Category Archives: Personal

Facing into Bereavement

This entry is part 30 of 30 in the series Fiona

In the raw grief, terrible devastation and utter despair of the total loss of someone so central to your life, what can you possibly do? What is the next step?

Do we ever really ‘cope’ with the loss of someone we love? I mean, sure, ‘life goes on’; we still have to get on with life and survive; others also seem to cope in their own fashion. But each of us is different. Each of us wonders: when the time comes, how will I ever manage?

Well, in this series, I have attempted to share, usually in a deeply personal way, the ways in which I have coped with the loss of my dear wife, Fiona, to cancer in October 2016. The insights I have published in this series will doubtless have been helpful to others who are going through a similar thing.

I realise, though, that much of what I have written is based on my Christian faith, because much of the way in which I have coped has also been based on that faith. And I realise that not everyone shares that faith. Maybe you don’t believe in God at all; maybe you would like to believe in God but you don’t like what Religion does to society; maybe you think that a belief in God is kidding ourselves and there is really no good news in Religion at all.

And that’s all fair enough. We all believe in different things. And so, I have written this piece for the benefit of people who maybe don’t believe those faith things like I do. But we all feel pain, whether we have faith or not. And there are still practical, down-to-earth things you can do in order to help you in your grieving process; things I have learned or had to do for my own grief journey. So, in this piece, I will go through a number of such ideas which you may, or may not, find helpful. There’s a lot in this article, and it might look overwhelming, so feel free to read it over as many sittings as you need. And please feel free to take on board those things you like; and to leave behind those you don’t.

Recognise that grief is normal, and yet it is also unique

Everyone feels grief. But everyone feels it in a different way. Do not be either worried or surprised if you find yourself behaving differently from other bereaved people you have met; there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ to your grieving process or the ways in which you express your grief. There is no ‘you should feel this way’ or ‘you should not feel like that’.  Anything you feel is ‘normal’ to you, even though you may not have felt it before. Accept that this is your own personal grief journey. That’s not to say it cannot be shared, as we shall see later, but it is unique to yourself.

Recognise that grief is a journey

Time is indeed, as common folklore suggests, a great healer. In two months’ time, in a year’s time, you will not feel the same feelings and emotions about your loss that you do now. Believe it or not, these raw, uncharted and uncontrollable feelings that you feel now – they will pass. Give yourself the time and space to explore, and, if you like, express those feelings, and also, importantly, give yourself permission to have them.

Recognise that grief is healthy

It may not feel like it right now, but the process of grief is a healthy, natural process. Despite how modern society likes to view tears and emotion, grief is just as healthy as a bowl of muesli or salad. It is part of your body’s (and your mind’s) way of coping with a big life change, and for this reason grief can actually be welcomed. Even though you do not welcome the event that has caused the grief (the death of your loved one), the grief itself is the path to healing and recovery.

Get help

Death is an unavoidable part of the life journey. Because of this, there are, unsurprisingly, many ways of receiving external help which are already in place. Do not hesitate to avail yourself of the help that is available; it definitely makes the process smoother and easier. I’m listing these early on, because these are usually the most pressing things to get sorted out.

Practicalities – after your loss, the first couple of weeks or so will understandably be taken up with various ‘official’ duties such as registering the death, arranging the funeral and things like that. Registration of the death is free; certified copies of the death certificate are £4.00 each in the UK at the time of registration; £7.00 each at any later time. I recommend that you get several copies of the death certificate. It seems that everyone wants to see it at once; and not only that, but everyone wants to see a proper certified copy. A photocopy is never good enough, it seems. The other thing is that you will also receive a document which you take to the Funeral Directors; this document enables you to arrange the burial or cremation with them.

The UK has a very good ‘Tell us Once’ system where, when you register the death, you take along things like your loved one’s Driving Licence, National Insurance Number Card, Passport and similar documents, and the registrar’s staff will notify the relevant Government authorities and departments  of your change of circumstances on your behalf, so that it saves you a lot of painful rehashing of the same information to various people. This is definitely extremely helpful at such a time of intense emotional stress, and in my opinion this is one of the best ideas that Government has ever come up with. For more information on the ‘official’ side of things, in the UK at any rate, visit this link; other countries will no doubt have similar systems in place.

Funeral – One of the first things you will need to do will be to contact a Funeral Director – better if they are local – in order to begin to arrange the funeral. There will be various official things that you have to arrange with regard to this, and the Funeral Directors will have experience of this and will help you through the process. For instance, they will be able to advise on the arrangements which are needed if there is going to be a cremation; this is slightly different from a burial. They will also be able to help you find someone to advise on things like probate (if required) and the execution of the Will; many Funeral Directors offer a legal service to help with that sort of thing, and there will be a charge for this service. Although I am absolutely sure that every Funeral Director will give an excellent service – many of them see it as their life’s ‘calling’ – I would not hesitate to recommend the Co-Operative Funeral Service, which has branches all across the UK. They were recommended to me by a member of Fiona’s extended family, and they were absolutely superb.

There is also the possibility that your loved one may have had a Funeral Plan set up in order to pay for their funeral. If this is the case, they will probably have told you or another member of your family about it, so it’s worth checking that.

Funerals can be quite expensive; however, in the UK, many people are entitled to receive help with this cost, even if they are not on benefits. See the section on ‘Financial’ below.

Visiting – If you can at all face it, if it is at all possible, I would advise considering visiting your loved one’s body before the burial or cremation. I never regretted spending a last couple of hours with Fiona, even though I knew she wasn’t really ‘there’ any more. The opportunity to be able to say some final things to her was priceless beyond compare. Offer the opportunity to your family too; they might need it. And once her ashes arrived at my house, on their way to being finally buried, I gave other members of my family the chance to just sit with the box for a while and say goodbye.

This too was helpful for them. For me, both these events were instrumental in helping me to let go of her and I am so glad I did it. But naturally you might not want to do this; you might want to remember them as they were when they were living. This too is fine. You can always visit the graveside later to say anything you need to say.

Financial – You will need to contact your financial institutions, like your Bank, mortgage lender, savings institutions and so on in order to get names changed; also contact your Life Insurance company if your loved one was insured.

The UK Government provides financial help after the death of a loved one, to many people in the UK, whether or not they are on benefits. If you live in the UK, it is well worth you applying for this help – which I appreciate you may not have known about – because if you are entitled to it, then it is your right and your privilege to claim it. Don’t feel bad about it; this is what you pay your taxes for! At the time of writing, there is a one-off ‘Bereavement Support Payment’ available, to the tune of £2,000, which would go a long way towards helping with the funeral costs. When you apply for this benefit, you should also be automatically considered for all other bereavement benefits, all with the same application. More details here.

Medical – In the UK, there is plenty of medical, voluntary and professional help available for those going through bereavement. One of the main ways of accessing this help is through your doctor. Your doctor will be able to offer suggestions for first steps such as bereavement counselling; medication if necessary; and maybe they might also be able to discuss with you the illness that your loved one died of, if that was what happened. Sometimes, it’s good to discuss with your doctor things such as the events leading up to your loss, the way in which (what we call) end-of-life care works, how the body prepares itself for death by shutting down various systems (it’s actually really amazing) and reassurance that your loved one did not suffer. Your doctor will also be able to provide contact details for various counselling organisations, if that’s a route you decide you want to take. Certainly, talking with people experiened in helping bereaved people is really helpful – I myself received an excellent bereavement counselling service from the people at the local hospice where Fiona died. This approach may not be suitable for everyone, of course, but your doctor is still the person best-placed to advise you on this.

You could also consider asking your doctor to sign you off from work for a time; the practicality of this will of course depend on your workplace’s sickness absence policy and philosophy. And you might not feel like doing that now, but after a few months or so you might change your mind. Like I said, grief is different for everyone and there is no set pattern. For me, I was reasonably fine for about eight months, and then I found I had to take some time off work. You should find that your doctor is only too willing to help in this way.

Practical Help – Feel free to ask others – maybe family or friends – if they can help with things like shopping, cleaning and ironing, walking the dog, looking after the kids for a couple of hours, whatever you need. Most people will be only too pleased to help, because they will know they are doing something really practical to help you in your time of need, and this will also help them in their grieving process too. But equally if you do not feel up to receiving offered help, you should also feel free to refuse graciously. Maybe something like ‘I don’t need anything at the moment, but can I call you if I do?’ would be good.

Forgive Yourself

You might feel as if you have let your loved one down; maybe you might feel as if it’s your fault they died. Maybe you had an argument with your loved one just before they set off on the journey from which they did not return. Maybe you feel as if you contributed somehow to their loss in some way. Or perhaps there were unresolved issues in your relationship that still niggle at you. Well, everyone is different, of course, but personally I feel that there is no point in letting these things bother you anymore. You might feel there’s nothing you can do because all these things are in the past and it can’t be changed, and in itself that is true of course. But there is something you can do: although you can’t change the facts, you can change the power they have over you right now. The practical offshoot of all this is that you need to forgive yourself. Self-forgiveness means looking at the thing you think you did wrong, acknowledge it (whether it’s true or not) and then let it go. Decide that it’s in the past, and there’s no point at all in beating yourself up about it any longer. What’s done is done; you can’t change the fact, and to put it bluntly, the only person that any unforgiveness will hurt is you. So, determine right now to put that fault, be it perceived or real, behind you, leave it behind you and move on. Do this for every accusation that you feel yourself making towards yourself. This stuff, this self-forgiveness, is healthy and it works wonders for promoting healthy grieving. This is because the key to healthy grieving is to have it as guilt-free as possible. So, give yourself a break and just let it go. Forgive yourself, let the guilt go, and feel the weight just lift off you.

