Life for a lot of people this past year has been marked by what seems like more than the usual amount of trouble, sadness and loss. Almost weekly we hear stories of people who have had a late diagnosis, a significant or sudden loss or who have been confronted by something out of their control, like a flood or damage to property. This year for our family life has been marked by uncertainty, significant health concerns and personal loss. Time to grieve and adjust not allowed due to yet another change or challenge.

These challenges have spilled over into many of our churches where people have not returned to worship due to issues with health and family. The gaps they have left feel significant and we miss their fellowship and participation.  Within the church others have struggled with the loss of a church building or an adjustment for their church that presbytery planning has brought. In Crieff we have sadly reduced the number of buildings held by our congregation and are seeking to consolidate the membership of the church and look for new ways to be the church in our community. These are all things that I have experienced in the past year and more than once have made me say that we will be seeing this year out gladly.

I have experienced real, raw humanity in this year and it has made me realise how dependent on God I am and should be. Amid all this ‘stuff’, there have been clear signs that God is with me and that God has answered my prayer, often beyond expectation. The reminder is given that God is with us (he never said it would be easy), and how we react, how we follow, will make the difference to us and to those around us. These difficult times are good times to return to thinking about our calling and about why, when and where God has called us. Remember those moments where God has given clear affirmation of what you should do, where you should go and blessed you for following.

Central to getting through these times are our ‘faithful friends’ and ‘friends of the faith’. When we are in difficulty, friends come around providing care and support even when they do not fully understand the challenge. These faithful friends can help so much. For me, especially though my ‘friends of faith’, the community of the Church of Scotland Diaconate is key. Here we share the struggles and the realities of our life, echoing one another’s story from church and parish work to personal life struggles and challenges. A message and a bunch of flowers, a card, a text or a coffee all make us realise that we are not alone in these difficult times.  Each of these small things an answer to prayer, providing hope in challenging times.

The emotional highs and lows of this past year have brought times of light and joy too with my children succeeding in exams and achieving awards. I have been so proud of them that I am almost lost for words.  At ‘Crieff Connexions’ we are starting to reach the people who most need help and see the fruit of the work laid down over years.

At the end of 2023 I will give thanks, yes that this year is past, but I will give thanks for the positives and the negatives. They come together in God’s purpose and remind me to lean on God and God’s timing, not my own or society’s.