Skip to content

Saying Farewell…

March 9, 2020

At the end of this month the Gilmores’ time serving with Global Ministries comes to an end.  Since July 2011,  I have been working at East Belfast Mission, an experience that has included grace, wonder, and difficulties that have shaped and changed us in many ways.  I will always remember arriving into Belfast airport on a drizzly morning almost 9 years ago – with Ellie (6), Emily (4) and nearly 30 weeks pregnant with Jake who would be born that October.  We came with 4 suitcases and much uncertainty about where we would live, whether the girls would get a place at school, and when other items would arrive that we had shipped.  We also wondered how we would fit into EBM and bridge cultural differences and mindsets that so often can divide and tear apart.  Would we connect and feel at home despite missing the ache of what was familiar back in Florida?

A question that has lingered with me over many years is: can I find joy and meaning in life despite challenging circumstances, especially if the circumstances do not change?  Can I flourish where I am planted even though it is unsettling and broken?  EBM is rooted in the ideal of forgiveness and reconciliation.  It’s rooted in being part of the redemptive story of God’s grace.  Yet in the fabric of EBM and the lives of the people I have worked with each day, this has not always been possible.  Even though my circumstances didn’t change, the gospel is knowing that we’ve not yet arrived but there is hope in the journey as we move from this barren world towards something more beautiful and lasting. IMG_6072

Our kids are avid readers and Jake and I have just finished (again!) the Chronicles of Narnia.    The last chapter in the last book says that the children, “{for them} it was only the beginning of the real story.  All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read; which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before.”  Britt’s 4 years at EBM and my 9 years have been one where we have experienced new chapters of healing and growth and change in people’s lives.  EBM, in all its messiness, is a unique place where people walk in off the street and find extraordinary welcome and acceptance.  It’s a place that is part of God’s healing story.  What has been a learning curve for me as a counsellor is that not all healing occurs in ways hoped for or expected.  Forgiveness doesn’t always happen, and reconciling is certainly tough, if possible at all.   Sometimes a person gets to a place of coping with their anxiety or depression and they sit for a while.  Maybe that is why the story may never be completed in this place, but a new chapter unfolds with different people and experiences.  So even when traveling through particularly stormy seasons, we trust that working for reconciliation and hope is worth the risk.


Travelling buddies

Our time with Global Ministries has taken us to Berlin, Atlanta, New York, Mississippi, Philadelphia, and all over Florida.  Our journeys have included delays, almost missing flights, iced tea and hot tea, video link ups and recordings, and warm and inviting homes filled with love and support.  I’m blessed to know people like Gary Mason who gave us the nudge, and David and Eileen Kerr who have journeyed with us as people and parents at EBM.  We have met many faithful supporters of mission work, including my first contact, Judith Potter from Punta Gorda and Dorothy Collins from Pasadena who were always so kind to our family.  We’re thankful for the communities at our former home churches of First UMC, Orlando & St. Lukes, the great folks at Grove UMC, and Bishop Carter who taught me about praying for ‘healing people’.


There are so many pulpits we were allowed to share from and luncheons and cakes bestowed in our honour!

Along the way, we have also been blessed by missionary colleagues, people from all over the world who embraced our children at gatherings and made them feel important.  To have Bill and Gwen Gibson, Missionaries in Sengeal offer communion to a small child was a transformational lesson to me about an open table.  The leadership of Thomas Kemper was always admirable, especially when he took a 2-year-old Jake in his arms, marched us through streets in Berlin, ordered us sausages, rice and beans, and then sat with us sharing a meal.  How humbled I was by his servant heart and non-fussy ways.  The teams who worked on our behalf like Rachel, Dan, Mary, Emily and Jay.  Sometimes miscommunication and frustrations arise in working together but we found the arms of grace many times.  The story continues.