Forgive Others

Again, you may be aware of things that others have said to you, or to your loved one, that cannot be unsaid; that cannot be mended. Ok, these things happen. But if you hold unforgiveness in your mind, the only person it harms is you. If you are mad at someone, and they are mad at you too, they are not going to care one jot that you are mad at them. In fact they may even cherish the idea because they know you are feeling bad about them. Well, it has no constructive benefit to you at all and it certainly won’t change their behaviour or attitude towards you; all it’s going to do is to eat you up from the inside. And, at this terrible time in your life, you can do without that sort of hassle on top of the grief. The decision to forgive lies in your hands. And that decision is something you have complete control over, and it’s also something they have no control over. I’m not saying that you all need to be friends again; indeed, you don’t need to tell them that you have forgiven them because it may well be greeted with scorn anyway. You can’t control their thoughts or behaviour, neither should you try. But you do have control over your own, and that is your trump card. So, forgive, and in that way you take away their power to hold anything over you. I’m not saying you shouldn’t learn from others’ behaviour – if you ‘forgive and forget’, as the old saying goes, then you’ll never learn anything – but you owe it to yourself to release yourself from the burden of having to feel bad about those people.

Forgive your Loved One

More importantly, though, please forgive the person you have lost for any way in which you feel aggrieved by something they did, said or were. Again, you do not have the power to change the past; it really is set in stone. But, again, the power you do have is that of forgiveness. So yes, you can’t change the past, but you can change the effect it has on you. So, once again, forgive. You have absolutely nothing to lose, and everything to gain, by so doing.

 

Remember that in all three cases above, forgiveness is not a feeling, it is a decision. You decide that you are not going to let those things have any control over you any more. And when the thoughts and feelings keep popping up, push them aside as completed, dealt with, and sorted, and just get on with what you are doing. Tell those thoughts to get knotted!

It’s OK to feel relieved

While on the subject of guilt and forgiveness, you might need to hear this too.

If you lost your loved one through, for example, a long illness, once they have died, you might be surprised to feel considerable relief now they have gone. And that in itself can make you feel guilty. How is it possible for me to be relieved that my loved one has died? Well, it’s perfectly valid. You are relieved that your loved one is no longer suffering and no longer in pain. You are relieved that the waiting and uncertainty – for you, your loved one and for your family and friends – is now over. You are also relieved that your own huge struggle, at least with the impending loss of someone you hold most dear – is over. Granted, there will be things that you still need to sort out, as we have already seen, but these things will soon be done and you will know that that part of your ordeal is over. And it’s perfectly ok to feel a sense of relief about that.

Talking with Others

You will get a lot of people who will express their sorrow and sympathy for you and for your loss. Remember that they have no idea what you are going through – even if they too have suffered a bereavement; remember everyone’s grief journey is different – and they may say some insensitive things. The vast majority of the time, these people are only trying to help, and part of the problem is that they don’t really know what to say. What can anyone say at a time like this? Death is an awkward subject and it’s not something many people think about in terms of how they would cope with it. And so their sympathetic words might seem a little hollow – but they really are doing their best to express their concern for you. They are probably feeling awkward and like I said, they – actually quite literally! – don’t know what to say. I used to reply to such things with ‘It’s ok’, but not for long! I had to take my dog to the vets a couple of days after I lost Fiona, and the vet said ‘Sorry to hear about your wife’. I replied with a simple, ‘Oh, it’s ok’, and his reply was, ‘Well, no it’s not ok’ and he was right. It’s not ok. And so I decided that from then on I would simply say ‘thank you’, because that was far more accurate! Or maybe you could have a set phrase – ‘I’m coping’, or similar. It’s not lying. That you are still alive and just getting on with stuff shows that you actually are coping after a fashion!

Don’t hold it against others who might say insensitive things. They are grieving too, possibly for the first time on this sort of scale. Maintain an attitude of forgiveness – let the ‘offence’ go. Coping with others is not my strong suit, though, because I have Asperger’s Syndrome, and so I can’t really advise beyond this. Maybe your counsellor or doctor can help with that.

Being There for Others

Although your grief is huge, there may well come a time – and, indeed because you might have friends and family relying on you, that time might be here already – when you feel you can help others cope with their grief by talking with them about your respective grief journeys. Not only is it true that a burden shared is a burden halved, but getting these feelings out into the open, and realising that you are all going through a common process, can be a huge step towards your healing.

Look after yourself

As soon as you feel able, try to restore your normal eating patterns. And, certainly, remember to keep yourself hydrated. Continue to exercise and get fresh air, continue your hobbies and continue your social life as far as possible – I realise it will be more difficult now if it’s your spouse or significant other you have lost.

There may – or may not! – be a strong temptation to give up doing the things you used to do together. If possible, don’t give those things up. Ok, if it was something like ballroom dancing, you’re going to find it hard without your dancing partner. But many of your activities can likely still be engaged in as often as you feel like it. So, if you can, don’t forego continuing the things you used to do together. If you can do it, this is a healthy way to remember and indeed celebrate the good times you had together – see this article for more on this idea.

And give yourself a break, in the sense of ‘go easy on yourself’. You do not have to do everything at once. You do not have to feel pressure from anyone to do anything. Your grief journey is your own, and you do not have to explain yourself to anyone.

Memories

Something profound I learned a few months ago is that memories are just as lasting whether the person you made those memories with is alive or not. Here’s how I put it in a previous article:

“And so, the happy memories I hold precious as examples of how good life was, and indeed still is. In essence, whether Fiona is here or not, those memories would only ever be all I have left of those times, because what is past is indeed only ever memories”.

And so, remember the good times and rejoice in the fact that they happened. Nothing can ever take that away from you. And forgive the bad times; holding a grudge will only interfere with your healthy grieving process.

Remember that everything that your loved one contributed to your life, your character, is still yours. All the attitudes that you learned, all the memories you have, the way in which your character has changed for the better because of the time you spent together – all of that is yours and can never be lost.

Let go

Finally, I should let you know that it is perfectly normal eventually for you to let go of your loved one, for this life at least. This doesn’t mean that you didn’t want them, nor that you don’t wish with all your heart that they had not died. It simply means that life goes on. You are going to have to learn to live a very different life from now on because your loved one isn’t here any more, and, although you will think about that person every day for the rest of your life, it’s perfectly ok for you to let go of your loved one. You keep the memories and attitudes and things, but there’s no avoiding it that the person is gone. Letting go is a gradual process, and it is a natural one, and above all it is nothing to feel guilty about. Indeed, it is part of the healing process.

Conclusion

I apologise that this article is so long, but there was so much that I wanted to say, and different people will have different things that they receive from reading this piece. Remember: take in what you want and find helpful; discard what you do not.

I hope this has been helpful for you.


Useful links

Finally, here are some links to services I have either mentioned or hinted at in the text of my article. These are primarily for my UK readers, but other countries will have similar services. Remember: Google is your friend!

Cruse Bereavement Care – somewhere to turn when someone dies

NHS advice page on coping with bereavement

The UK Government’s page on how to claim Bereavement Support Payment and other bereavement-related benefits. Applying for Bereavement Support Payment means that you will automatically be considered for any other bereavement benefits you may be entitled to.

The Samaritans – the renowned, free-of-charge counselling service

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Communing in the Deep Silence

For thousands of years, spiritual people have known the value of communing with God in the Silence. In this piece, I would like to give you some ideas about how to do this; how to commune with God in the ‘deep silence’.

Jesus said this in Matthew 6:6 (NASB):

Now, I fully realise that this was said in the context of not being all ‘showing-off’ in our faith, as if for the approval of others, but instead to keep our prayer and communion with God between Him and ourselves. But I believe there are also a couple of deeper truths in this passage that are useful in our present context. You see, I believe that, while on the surface, Jesus talks about your ‘inner room’ as if it’s a room in your house where you won’t be disturbed, He also talks about praying to your Father ‘…who is in secret’. I think that that right there is the key – it’s a private place, a Secret Place if you will. A Secret Place within your spirit (your ‘inner room’ being just that: a room ‘inside you’), that only you and God know. In the King James Version, the words the translators use are ‘…enter into thy closet’ (Mt 6:6 (KJV)). I like that. It’s as if it’s a tiny room where there is space only for two – you and God – and no-one else. It’s a place where only you and God are; where indeed no-one else will even fit in (in both senses of the term); where nobody else can get to but you and Him, no matter what is going on around you. This is the deepest place of communion with God; the place where it’s just you and Him*. Is it any wonder, then, that Jesus says that your Father ‘…will reward you’; what greater reward can there be but the Presence of God Himself?

