned the lights on, just for me! I felt intrinsically comforted that the same God who created the stars had also created me. Eventually, I gave up stargazing as I also gave up on God as well, for a time at least. At some point, I forgot to look up and I forgot to look within: I stopped looking for the starlight, for God’s light. And the world grew dark for me.

Twinkle Twinkle, little star! Do you know how loved you are?”

We used to sing that refrain to our children when they were very little and it came back to me as I sat down to write this, and it made me wonder….

Do you know how loved you are? Do you know how much God loves you?

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

Somebody once told me it is easier to give love than to receive it. Now I know that this is not true of everyone, but it was true for me.

It can be so very easy to think of God, if you think of him at all, as a distant, remote figure; as far away from us as the stars in the sky and just as unreachable. It can be hard to imagine that the creator of those very stars would be in anyway relatable to you.

It can, perhaps, be even harder to imagine the kind of divine love that John 3.16 refers to: “God so loved the world that he gave his only son”. Through his life and sacrifice, Jesus showed us the depths of God’s love for us. On the cross, we find a single act of love so great that it can be hard to fathom sometimes, and even harder to feel worthy of such love.

I sit here now, filled with the same wonder I used to feel when I sat in the starlight, and I feel filled with the same sense of awe when I consider – not only God’s love for me – but also the fact that I have encountered that love in the most personal way.

 I think now of Jesus, not as a remote, distant figure, but instead as the closest of friends. You see, God wants you to know him; he wants a personal relationship with you!

The same God who created the stars, created you.

And, for me, coming to know Jesus, to develop that personal relationship with Him, has utterly transformed my life. We are told that God loves us, but until we open our hearts to accepting that love we are unable to understand that truth fully. By accepting Jesus into my heart and being filled with the Holy Spirit, I was finally able to accept God’s love for me. And by that love, and in that love, I have been saved; I have been freed, and I have been healed.

 I’ve been transformed in love.

In the starlight

When I came to learn about space in school, I was fascinated, completely gripped by the subject. When I came to learn about how my starlight came to be – what the stars were made of – it did nothing to lessen my wonder, in fact, it only enhanced it. 

Stars produce light through nuclear reactions; these reactions make the stars so hot they glow. In short, the starlight comes from fire and, from that fire, energy and light is given out. The light emitted from those stars lights up the sky and, as a child, that light did much to banish the darker parts of my childhood.

When I think of the starlight now – from my adult perspective and, more importantly, from my perspective of faith – this explanation of how the stars emit light could, very easily, be an explanation of what it feels like to be filled with God’s love.

The starlight shines down on me but God’s light shines in me. In fact, I’ve been set ablaze with God’s love; I’ve been set on fire with it and, with that fire, I’ve been pulled from the darkness and my life has been filled with light.

I’m still a dreamer and I’m still a planner and, even now, I still want to reach the stars one day. However, even when I was little, I never dreamed quite big enough to think that I would reach God one day. Of course, I didn’t know then that he was already reaching out to me!

Fog

“So, tell me what you understand of what I just said?” my driving instructor (who actually has the patience of a saint) asked me for the third time.

“Ummmm….” I thought about it. I had heard his instruction, I knew what he had said, but my brain had ceased working; I had heard sound, but no meaning. After a long pause, I had to admit that I had understood absolutely nothing of the past ten minutes. I had nothing. Literally nothing.

Unwilling, or perhaps simply unable, to bring himself to ask me a fourth time, my driving instructor proceeded with the lesson. “I am sure actually doing the manoeuvre will help you understand,” he said, rather optimistically. I proceeded to follow his instructions and complete the manoeuvre correctly. “Great!” he enthuses, “So, tell me what you just did?”

Long pause…….

“Yeah, sorry… I’ve got nothing!” I told him truthfully.

Brain fog

“I just couldn’t think!” “I drew a complete blank!”

“Sounds like you had ‘brain fog’,” my friend said to me as I recounted the above tale to her. My experience in my lesson had been far beyond normal tiredness or confusion; my brain, like a stalled engine (to push the driving imagery some more), had simply cut out. “Yes,” she told me, “brain fog can be brought on by medical conditions such as ME, but also by stress and can really interfere with your ability to think. Have you been more stressed or fatigued lately?” she asked me, knowingly. The answer to both was, of course, a very big YES! In fact, in the midst of the ongoing pandemic, I have been feeling both for quite some time. We had a chat, she made me laugh, and I felt a lot better.

Our conversation stayed with me, however, and while I may have been experiencing the temporary effects of fatigue and stress the other day, it also made me ponder a little more deeply the more long-term effects of the current situation that we are in. I realised that my ‘foggy feelings’ ran a lot deeper than one bad driving lesson or in fact one bad week.

“Come to me, all who are weary… and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28.

Fog is listed as one of the most dangerous driving hazards because – often heaviest at night and in the morning – it limits visibility to such an extent that collisions are very likely. For over six months now we have been in the midst of a global pandemic and I’m tired, I’m really tired. And like driving on a road on a foggy day – I feel my visibility is limited.

 Constantly surrounded by the underlying worry that permeates each day, reacting to each changing situation and supporting my bewildered children who are struggling to understand the latest change or new restriction, it’s becoming increasingly hard to see the road ahead. It’s easy to lose perspective, it is easy to get lost and it’s so very easy to crash!

So what do we do when surrounded by the ‘fog’ of our situation? What do we do when we are fatigued, fearful and just worn down?

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 119:105

The very good advice for driving in fog is simple: ‘don’t, if you can avoid it’. If only we had such simple options during the weather of life! For the unavoidable foggy journeys, travellers are advised to slow down and turn on their fog lights.

It turns out that studying for my hazard perception test also makes for excellent spiritual direction!

“Slow down and turn on the lights”.

I’m reminded anew about the need to just stop and be still, and to spend time with the Lord in prayer and with the scriptures.  By allowing the word of God to speak personally into my life, I know I often find myself guided, encouraged and renewed.

In prayer, is also where I find myself reminded most clearly that I am not alone in all of this; I am reminded that God is working in – not only me – but also in this current situation.  In Jesus we find a light that can penetrate the darkness, shine in all situations and reach to all corners. It is a light that never dims and never goes out and, when we live by the light of Christ, the path is illuminated before us, our visibility clears and we see the way forward and can move onwards in hope.

Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

So, if you’re reading this, and you’re tired or worried, or simply fed up. My advice; the advice that I’ve taken myself, is simply:

“Slow down and turn on the lights.”

We can’t avoid driving in this particular storm and we can’t avoid the ‘fog’ of this current crisis, but in prayer and with Jesus’s help we can be strengthened, we can be encouraged, and we can be renewed in Him.

Our faith is a fog light in the storm. It illuminates the path before us and guides us, even when we feel ourselves lost, when we can’t see clearly, when our vision dims.

Jesus is the light of the world and by allowing the light of Christ to guide us, not only do we avoid crashing ourselves, but we can also be a light to others, a guide and a support to them and, together, with God’s grace, we can weather this particular storm until it passes.