IMG_7480The ending is a natural one.  Global Ministries were very kind to allow my contract to be extended this far until EBM was financially more secure.  The Counselling Centre at EBM has been a place of light-bulb moments, laughter, highs and lows.  I remember moving into the new space and a client taking the plastic cover of the chair, surrounded by paint pots and a step ladder as he shared his story of alcohol addiction.  I’ve “managed” a team of 6-8 part time volunteers and students, made things look beautiful from IKEA and always had candles and tissues on hand.  The staff are dedicated and faithful in their aim to help create a place of safety and be that healing person as I mentioned.  I’ve grown so much in my counselling role and have ached with the clients pain and humility to trust me.  I carry many secrets and stories of good things,  I’m filled up and privileged to have been allowed to work with this service.

The future of us is that Britt continues to serve with the Irish Methodist Church for now, where he was appointed to Knock Methodist 5 years ago.  He has a sabbatical beginning in May during which he will begin a professional doctorate with Wesley Theological Seminary.  We will take the kids to America in July to be with their grandparents.


Waiting for the bus in Dublin after 24 hours of travel & sickness

Ellie who turns 16 later this year, Emily who will be 13 in June and Jake who is 8, have been exposed to many cultural opportunities and many plane journeys and if you know our children, that has involved a lot of sick bags!

At certain times they ask, when are we going back to America?  This is usually during cold winters in Ireland and after visits to theme parks.   We don’t rule that option out.  So for now, we keep crossing the Atlantic, Skyping and loving well.  However, it’s not always been easy to be a Gilmore.  A mum who asks, “what is going on in your heart?” and a Dad for a Pastor who models nothing but humility, and grace, we hope they know their own value and worth and will flourish where they are planted so that the story continues.

The picture of our family at the beginning was taken on a Mission Trip to Romania this summer.  The job of finding joy, discipling and raising these great kids continues wherever that may be.

EBM hopes to secure finances to employ me in August.  This all looks to be good.  However, if you would like to be a part of that financial boost to the Mission please contact: Rev Brian Anderson – for further direction.

We recently sang the following in church that drove me to praying for my own family and those in need:

“Freedom give to those in bondage,

life the burdens caused by sin,

Give new hope, new strength and courage,

grant release from fears within:

light for darkness; joy for sorrow;

love for hatred; peace for strife.

In the streets of every city

where the bruised and lonely dwell,

let us show the Saviour’s pity,

let us of his mercy tell.

In all lands and with all races

Let us serve, and seek to bring

All the world to render praises,

Christ, to you, Redeemer, King”

(Hugh Sherlock)

With that, I end.  Thank you for your partnership and cards that always came through the door at the right time.  I leave loved, richer, wiser if not a little wearier, but the heart of serving and counselling is what I continue to love.

In Him who is able to do the impossible,

Love Ally and Britt {Ellie, Emily & Jake} xo


Hidden Faces

April 3, 2018

I have Loved you with an everlasting love;

I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.

Jeremiah 31:3

Me: “When you look in the mirror to shave or wash your face, what do you see?”

“I only see the razor, I don’t ever look at me.”

“That’s a horrible thought.”

“Sometimes I glance at myself and them shutter and walk away.”

“I see the tired lines, the deep frown, the loneliness.”

“I hate who I am…”

Version 2

Some of the responses I heard this week when I carefully raised the question of what people see when they look intentionally at their reflection.  I say, ‘carefully’ because it is an invasion of trust.  How we view ourselves and what it is like to see pain etched across our own face is something intimately private.  It is vulnerable to share the wounds of rejection looking back at you.

We can all easily recall the moment when we were not good enough.  Not fast enough for the track team, not pretty enough to be asked to the prom, not smart enough to get into that program, and then, when you do give your heart not enough for your partner to stick around.  Always someone nicer, prettier, more accomplished.  Our stories are etched with rejection.  The heavy beat of failure and the pounding drum of disappointment pulses through our days and we sing the lyrics of the ugly lies, knowing the words by heart.  The lies become our heart.