Some people have written on the subjects of the ‘Discipline of Silence’ and the ‘Discipline of Solitude’. I won’t go into detail on these; you can easily Google the terms yourself and get a wide range of differing ideas and viewpoints on them. My post is kind-of related to those Disciplines, in that (that is, if you are into Spiritual Disciplines; I personally am not) these Disciplines may be able to help you on the road to practising accessing your ‘Secret Place’. Different paths for different people; it will work for some, not for others. Only you will know which way is best for you. But it is not the same thing as either the Discipline of Silence or that of Solitude. It’s not just being quiet before God, nor about silencing our thoughts, nor is it about being away from others, although as I said these disciplines all have their own value and can help you to access your Secret Place.

I will let you know how I personally do it. I find that I can easily find the inner Silence when there is literal silence – the absence of sound or noise – around me. If you like, the silence around me is a ‘picture’ of, or a ‘parable’ about, the Silence within. And once I am in the habit of finding that Silence in those circumstances, I find I can ‘touch base’ with the Silence in even the shortest silences. Moving on from this, I find I can also discover what I call the ‘underlying silence’ under all the noise of the day and/or the circumstances. I realise that this may be because of me having Asperger’s Syndrome, in which I find that my senses are constantly overloaded by visual, auditory and other sensory stimuli, and because of this I have had to learn to ‘tune’ out’, to some extent, as much extraneous ‘noise’ as possible in order to even be able to think straight. Even as I am writing this, someone has the television on in the background and I am having to tune that out too, because one of my Aspergic ‘gifts’ is the ability to concentrate on, or listen to, something in the background, at the same time as concentrating on my main task. It can become quite distracting, to be honest.

But anyway, let me try to explain it by describing the background levels that I perceive, in order to help you try to get a handle on the idea of the ‘underlying silence’; the ‘Deep Silence’, using an everyday example.

When I arrive home from work, and switch off the car engine, I open the door and just listen to the silence. I am most fortunate in living on a quiet road in a quiet part of town, and when I open my car door after switching off, the silence is quite profound. That’s easy; but even then, I am in the habit of ‘listening’ to the silence, and consciously having the feeling of ‘touching my feet down’ on it.

Then I unlock my front door, go in, and close the door behind me. There will be sounds, maybe the TV will be on, maybe someone might be listening to music or my daughter playing the piano. Or maybe, if my son is up to stay for a couple of days, he might be cooking or talking. But because I have already ‘heard’ the silence, I know that, beneath the noises, quiet or loud though they may be, the silence is still there and my feet are still planted on it – because I have made myself aware of it.

Or if I am at an airshow or even out flying myself. Sure, there is activity, noise, concentration and there are things to be done. But I am aware that underneath everything is the silence. Even if the noise has not been taken away, filtered out, or whatever, still I am aware that it is there – the underlying silence that is the background for all the layers of sound and distraction that we or our surroundings cover it with.

Or if I am at work and everyone wants everything done more urgently than everything else, again, I am aware of the deep underlying silence that lies behind everything, after everything else has been filtered out. It’s still there, even if I can’t actually hear it. And I therefore find that I can touch or access that silence even if everything around is havoc, as it so often is.

Do you see the progression here? I start by listening to ‘actual’, real silence: the absence of sounds. While doing that, I become more aware of the deep, inner Silence where God dwells. Then, as things become more distracting, I maintain an awareness of that underlying silence, that makes me aware of the inner Silence. It is still there, even despite the noise. Because I have experienced it when it’s ‘easier’, I can then also learn how to do this in other circumstances because I already know it’s there. And, with practice, I can be aware of the inner Silence in this manner irrespective of what goes on around me. I don’t mean I am constantly thinking about God, silence or things like that. What I mean is that, having experienced the Silence, I am aware that it is there, ‘on tap’, whenever I want to access it because it really is. It would have been there even had I not known how to access it, although it wouldn’t have been of much use to me. But because I am aware of it, I can tap into it any time I like.

This is the place where we can touch right down onto the bedrock of our faith; to plant our feet firmly on the solidity that is God, and from there all else just falls into place. Once our feet are placed on Him, the shocks and strains of life don’t have anywhere near the devastating effects that they would normally have, because we are grounded in Him.

Silence, Peace and Rest

In some ways, this inner Silence is also linked to the ‘peace that transcends understanding’ (Phil 4:7) and the ‘Sabbath rest of God’ (Heb 4:9-10) because it forms one of three spiritual ‘legs’, as it were, of Silence, Peace and Rest.

Silence, in that in the silence sits the waiting, welcoming Presence of God.

Peace, in that the supernatural Peace that transcends not only our understanding but also our circumstances gives us a real confidence that God has everything in hand, no matter how bad it might seem – and that death is no longer the end.

Rest, in that we have a Sabbath rest from our works in the same way that God rested from His labours – in that He simply let things be as they are, and we too also no longer need to work to ‘obtain’ or ‘earn’ our favour in God’s eyes, but that He accepts us, likes us and loves us just as we are.

Because of these three factors, we are welcome in that Secret Place. We can come directly into the Presence of God with neither hindrance nor fear (1Jn 4:18). Silence is just the way in which I have become aware of it; for you, it may be different – or it may not. That’s up to you to find out. But be assured, that inner, underlying Silence is indeed present; you do have a ‘Secret Place’ which you can access by climbing your secret staircase into that place where God waits for you, and is in fact there all the time.

I’m not saying you have to have a ‘Quiet Time’. Indeed, the Secret Place is not the same thing as the Quiet Time, although you can of course access the Secret Place during your Quiet Time, if you happen to practise that Spiritual Discipline (and I talk more about this in this article). But you can just as easily access the Secret Place in the hectic hassle of everyday life. In fact, it’s deeper than the ‘Quiet Time’ because, although in the Quiet Time you do indeed ‘charge your spiritual batteries’ and commune with God, there is a definite demarcation between the Quiet Time and the outside world. You step out of your Quiet Time and go into the world. With the inner Silence, however, you essentially carry your Quiet Time, if you like, around with you wherever you are and whenever it is. Your communing with God depends not on a set time and place, but more on an ongoing habit or mindset. Some have called it ‘Practising the Presence of God’, and this does sound like another way of looking at it, although I have not studied the idea in any great depth because so much of it appears to involve formulas and stuff like that. For me, the practice of the Inner Silence is far more personal, far more intimate than anything reached by a set of formulas or rituals. But it might work for you, of course; just because things like that don’t work for me doesn’t by any means infer that it won’t work for anyone.

If you live somewhere where it’s never quiet, can I recommend maybe finding the silence when you wake up at 3am in order to go to the toilet. Savour the silence when you get back into bed. Be conscious of it – the silence that lies underneath everything else. If you can’t do that at that time in the morning, maybe try out in the mountains or the moors, or on a secluded beach at dusk – or preferably at dawn; most people still seem to think it’s clever to stay up late, so the morning is usually quieter. Some of the most silent places are places like up in the Yorkshire Dales, or I can also specifically recommend Wasdale Head in the Lake District. In practice, though, you will find that you don’t usually need to go too far from civilisation to find somewhere silent.

This is the majestic peak of Great Gable, 2949ft, as seen from Wasdale Head in the Lake District, one of the most remote places in England. Photo taken April 2011.

Or maybe you might prefer the silence of the forest. Granted, in a forest, the wind in the trees virtually never stops making a sound of some sort, but it can still be good because the sounds of nature are easier to filter out as they make less demands on you, and can even in some cases be part of the silence. The silence itself is buried far less by the sounds of nature than it is by the sounds of civilisation.

However you find your inner Silence, the next step is to generate the habit of consciously resting on the Silence whenever you can. Pause and wait before you open your car door after switching off the engine. As you lay your head on your pillow last thing at night, be conscious of the inner silence just before you wander off into your dreamland. When you wake in the morning, before your ‘To Do’ list comes crowding in, savour that deep inner silence. Look for times during the day when there is a pause in your routine. Maybe you’re waiting at traffic lights in your car. Maybe you’re in the lunch queue at school. Any time when your mind can be diverted from what you’re doing is a good time. An example of what would not be a good time to be diverted is maybe when you are landing an aeroplane or negotiating a complex series of lane changes on a busy motorway junction. God doesn’t mind that you’re concentrating on what you’re doing! But in the same way as you might, sometimes even subconsciously, reach across the car and touch the hand of a loved one, or catch their eye across a crowded room and give them a wink, or a meaningful look of support or something; that’s what the Secret Place sometimes looks like. You find that  almost unconsciously – because it is habitual and comes naturally – you find yourself reaching in to the Inner Silence and communing there with your Heavenly Father – Who, as Jesus said, ‘rewards’ you – with His Presence.

In fact, this can also be seen as a definite form of prayer, because you are communing with God; being intimate with Him. Even if only for a couple of seconds, you are acknowledging His presence and going into that place where it’s just you and Him. And, to me, that few seconds is far more precious than many hours of just talking out loud to a God Whom you are not sure is listening…

So, although that might all sound a bit mystical and strange, please let me encourage you to find, in your own way, your own Inner Silence – or whatever it looks like to you. It’s well worth the effort. I’d also be interested in any comments that my readers make about their own experiences in this field.

May God bless you as you seek Him in this way.


I have written a piece touching on this subject before; you might want to read this previous article in order to ‘flesh out’ these ideas presented here with some more examples and thoughts, along with a couple of songs you might find helpful.


*I also believe that this is what Don Francisco means in his song, ‘Come Away‘, where he sings of the ‘…place where the thief has no key’.

10

A Personal Message to Someone I Met

Hi there

I don’t know your name, but it was lovely to have that interesting and gentle conversation with you yesterday, despite our having only just met, at Sainsbury’s in Bridgwater in Somerset. Hearing a lady whistling a Vineyard song from the 1980s was so unusual, I just had to come over and say something!

Our conversation began over that worship song – ‘Change My Heart O God’, from the Vineyard in about 1986. In reply to your question, I declared that Yes, God has indeed changed my heart in dramatic ways, but not in ways that many Christians can cope with. Remember, it’s not up to me how God changes me; it’s just my task to follow where He leads, and that’s going to be different for each of us.

Having received the tendered business card for my blog, and the accompanying explanation, I appreciate that meeting a Spirit-filled Christian who doesn’t believe in Hell must have come as a bit of a shock to you. Maybe that was something a little outside your experience, and I apologise for shocking you with that little nugget. I must say I did warn you, though, that I was an heretic!

I may have got this wrong – I am Autistic, so I don’t always pick up properly on what people are saying…but it seemed that your assumption was that I don’t believe in the Bible either. Well, I really do believe in it – subject to an intelligent reading, taking into account things like literary and historical context, type of literature and similar factors, and all this reading with the Person of Jesus in mind and the Holy Spirit doing His usual narrative in my spirit.

I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but some people have different interpretations to Scripture passages than do others. In this case, the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus was, I think, the passage you were referring to. I always have to remind myself that when Jesus was speaking in parables, He was deliberately being slightly obfuscatory, where some thinking in his listeners would be necessary in order to glean the nuggets of wisdom contained within. Parables are all about hidden meanings. But one of the key things about parables is that they are stories with a meaning, and the very last thing that they are meant for is to be taken literally. If you read the context of that Parable, it’s all about the Jews not bearing fruit despite repeated exhortations from God. And there are as many different interpretations of most Scriptures, not just the Parables, as there are people reading them. Except for the Jehovah’s Witnesses; they are all told what to believe and no dissension is allowed. We don’t want to be like that. But this is the reason why there are so many – tens of thousands, in fact – Christian denominations!

Please let me reiterate that I have the highest respect for the Bible, as long as it is used correctly. I am a Bible college graduate who knows the Bible inside out; I have several sections memorised by heart; and I quote from it regularly in my writings, usually using passages that I have found already to be true in my life. I’m sorry I couldn’t explain things to you properly, but as I said, I am Autistic, and my main medium for communication is in writing, like here in my blog. I find it very hard to communicate face-to-face, because of a number of factors. The main thing is that I can’t understand body language, and so, for me, interfacing with others is often like speaking only half a language. Also, because of the way my thought processes work, I can’t formulate proper trains of speech on the spur of the moment; I need time to consider replies properly, and so my face-to-face interactions come across as a series of disjointed arguments which only make sense in my own thought patterns. These patterns make perfect sense to me, but they won’t make sense to someone we would call a Neurotypical (NT); a non-derogatory term meaning someone whose brain is wired ‘normally’, whereas the brain of someone with Asperger’s Syndrome (my particular Autistic Spectrum Condition) is wired differently from those of NT people.

I can – and I have done it many times – stand up in front of hundreds of people and lead them in worship, or preach a sermon. It comes easily to me, but that’s because in that situation I don’t need to do any interpersonal interactions. But put me one-on-one, and I am usually at a complete loss.

So, yes, it was lovely to meet you and yes, we are greatly enjoying our holiday here in Somerset. I think next time I meet a fellow believer, though, I will let them see what fruit I have in my life before mentioning a contentious issue. He is indeed the Potter, and I am the clay. Who am I to contest the work He’s doing in my life? Isaiah 29:16 says this:

You turn things upside down,
as if the potter were thought to be like the clay!
Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it,
“You did not make me”?
Can the pot say to the potter,
“You know nothing”?

– Is 29:16

I wouldn’t dream of changing the things He’s done in my life, nor unlearning the things He’s taught me. For me, once I have tasted, there is no untasting. Once I have seen, there is no unseeing. Once I have been given something from God, I cannot and will not reject it, because His calling and gifts are irrevocable (Rom 11.29). I have to do what I see the Father doing (Jn 5:19); how else could I honour God’s calling on my life?

To better understand where I was coming from, all I can suggest is that you read some of my blog posts – there are over 500 of them to pick from – with an open mind and see how I came into the freedom I have, and what that freedom looks like. Maybe you too might be able to catch a glimpse of the wide-open spaces of God’s Grace and move out even further into the broad, sunlit uplands of freedom in the Spirit, guided by the Master’s Hand. Remember that, as a Christian of 38 years’ standing, I will not have reached the conclusions and positions I have reached without a great deal of study, thought and prayer.

And don’t worry, I wouldn’t dream of dissing your faith or your beliefs. I’m not saying you don’t already know Him; you do. I’m not saying you don’t already have freedom; you do. But there is so much more to learn, and so much deeper depths of God, and so much wider freedom than you may know. I have heard people talking about ‘pressing in’ to God; well, that’s what it looks like. As C. S. Lewis once wrote, ‘Further up and further in!’, and this is a never-ending process.

I hope this hasn’t come across as condescending; that would never be my intention. As you are probably aware, Autism means that sometimes people lack the social graces necessary to keep others comfortable. If that’s the case here, I am sorry. It also means that, when you first meet someone, you really don’t know what sort of filters and barriers that person is trying to overcome in order to try to communicate. One thing’s for sure, though. Next time, it will not be the case that I virtually introduce myself as someone who does not believe in Hell. That’s always going to get a conversation off on the wrong foot!

Keep on singing the songs, dear sister. And always bear in mind that someone might come into hearing range and start harmonising with your music, and your worship… 😉

Peace and Grace to you.

– Anthony


Yes, the header picture is actually of the Bridgwater branch of Sainsbury’s. Well, I am quite pedantic; no other picture would do 😉

10

Assurance

This entry is part 28 of 30 in the series Fiona

This is a very personal account that describes something of what I observed in Fiona, my beautiful late wife, during the time leading up to her loss.

When I lost Fiona to cancer, twenty months ago today, I knew that she had no qualms about dying; about going to be with her Jesus.

This is because she had assurance.

She had complete confidence in Jesus – was ‘assured’, if you like – that He would come through for her and would deliver her into her promised rest. She had no doubts whatsoever about what awaited her on the other side of the veil of death.

And I too rejoice in my salvation. I belong to God; I know it more certainly than I know anything else, and no-one and nothing can take that salvation away from me*.

Jesus’s message was simple: God loves you. Just as you are. He loves you and He cares for you. Jesus amply demonstrated this in His life, His teachings, His miracles, His death and His Resurrection. And His Grace. The unearned, undeserved favour of God. On that basis alone, nothing we can do, or not do, is either a qualification or disqualification for being ‘allowed’ into God’s Presence. Salvation is freely given, and it is complete and perfect, rooted in the historical death and Resurrection of Jesus the Christ. This is so simple; why do we complicate it? And yet, maybe it’s just part of human nature, but we do so complicate it indeed!

But not everyone believes like that. Not everyone has that assurance. As I’ve said before, so many people in the Christian faith, particularly those of a legalistic leaning, are actually not sure what would happen if they died tonight. They are not sure because they think that somehow their behaviour might disqualify them at the last second.

My faith isn’t like that. Being fully convinced that we are forever safe in Christ is what’s known as assurance, and knowing for a fact that Jesus has you forever in His arms is simply nothing short of revolutionary. Once we believe that, and know it in our hearts, then every single insecurity we might have concerning our ‘eternal destiny’ just melts away in the burning light of His love. But, because of the ideas expressed below, sadly, many believers who actually have this assured inheritance simply do not know it.

And so I am going to look at our assurance today, from the perspective of one who has seen someone die in perfect assurance of where she was going.

You see, part of the problem, for some people, is that idea that we need to ‘confess’ (i.e. own up to) every. single. ‘sin’. in order to be ‘forgiven’. If we die with just one ‘unconfessed ‘sin’, they claim, then we are toast. I could present many, many Scripturally-based  arguments to refute this idea, but instead let me testify to what my Fiona was like in the last weeks of her earthly life.

Fiona had a complete assurance of where she was going. She had an unshakeable certainty that, once she passed through the veil of death, she was not only going to be with Jesus, but she was going to her reward, her inheritance, to an amazing life full of beauty, light, joy, fun, and the Presence of God. Not long before she passed away, Fiona shared with me that she had received a vision of what Jesus had waiting for her there with Him. Fiona’s visions were always very vivid and real, like an IMAX experience, only better. Personally, I know what it’s like to receive a revelation from God, but Fiona’s ‘style’, if you like, was much more vivid. And this vision was such a comfort, indeed an encouragement, to her. She already knew what she was going to; she knew she was dying, she knew she wasn’t going to make it with that cancer eating away at her, and yet in that dark tunnel of what could have been despair, instead she was filled with the light, glory and hope of Jesus. She was actually looking forward to going to her inheritance. The phrase, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’ applied to her for certain, and I am absolutely sure that she heard those words from Jesus the moment she arrived there.