The responses above come from people who have for years tried medication, escape, work, drink, sex, blade, all attempts to bury the beat of self-rejection.  It ends up futile and empty.  And I wonder what to do with it when it has

been the beat of my own heart.  How do I help those experiencing self-loathing when it has been my story too.  I don’t want to be enmeshed but I do get it.  Sometimes clients are addicted to seeing the negative and the ugly.  It has somehow become them and their brain needs to be re-wired and re-channelled to see some beauty in a given moment.  Even in our striving for joy and the fullest of life we can so easily choose the empty dark.  Joy can be found in small ways but the allure of the deceit and lie is much stronger.

Yet, I know that God longs for His children to fully live.  To embrace the fullest of lives – right now.  I have spent many days thinking about God but, “it is how God thinks about me that is infinitely more important.” (C.S Lewis)

fullsizeoutput_864When I ask the question of how God sees them another layer of shame is revealed.  In our toxic environment, the church has become another layer of shame and rejection for some.  It becomes incredible to help peel that away, the song of acceptance becomes crystal clear for the first time, “I have loved you, says the Lord.” (Malachi 1:2)

I have heard His song of love and it draws me.   So I share a little of what I see in them and how they make me feel.  When I share that I am proud of them or I admire their strength or I think they are really special person, the song of acceptance begins to shine across their face. We talk about the possibilities of joy and hope and the maybes.  They are encouraged to look in the mirror and re-frame what the lies have done.  We can see beauty and hope and new beginnings.  They recognise the deceit snarling and chase it away to see the well almost full to dive into.

“The Wounded Warrior is achingly tender with the broken ones” and He has all the patient time to gently lead those who seek and He keeps leading {even me} back to Him (Ann Voskamp).

Planting Sequoias

October 11, 2017

Working for peace and justice in Northern Ireland

October 03, 2017
By Kari C. Barlow | FLUMC


Alison Gilmore grew up amid the rolling green hills and narrow roads west of Belfast, Northern Ireland, and she’s well aware of how the “troubles” reached their formal end.

She knows the Good Friday Agreement was signed in April 1998—after more than 3,600 people had died, and thousands more were injured. She remembers how both sides, for the most part, laid down their arms and agreed to share power.

Alison Gilmore is shown here with her three children and family pet on the hillsides of Northern Ireland. It’s a place she remembers well, having grown up in the countryside west of Belfast in the village of Tempo.

How peace, or a semblance of it, was restored after three decades of bloodshed.

Sometimes, in her counseling office at East Belfast Mission—a nonprofit with a 170-year-old history of serving the poor and marginalized within the city—Gilmore has her doubts. In that room, with its soothing, apple green walls and burning candles, the violence, hate and anger still rage. Sometimes she has to schedule personal recovery time between therapy sessions.

“My clients knew guns and bombs and death beatings in ways that truly shock, repulse and give me disturbing images in my mind,” said Gilmore, appointed by the General Board of Global Ministries and assigned to the mission as a mental health counselor in 2011. “Violence leaves lasting footprints, shadows that haunt a person that come through in addiction, depression and inappropriate behaviors.”

The mission—which includes a homeless shelter, a worshipping congregation of about 200 people, education classes and job training—offers free counseling to all in the community. Gilmore estimates 75 percent of the issues she treats are directly related to the fighting. Her clients are victims and aggressors and everything in between, paralyzed by guilt and shame, unsure of how to make peace with the past.

“There is a lot of regret,” said Gilmore, whose husband, Britt, is a United Methodist minister at a nearby church in East Belfast. “Issues of guilt are something I experience from clients. They cannot comprehend why they acted or did what they did.”

Legacy of pain

Walking through those painful memories alongside her clients is more than a job for Gilmore, who hails from the sleepy village of Tempo in County Fermanagh. It’s an opportunity to use her God-given talents to help heal her home country after so many years of conflict.

“There was something captivating about living life differently from the norm,” Gilmore said. “I wanted to share Jesus with others in a practical way, and the thought of being in a place of vulnerability, yet dependence on God, was appealing.”

Before returning in 2011, she and Britt had lived in America for eight years, and she knew the transition would be challenging.