And you just can’t argue with that. When you have seen the shining holiness of one of God’s Saints about to pass through the veil, you just know it. You know where they are going, and so do they. And that is such a tremendous boost to one’s own faith.

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His Saints – Ps 116:15

Non-existent is any lack of assurance; the tired and worn-out ideas that one last-second slip-up could condemn one’s soul to torment for all eternity**. The worry of one ‘unconfessed sin’. When seen in the light of the death of a saint like Fiona, those arguments become just shadows. The harsh, unbending and assurance-breaking doctrines of the religious legalists and gatekeepers are seen as simply two-dimensional, flat concepts when compared with the real, solid and altogether complete certainty of where we go after death. How can I put this more emphatically?

It’s funny, but Christians sing the hymn, ‘Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine’, and yet some of them do not really recognise that assurance. If you are one of those people today, please let me encourage you to raise your head from the mire of – yes, let’s call it what it is: self-righteousness – and of ‘doing things’ in order to try and please God, and instead to rest complete in the salvation that Jesus has bought for you. This is real, it is complete, and it is already accomplished. And I have seen it. All the arguments, theology and doctrine of men melt into nothing in the face of the death of a saint like Fiona; when you have seen this happen, nothing can ever be the same again, and the dry, dusty and indeed crumbly doctrines of we mere humans become as naught in the face of the utter assurance of salvation seen in a dying saint.

I’ve always believed in ‘once saved, always saved‘. I have never believed that anything I can do could either lose or indeed ‘boost’ my inheritance. I am utterly sure of my station in Christ and my status as one of God’s children, because these things have been revealed to me personally by my Heavenly Father. I have dates and times for these events, they were that real. And you can argue with me all you like about doctrines and whatnot, but the thing is that I have seen it. And I have seen the final assurance, first-hand, of someone who is about to pass into the direct Presence of her Lord. There is no fear; there is no sense of ‘what if?’; there is no sense of ‘resignation’. There is only an eager assurance, a peace, indeed an anticipation, of what is to come. There is sadness, yes; we will miss her, and she knew that we would miss her, and she also knew that we would have to carry on without the guidance and wisdom that she brought into our lives in such full measure. And I miss that wisdom every day. But there is also a quiet and yet exuberant joy, that ‘soon and very soon, we are going to see the King!’ And it’s awesome to behold.

Jesus’s Resurrection was, and is, the guarantee for us that there is life after death. Jesus’s presence in our lives, by the tangible presence of His Spirit, is the guarantee, the downpayment if you like, of that assurance. That death is not the end is the single most important truth that we can get hold of in this life, after the fact that it’s God’s love that provides that truth for us. Once you see that; once you grasp that, your life will never be the same again. In fact I would even say that, unless you really believe that you know ‘…where you would go if you died tonight’, then you have absolutely no right to try to sell people the salvation that Jesus offers as if it is indeed a complete, cast-iron assurance, when the reality is that you yourself don’t really believe it is as secure as you claim. Because that sort of gospel, that so many peddle these days, is really no gospel – not good news – at all.

So, for the question, “Is it ‘once saved, always saved’? “, I actually rather think we are looking in the wrong direction. That’s looking backwards, at things we have done; it is a backwards perspective because we are always focused on looking back to see if we have done something that’s somehow going to drop us out of God’s favour, and that we need to ‘confess’ it and get it out of the way. But it’s not like that at all. If you walk in the Spirit, then you will not gratify the desires of the ‘sinful nature’. You just get on with it, free from the encumbrance of worrying about ‘sin’ all the time. Our salvation enables us to walk forwards in life with Jesus. When Jesus said that “whoever sets his hand to the plough, and then looks back, is not worthy to be My disciple” (Lk 9:62), He meant that by looking back all the time, you just can’t see where you’re going. You need to look forward and just walk with Jesus. The only way to keep that plough straight is to look forward, not backwards. Landing an aeroplane is similar; you look forward to the far end of the runway, not down at the runway below you, otherwise you can’t judge the landing properly. Thank you Lord for your wisdom.

And so let’s round this out by saying that, when it comes to the crunch, and death is just around the corner, it is possible – indeed it is your right, as a Child of God – to face that event with love, confidence, hope and indeed a joyful anticipation. Because precious indeed in the sight of the Lord is the death of His Saints – and you are one of them. There is no fear in Love, because perfect Love casts out all fear (1Jn14:18). And there is no fear in death, because Jesus has gone there before us – and He has come out the other side for our assurance.

Be assured.

Be at peace.

God’s love for you is greater than you can possibly imagine.

And there is no need for fear.

 

Grace and peace to you.


*I’m not going to define ‘salvation’ right now; I do have a set of developing ideas on the subject but I wouldn’t do them justice if I write about them just yet, because the ideas are not fully formed. In this context, suffice it to say that I believe that Fiona’s firm conviction that she was going to be with Jesus is what I am talking about here.


**Not that I believe in that anyway.

10

The Secret of the Lord

I think it’s fair to say that God knows everything. He knows how everything is put together, how it all works, how it all began and how it all ends. And yet, in the midst of all that wonder, He chooses to let us ‘in’ on His secrets.

Now, everyone loves a secret that they are privy to. You’ll remember the delicious feeling, when we were kids, of being ‘in the know’; maybe being part of a secret club or ‘gang’ (not a ‘gang’ in its modern sense!); a group of kids who all identified with each other and who were all ‘in’. Great fun, wasn’t it? 😀

And I think that this is a precursor to knowing the secrets of God. That same desire to ‘know stuff’, which manifests itself differently in different people. For some it might be a desire to indulge in gossip about others’ private lives; for others it’s a desire to work things out in great detail; for still others it may be something else entirely. So I do believe it’s part of every human’s makeup in one form or another.

But for me there is no more fascinating quest than that of the pursuit of the secret things of God. To see in increasing measure what His purpose is; to see His attitudes; to know His love; to know many, many other things, maybe not even necessarily things directly about Him, that I can’t even begin to describe. Even the beginning of the knowledge of the answers to the deep questions of life is to be found in this quest.

As a medical research scientist, many years ago, I discovered how many things worked in a medical sense. That’s what we did. We were finding out these previously unknown things – secrets, if you will – that, up until we had made the discovery, nobody knew about.

And yet that’s nothing compared with knowing God and knowing about His ways. Consider also, there are Life’s Big Questions too, which I have touched on previously – why do bad things happen; why does God allow suffering and death – yes, I have those questions too.

So in this piece, then, I will attempt to explore something of what this ‘The Secret of the Lord’ is all about. The Psalmist said, “The secret of the Lord [is] with them that fear Him; And He will shew [archaic: show – Ed] them His covenant” – Ps 25:14 (KJV) – and that’s what we’re going to be looking at today.

But first, let’s just deal with that word ‘Fear’, shall we? The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him? As I have said in a previous article, the word ‘Fear’, when seen in the Bible in the context of the ‘Fear of God’, does not mean what people in this day and age understand as ‘fear’. The word ‘fear’ has been retained in modern translations, despite its archaic use (and hence my use of the King James Version quotations to illustrate this), but it meant a different thing then from what it does now. The cynic in me says that this has been done for control purposes, but then that’s just my opinion. I’m not going to go into more detail here, but if you would like some more background on the common misuse of this word in the Bible, please take a look at this article. Suffice it to say for now that it’s a very rich word with connotations far exceeding simple ‘terror’; that the word can mean concepts more like ‘respect’, ‘awe’ or even ‘worship’ too, and given that perfect Love has no room for ‘fear’ as we understand the meaning of the word today, we would expect that the context is less to do with terror than it has to do with love. So, when we talk about people who ‘fear’ the Lord, we are talking about those who love Him, who worship Him, and who think He’s just pretty amazing. That’s what we’re talking about here.

So, to paraphrase Ps 25:14, ‘The secret of the Lord is with those who think He’s amazing’. Ok? But I am going to carry on using the word ‘fear’ in this article because it is the form of the Scripture passage that most believers will be familiar with. Just remember what the word really means, right?! 🙂

So, then, using our knowledge of Hebrew parallelism, we can at least see that the two concepts in Ps 25:14 are linked, in that to those who fear the Lord and know His secrets, He will show His covenant. In other words, the very idea of God showing His secrets to those who fear Him means that He makes His covenant – the ways in which He has promised to relate to us – known to us in increasing measure. And while that’s absolutely wonderful, there’s a lot more that He makes known to us as well.

And this is to be expected. God’s dealings with His faithful have always involved Him telling us stuff that we wouldn’t previously have known. Even as far back as Genesis, God said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” (Gen 18:17). As St. Paul wrote, “…The natural man [that is, one not walking in the Spirit] does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God. For they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man judges all things, but he himself is not subject to anyone’s judgment. “For who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ” – (1Cor2:14-16) If we are living a supernatural life, then it is to be expected that God will reveal new and surprising things to us through His Spirit; things we were not expecting, things we did not ask for, and certainly things that we didn’t know before and would have no way of knowing without the Spirit of God showing us these things.

Linked with this is the idea that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” – (Prov 9:10). Do you see the connection there; the common root? If we begin by approaching the Lord in ‘fear’ – worship, adoration, awe and just generally being gobsmacked – then we begin and continue our walk along the path to wisdom, which is part of the ‘Secret of the Lord’. If you’ve been a believer for some time, then you will know what I am talking about. You will be able to point to various things that God has shown you over the years that you couldn’t have known yourself; things He has shared with you, in terms of both wisdom and knowledge. If you’ve not been walking with Jesus all that long, then I rejoice in saying that you have all this to look forward to!

Much of the wisdom I have been able to share which I have learned in my grief journey since losing my wife to cancer nineteen months ago, this wisdom I have been taught in the silences of simply sitting at Jesus’s feet; in the agonies of grief; in deep, healing worship; and in the times where I have felt His tangible Presence like a warm cloak of divine Love wrapped around my shoulders. And some of this knowledge is ‘secret’ because it relates only to me; it’s personal for my circumstances – these are ‘my secrets’, if you will. But other things have been revealed that I have indeed shared. In particular, the profound realisation that death is not the end is extremely important, and had to be shared with my readers here.

He revealeth the deep and secret things: he knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him – Dan 2:22 (KJV)

He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him. – Dan 2:22 (NIV)

‘Deep and secret things’. That sounds amazing, doesn’t it? And it is. We are privy to an immense storehouse of God’s wisdom and knowledge that He is willing to pass on to us, albeit in chunks that we can cope with. The ancient Hebrew King, David, wrote this: “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain” – (Psalm 139:6). Jesus Himself said several times that even once He’d gone, not only would He not leave us ‘as orphans’ (Jn 14:18), and that He would come to us and that He would send us His Spirit “…to be with you for ever” (Jn 14:16)

And He also said that, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” – (Jn 16:12-15)

I also love the bit in Matthew 11:25-27 where Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children [in the context, He was referring to His disciples here – Ed]. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do. All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him”.

As you’ve probably gathered by now, the key to all this is Jesus. Knowing Jesus is foundational. In order to sit at His feet and learn from Him, you need to come to Him. Jesus said, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” – (John 17:3). If you like, the wisdom and knowledge of the ways of God, including the ‘Secret of the Lord’, is part of the ‘Eternal Life’ package; the life of the age to come being projected into the here and now. Parallel to this idea, Proverbs 8:35 says, “For he who finds me [wisdom] finds life, and obtains favour from the Lord” – Prov 8:35 (NASB)

As I mentioned above, some parts of the Secrets of the Lord can be shared; some cannot. Some we can learn from each other; from those to whom God has revealed things. Some things are too far ingrained in the route by which we learned them such that they are not communicatable because the way we learned them is too deep to be expressed. But some things are in any case altogether too sacred to share, and indeed can be potentially harmful to share with people who do not have the maturity to hear those things (cf. Heb 5:11-14)*. Some of the stuff I get from God, I know full well would cause one helluva stir if I were to let it out into the public domain. And so, the wisdom that I receive from the Lord – which I always want to have at the same time as the knowledge I receive – is that which says what is good to share, and what is not. St. Paul, somewhat modestly, declared (in the third person) that he had received visions from God that he was not permitted to share. I love the passage where he writes about this:

“Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell“.  – (2Cor12:1-4, emphasis mine)

Some of my readers will know what this is like. How many times have you had dreams where God has shared things with you that you cannot even express? I remember once (if ‘remember’ is the right word) having a dream about the things of God. I could not remember a thing about it when I woke up except that I knew that something really deep had happened. The fruits of that dream are with me to this day. I’m not talking about the ordinary kind of forgetting of dreams that always happens; I distinctly remember waking up fully from the dream that had just finished, knowing that something amazing had happened to me, but I didn’t know what it was. It seems that, on occasion, God even keeps secrets from us about His dealings with us! And talking of dreams, my late wife Fiona had a similar occurrence in her sleep in her early twenties, which was incredible but which is not my story to share.

Added to that, a few months before she died, Fiona was given a lucid vision of what Heaven was going to be like for her. And she kept that a secret from me until only a couple of weeks before her passing, because she knew that her telling me would greatly upset me, because then all my hope of not losing her would be lost. Now that’s wisdom! She was the most wise person I ever met, was my Fiona! 🙂

Another idea along these lines is that sometimes someone isn’t ready for new knowledge just yet. Let me use the example of an article I read the other day, where the writer was working through some concepts of Scripture that were bothering them. This person had some excellent ideas, some that were not so good, and also expressed some concepts that I left behind years ago. But rather than wade in and point out ‘errors’ based on my ‘knowledge’ (which I appreciate is sketchy at best!), I recognised that the writer was at a point in their own walk that was a huge step forward from where they were previously, and for them, that was amazing. And so I kept my trap shut and didn’t say anything. I sometimes think that wisdom is knowing how and when to use the knowledge that we have been given!

I also read a comment, in reply to one of Christy Wood’s posts, where the commenter said this, “Here’s the thing: even as God does gently lead me into greater understanding, I cannot then turn around and push it down the throats of others. I have to allow God to be God, and do with them as he is doing with me. If I am a parent, I have to allow my adult children to learn their own lessons, make their own mistakes and choose their own flavor of relating to God“. We can use that illustration as part of the reason why God shares with us certain things, while not sharing others.

Sometimes, the stuff He shares with us is so historically magnificent that it would destabilise lives if we were to share it. “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law“. – Deut (29:29) This is true insofar as the secret things of God were being progressively revealed to the Israelites in the desert under Moses, and later through the prophets, but were revealed in their fulness in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the fulfilment of that Law on our behalf. And so, ‘secret things’ were revealed, yes, but their true historical significance did not become apparent until Jesus Christ. They couldn’t, and indeed shouldn’t, have known what was to come, because the ramifications were so huge. In other words, God speaks His secrets to us at a level we are able to cope with, and not necessarily at a level that others could cope with. That’s pretty deep, I know.

You will probably be raring to go, to seek after the ‘Secret of the Lord’. Remember it’s not one thing, but a whole magnificent plan and destiny of which He reveals only a small part at a time, and the hugeness of which cannot be understood by mere mortals like us. But even so, having the plans of God revealed to us carries an immense sense of privilege, and an immense responsibility, to hold and use that knowledge with the wisdom that He also gives freely.

How do we start? It’s nothing heavy. The knowledge and wisdom of God is given freely to those who simply ask. Just ask Him, and then expect Him to point things out to you as you go about your everyday life, walking in the Spirit. It will happen. You may suddenly realise that for the past week, God has been speaking these secrets to you and, you haven’t realised. Don’t worry. He will bring things back to you. This is something that takes some getting used to, and it improves with practice. It’s a ‘learning curve’! Cut yourself some slack and just enjoy the experience.

Oh, and one more thing: remember it’s a ‘secret’. Don’t share stuff with others unless you are absolutely sure they can deal with it. Don’t share it boastfully or with ‘attitude’. Remember there will be those who do not, indeed simply cannot, understand. So, most of the time, keep these nuggets to yourself, let them nourish you and teach you in the ways of God. The fruits and the benefits for others will emerge in due course.

To quote J. C. Philpot, from August 1844:

“It is a secret, because it is only known to a few. It is a secret, because it is carried on in private between God and the soul. It is a secret, because never known until God the Spirit unfolds the mystery.” [1]

So, The Secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him. Enjoy this. Be fascinated by it, by your discoveries, by His revelations. Drink in the richness of His Creation, the depths of His wisdom, and the knowledge of His love, power, majesty and might.

Grace and Peace to you.


There is an interesting article that I read recently, which goes quite deeply into the ideas of sharing the ‘Secret of the Lord’ with others. “When the Lord knows that He can trust us with His secrets, He will reveal things to us which He cannot reveal to others”. Definitely worth a look. See reference [2] below.


[1] https://www.gracegems.org/Philpot/secret_of_the_lord.htm
Much of what Philpot says in that sermon is stuff I don’t agree with, and it reflects the prevalent thinking of the period. But some of it is real gold. I leave it to the reader to sift it for the nuggets 🙂

[2] From ‘Love Notes’, by Mary Love Eyster: http://www.iprayprayer.com/secret-lord-fear-psalm-2514-keeping-gods-secrets/


*”We have much to say about this [theological idea], but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” – Heb 5:11-14

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The Burial

This entry is part 27 of 30 in the series Fiona

Well, at last we’ve gone and done it. A few weeks ago, we buried the casket containing Fiona’s ashes.

The casket had been sitting on a shelf at the Funeral Directors’ premises, over the nearly eighteen months since we lost Fiona. We had postponed the burial of the ashes because we didn’t feel the time was right; however, now, we have come to terms with it being time we buried the ashes, and we called the family together and went ahead and did it.

Fiona’s ashes are buried in a beautiful woodland burial site here in Devon, with lovely views and a wonderful peaceful atmosphere.

It was just a small gathering. Me; our children David, Richard and Ellie; Fiona’s Dad, her brother (and his wife) and Fiona’s sister; and Fe’s three closest friends. I put the casket down into the ground, we each threw a little earth into the grave, we talked a little and that was that. Once we’d moved off, the young man who’d dug the grave came to fill it in and it was marked with a temporary wooden cross, pending the installation of a marble plaque which will mark the grave in the long term. You can see a similar plaque in the background in this photo.

I was very surprised by the emotions I felt on that day. I thought I had, well, not got over it – I never will – but at least come to terms with it. Now, granted, I should have expected some surprise in emotional terms, given that this event marks the end of the funeral process, for want of a better term. But, in a similar way to when I went up to our old home town in Yorkshire, I was ambushed by strong emotions that I wasn’t expecting, although you’d have thought I’d have learned by now that this is quite normal 😉 The burial was scheduled for 15:00 (3pm) on that particular day, so in the morning I collected the casket of ashes from the funeral directors, put it in the front passenger’s footwell of my car, and set off for home.

It wasn’t long before my mind realised that all that is physically left of Fiona was sitting right there in the car with me. It’s a really strange sensation. And of course it brought back to me strongly the immense loss that I have suffered; that my wonderful wife should be reduced to the contents of a wooden casket roughly the size of a shoe-box. I managed to drive the car despite the tears streaming down my face, but I had to stop a couple of times as you can imagine. Of course, now she has her Heavenly inheritance, she is so much more alive and whole than she ever was when she occupied that mortal shell. The ashes do not limit what Fiona is now. When I went to visit her body in the funeral home, it was obviously apparent that the person that Fiona had been was no longer there. There is a profound stillness in death; the person’s body lies there with not the slightest flicker of life – of course! – and while she was of course recognisable, what was in that coffin was not Fiona. Her spirit had really departed; the animating factor that made her who she was, was completely gone. Unless you have lost someone really close to you and seen their dead body, it is difficult to understand what this is like.

But still, there the ashes were, and I took them home with me preparatory to going up to the burial ground. The small ‘ceremony’ – such as it was – went well and people, I think, were glad to be able to close out the ‘funeral process’ at last.

But, just like in the coffin, what is there in the ground is not Fiona. Fiona herself has gone on into the Presence of her Lord. In fact, my eldest son mentioned to me the other day that he had the distinct impression that Fiona was actually really excited to go and be with her Jesus. Isn’t that just so typical of that amazing girl whose deep, simple and trusting faith gave her that kind of comfort in the face of certain death? Wow!

The burial has been a release for the rest of us, of course, and another milestone in the grief journey. But hopefully the burial should give us all some more closure on this horrific chapter of our lives, that has been such a mixture of agony and blessing. And all the while, knowing that Fiona is safe in the arms of her Saviour, I have to say, is a huge comfort to me and also to those who share my faith. Although we know she’s not actually present, we now have a place where we can go to be close to Fiona’s remains, whenever we want to do so. Maybe take up some flowers for her birthday or for mother’s day, that sort of thing.

And I’m glad it’s done at last. Rest well, my love, until we meet again.

 

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Combat Fatigue

This entry is part 26 of 30 in the series Fiona

I have lived in the South-West of England for over 20 years, and Fiona and I lived the greater part of our married life here. While we missed Yorkshire, we never regretted moving here and I would probably not move back, unless my Dad wins the Lottery and buys us a cottage in the Dales 😉

While I am progressing well along the grieving path having lost her eighteen months ago, I was taken completely by surprise by an unexpected emotional response I felt a few weeks ago.

Ellie and I were up in Yorkshire on holiday, at the holiday cottage near Skipton where our family have stayed for the last sixteen years – with the exception of last year as the anticipated memories would still have been very raw. And the cottage was no problem; we had a lovely week in our tranquil, idyllic refuge from the hustle of everyday life. Fiona’s memories were strong there, of course, but in a good way.

Where I came unstuck was when I went to my home town of Yeadon, passing through my original home town of Guiseley, to see my old friend with whom I’d arranged to meet up. Seeing all the places that Fiona and I used to frequent in our earlier years together, was what I found made me feel very odd, and indeed rather sad. While we love South Devon, our formative years as a young married couple were spent in Yeadon, and the memories evoked by the visit that evening – even though it was a dark evening and I couldn’t see much – were poignant and sad. I arrived back at the cottage that evening really quite shaken by the intensity of the emotional reaction I’d had. I have so many happy memories from our past life in Yorkshire, before the immense and life-changing adventure of moving more than 300 miles away to start a new life.

Memories of taking our boys out for walks, with the dogs, in their prams and pushchairs (the boys, not the dogs!). Seeing how hugely my home towns have changed over the past 23 years (since I left) – and not for the better, either*. Memories of surviving in poverty and hardship, where the last few pennies we needed to buy a loaf of bread had to be scraped out of the back of the cutlery drawer. Memories of the boys’ birthday parties; my Dad’s bodybuilding gym; our tiny first house; and our second house which was like a palace in comparison. The grubby black muck of melted snow and the bone-numbing cold so typical of Yorkshire in the winter. Memories of friends, music and worship; walks and stunning views from the hills; memories of seeing God work amazing things in our lives. The griefs, the challenges and the joys of two young lives shared and merged into one.

Somehow, all that came back to me in a rush, comparable to the combat fatigue I had experienced during the fight. And it shook me up good and proper.

I think of it as combat fatigue because it took only a small trigger to kick off all the painful feelings again; the feelings from the battle with cancer and the pain of losing her. Dr. John W. Appel, a U.S. Army combat physician, had this to say about the strain of constant battle: “…there [is] no such thing as ‘getting used to combat’. Each moment of it imposes a strain so great that men will break in direct relation to the intensity and duration of their exposure. Thus psychiatric casualties are as inevitable as gunshot wounds in warfare“. (1) And that’s what it was like, and still is even now, years after the constant, unrelenting battle (which began in late 2013 and ended in October 2016). I am bruised, broken, damaged, and in need of continuing healing from my best friend, Jesus, Who holds my hand on this road.

I suppose that what I have realised is that, while I have (largely successfully) dealt with – and come through – the pain of losing Fiona, and coming to terms with living here in my house that is now so obviously devoid of her light and presence, I had not appreciated how much it would cost me to revisit the good memories of the past, in the places where they happened. The places we went together. The place where I first saw her; the place where she used to live before we were married; the place where I first asked her out. All those familiar, physical places, which, again, no longer look like they used to do back then, so it’s almost as if the memories are all that is left. And that’s very painful; seeing the places where I grew up so changed, and being reminded of the good times we had there. Yes, it’s great to remember those times, but it also has the effect of reminding me of just what I have lost, for this life at least. It has highlighted the gaping space at my side which is where Fiona used to be. In the same way as the old landscapes up there in Guiseley and Yeadon have been lost forever under the blight of tarmac and concrete, so my lovely wife is no longer here with me – until we meet again on the other side of the veil.

So, how do I cope with that?

Well, I am processing it all in a similar manner to how I have processed everything else that’s happened. I confront the feelings, see where they come from and how they affect me, and then turn them around for good. I remember the good things fondly and with gladness and gratitude, and I remember the hard times with gratitude also because God always came through for us, and He never once let us down. And so, the happy memories I hold precious as examples of how good life was, and indeed still is. In essence, whether Fiona is here or not, those memories would only ever be all I have left of those times, because what is past is indeed only ever memories. But the lasting effects of all those experiences are what build up wisdom, gratitude and love – both for God and for others. They convince me even more that death is not the end – don’t ask me how; I actually don’t know, it’s just a deep-seated conviction I have about that.

St. Paul puts it like this: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” – (Romans 5:1-5, emphasis mine). And it’s that hope – something to look forward to, and to live in, in the here and now – that keeps me going. Hope for this life, and hope for the next.

As always, with any painful experience, it’s how we deal with it that determines how we will come through. If we can find the strength and determination to just press on and get on with it, that will carry us through, no matter how hopeless things seem. Even if it’s just one small step at a time. And even if you don’t feel it, even if you are not aware of it, still the Presence of God is right there with you as you struggle with your feelings. The Lord is close to the broken-hearted, and He saves those who are crushed in spirit (Ps 34:18). He really is, and He really does. In the meantime, keep your hope alight and press on. Determine that you are not going to let this time beat you. The human spirit is tougher, stronger and more resilient than you would ever believe possible, but it’s not until the hard times come, of course, that we actually see that in action. Wholeness is coming, and your salvation – that wholeness – is at hand.

Be encouraged!


Header picture shows my beautiful Fiona at the age of 29, with my son Richard on her shoulders, in May, 1993. Rich would have been nearly four years old there; he’s now the same age as Fiona is in that photo. She was so gorgeous, wasnt she? 😀 What a blessed man I am to have been married to such a beauty.


*My Dad always used to say, “When I were a lad, all this were just fields”. And now I know how he felt.


References

(1) Dr. John W. Appel, U.S. Army combat physician, quoted in ‘Eighth Air Force – The American Bomber Crews in Britain’ by Prof. Donald L. Miller, Aurum Press Ltd (2007), p.129

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The Litmus Test

I feel that a good question to ask of a church one is thinking of attending (I’m not thinking of switching churches, by the way!) is this: “What are your attitudes towards LGBTQI+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning and Intersex, and others) people?” Or some variation on that.

This question will reveal, all in one go, their attitudes on Biblical inerrancy and infallibility; Bible as Rulebook; their attitude to legalism; their ability to love others they may not agree with; their attitude towards judging others [they would naturally call it something more palatable]; their attitude towards ‘mercy not sacrifice’ (Hosea 6:6); and – in short – to be Jesus to the people they meet.

To me, this is a real litmus test of a church’s sincerity when they say ‘all are welcome’. Is it really ‘All are welcome’, or is it ‘All are welcome, but…’?

I have, in the past, asked such questions of various Christian organisations. I have to say that those people have achieved the pathetic result of not one answer in reply. Not even one. No acknowledgement; nothing.

So, if you are interested in joining a new church, here’s an idea of the sort of question you might ask:

“Hi there

Just been looking at your pages on [churchname].com

I have a question, and it’s this: How do you cope with people of ‘different’ sexualities? (LIke Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual etc.) I have contacted churches with this question in the past, and have not once received a reply! What I mean by my question is, how much do you integrate people of ‘alternative’ sexualities into your church? I’d really love to hear from you on this subject!

Thanks for your time

Anthony”

[Edit: I have just heard back from one church today. Well done, those people!]

20

Arms of Love

This entry is part 25 of 30 in the series Fiona

This piece is being published on what would have been Fiona’s 54th birthday.

Over the seventeen months since I lost my wonderful wife Fiona to cancer, I have been comforted in my grief and sadness by many different people and activities. I have always found writing my blog to be a great therapy, as it allows me to crystallise my ideas, thoughts, feelings and discoveries on to ‘paper’ so that I can make sense of them, and also help others cope with their grief too in their own way. I have friends who are always there for me. I have flying, which is simply out of this world. I have my family, who have been a tremendous support. I have had my work, who have been really supportive too, and I love to lose myself in my work and go to deep concentration levels where everything else fades away and I don’t even hear people speaking to me. I have had the help of an amazing lady who was, until a few weeks ago, my grief counsellor from the local hospice. And most of all, overarching all of this, working through these channels, yes, but also comforting me directly, has been my friend Jesus.

Most of the time, particularly during that first year after losing Fiona, I felt a constant closeness to Jesus that I had never felt before. Sure, I have always been close to Him, but not like that. I felt as if He was wrapping me up in His Arms of Love. Much of the time, it literally felt like a soft, heavy, warm cloak being held around my shoulders. It’s because He knew exactly what I needed, and He met me at that point of need, as He always does.

Today I would like to share a song that expresses this particularly well, and it says everything I want to say to Him in gratitude for the way He looks after me. Here it is: Craig Musseau’s ‘Arms of Love‘, Vineyard (1991), sung here by Brian Doerksen. Fiona loved this song, and when we lived in Leeds, I used to play it in worship meetings a lot and it reminds me of those times. She’d have been so glad to know how much this song means to me now, being able to sing these grateful words from a place of total reality.

Beautiful.

I sing a simple song of love
To my Saviour, to my Jesus
I’m grateful for the things You’ve done
My Loving Saviour
My Precious Jesus

My heart is glad that You’ve called me Your own
And there’s no place I’d rather be
Than in Your Arms of Love
In Your Arms of Love
Holding me still, holding me near
In Your Arms of Love

 

20

Wings

This entry is part 19 of 20 in the series Beautiful Destroyers

This instalment of ‘Beautiful Destroyers’ is a little different, as I am not showcasing a particular aircraft. Instead, I’m looking at the origins of military aviation and also sharing a lovely piece of music. Enjoy!

As both a military historian and an aviator, I am of course passionately interested in the use of aircraft in military operations – or ‘military aviation’. The history of the military use of aircraft is in itself a fascinating tale of high-end technology (military aircraft have always been at the forefront of technological development), courage, technical skill, determination, tactical development, trial and error, mistakes and success. Of course, warfare is an unforgiving crucible, and because of this it is one of the major motivating factors in the development of technology of all kinds. Military aviation is a prime example of this, if not indeed the pinnacle of modern military technology. It was realised fairly early on in World War I (1914-1918)* that control of the skies was of paramount importance in tactical (and later strategic) warfare. This continues to be axiomatic in modern warfare; he who controls the skies, controls the battle.

But of course it had to start somewhere. The first recorded use of aircraft in military operations was (as far as I know) the use of manned observation kites by the Chinese in the late sixth century – about 594CE. Hot air balloons were first used decisively by the French in 1794; however, although balloons continued to be used for observation purposes for long after, these kites and balloons were of course tethered to the ground and couldn’t really go anywhere. Military aviation therefore really only came into its own during World War I, because with the advent of powered aircraft like aeroplanes and airships, people could actually go more or less where they wanted to go in the skies, rather than having to stay in the same place; this operational flexibility, of course, meant that virtually anything was possible from then onwards. But even then, fully-dirigible (that is, mobile and steerable) aircraft were still in their infancy; airships had been around for only two or three decades, and as for aeroplanes (or ‘flying machines’ as they were often called back then), the first powered aeroplane flight was only in 1903, so the technology was still very much experimental, and flying aeroplanes was very much a hit-and-miss affair (in other words, dangerous) because of this. So it was an historical period quite unlike any other as far as military aviation was concerned.

Having just finished an excellent book on British aerial combat operations in WWI, Fighter Heroes of WWI, by Joshua Levine, I bought the DVDs of the 1970s classic BBC series ‘Wings‘, which for some reason I was completely unaware of at the time (that is, in 1974-76 when it was being shown on TV) – which is a shame as it would have been right up my street. It’s an absolutely superb series with excellent characterisation, engrossing story writing, great acting, historical accuracy and (most importantly to me!) superb and authentic flying sequences. Anyone interested in the early development of military aviation will not fail to be captured by this series; it’s simply brilliant.

And the theme music is gorgeous. In fact, despite my lengthy preamble, this music was actually the main inspiration for this post today – it is simply lovely. It has a nostalgic ‘music-hall’ feel to it, with a beautiful chord structure and bass-line, and above all, a catchy and poignant melody. And I recommend you listen to it on headphones if possible, in order to catch all the lovely nuances.

So, here we are – the theme music from ‘Wings‘, composed by Alexander Faris:

Gorgeous. Hope you liked it!

[Edit]

The theme music for the series ‘Wings‘ was released as a 45rpm vinyl record in 1977, and since first writing this article, I have managed to buy one. You can pick up a copy of your own from Amazon if you like; click the cover graphic below to go to the sales page:

In case they have sold out, here is the title track as an orchestral arrangement, digitised from the A-side of the record:

During one of the early episodes in Series 1, some of the characters in the screenplay can be heard singing a military-style pub drinking song to the same tune. Since I like to have the lyrics for any songs I really like, I was delighted to find that the B-side of the record contained this vocal arrangement, entitled ‘A Sussex Lad’, which is the same song that the characters sang in the episode. The whole feel of the song is just so World War I; it’s a perfect song for the series:

And finally, here are the lyrics so you can sing along:

I’m a gentle lad from Sussex
With a heart that’s light and free
So a frown did pass across my brow
When my girl said to me
“They are fighting on the land, Jack,
And they’re fighting on the sea
Will you be a sailor-boy
Or will you join the New Army?”

I’m a loyal lad from Sussex
With a heart that’s brave and free
But the Sergeant-Major’s language, Lord!
It simply horrified me!
And I would not joint the Navy
For I’ve never liked the sea
So I put my brave heart to the test
And joined the RFC

I go skimming the tops of the mountains
And soaring all over the sea
I think of my girl as I’m flying
And I know she is thinking of me

I’m an airborne lad from Sussex
With a heart that’s flying free
I’ve a pair of wings upon my chest
My girl’s so proud of me
They can keep the Royal Navy
They can […] the infantry
For the sky is now my pasture
It’s an airman’s wings for me!

I’m a daring aviator
And I fly so skilfully
But my aeroplane lacked common sense
And crashed into a tree
Now my wings are lying broken
And my girl she weeps for me
For I’ve left this world and God’s unfurled
These angels’ wings for me


The inclusion of this blog post in my series ‘Beautiful Destroyers’ was apt, I thought, because it describes the very early origins of military aviation. Without the tireless efforts of those pioneers of the past, our ‘Beautiful Destroyers’ would never have existed.


The aeroplane in the header picture is a flying replica of a Royal Aircraft Factory BE2c, the mainstay of the Royal Flying Corps in 1915, when the series ‘Wings’ is set. A very stable aeroplane, and ideal for its designed purpose of reconnaissance (being a stable camera platform), it was not really designed to fight other aircraft; the idea of aeroplanes fighting each other hadn’t really been thought of when this aeroplane was designed! The image is a direct screenshot from the opening titles of Series 1 of ‘Wings’. I’m not sure there are any replicas still flying nowadays; remember this series was made in the mid-1970s 🙂


*Hostilities in World War I, known at the time as the ‘Great War’, ceased when the Armistice was signed on the 11th November, 1918. The War was formally ended in June, 1919, with the Treaty of Versailles. This explains why the dates on some war memorials say 1914-1919.

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