“Ireland was home, but I was also away long enough to realize that home changes and to fit back in would never be easy,” she said.

Gilmore admits to being surprised by the extent of emotional trauma in Belfast.

She saw families plagued by hostility and depression and an alarming increase in suicide across the country. Those still-raw wounds were evident in January 2013 when protests, some of which were violent, erupted near the mission after Belfast officials voted to limit the number of days City Hall would fly the British flag. One year later, angry loyalists protested outside the mission when it hosted a reconciliation program that featured Brighton bomber Patrick Magee and Jo Berry, the daughter of one of his victims.

“I had to relearn and work hard to truly understand what the troubles were like for those living with it every day,” Gilmore said. “I only experienced the tip of the iceberg.”

Home to East Belfast Mission, the Skainos Centre is part of an urban regeneration project in the inner city. It’s described as a space for community transformation and renewal. The civic square hosts outdoor concerts, farmers markets and other events.

‘What you remember’

The soft-spoken mother of three—12-year-old Ellie, 10-year-old Emily and 6-year-old Jake—considers herself fortunate to have lived “a very peaceful and carefree childhood” in Tempo with an extended family that included 48 first cousins.

“My parents had Catholic friends and dad owned a construction business employing both sides of the community. Not many would do that, as there is a saying, ‘We look after our own,’” said Gilmore. “My mother always taught me to be open and to see good in friends who didn’t share the same religion.”

Divisions and strife between Catholics and Protestants were simply a normal part of daily village life.

“The elementary schools were separated with the Catholic school directly across the road from our Protestant school,” said Gilmore, who was raised in a “decidedly religious, but not Christian,” home. “We walked home on one side of the street and they, the other.”

When Gilmore was about 12, she experienced her first bombing in the nearby town of Enniskillen while shopping for back-to-school uniforms.

“I was shopping with mum and remember the force of the bomb exploding shop window fronts close by us,” she recalled. “Unharmed, that was my first real experience of terror.”

A few years later, in 1987, Enniskillen drew worldwide attention when a massive Irish Republican Army (IRA) bomb killed 12 people at a Remembrance Day service. Gilmore’s father lost a cousin and his wife in the blast.

Although her parents were open-minded and never taught her to dislike Catholics, she readily admits to a fear of Republican neighborhoods that lingers to this day.

“Sometimes the fear comes from what you remember.”

Planting sequoias

Gilmore works hard to keep that in mind when she’s helping clients sort through deep-seated hatred of “the other side.” But the darkness can be overwhelming.

“I have had periods of loneliness and wondering when God would show up,” she said. “The belief that forgiveness would work was deeply rocked for me when I couldn’t see that within people I admired. I felt, does all this work?  Can we really help people reconcile?  Is it worth it?”

In those moments, Gilmore holds tightly to the power of God’s grace, balancing two different images, so many clients share with her—the person they once were and the person they want to be.

“As we deal with the wounds of pain and despair, I also gently share the new picture of light and goodness and a better way,” she said. “We walk there together. For many, and this is key, it is not going to be a 10-step change. It will never be Eden for any of us, but if it can be only two steps better, then I’m thrilled.

Gilmore also chooses to focus on the long game.

“I decided very early that life should have purpose and adventure, that I was called to plant sequoias—a seed so small and where I would never see the end result,” she said. “I like planting sequoias. Now, it is with my children and, hopefully, in the counseling room at EBM.”

–Kari C. Barlow is a freelance journalist based in Pensacola.

In Her Own Words
Read more of our conversation with Alison Gilmore, a UMC Missionary serving in Northern Ireland.

What are you teaching your children about Catholics or anyone who is different from them? What do you stress to them?
We don’t mention terms like Catholic or Protestant. We are working through how as a family and a believing-in-God family makes us different. There are few Christians in their classes, and pressure for material possessions is huge. This is a whole new conversation, but we want to show that our root is in Jesus: His love and gentleness and acceptance of who you are.

As a wife, mother and counselor with many other roles, how do you keep your eyes on God and stay focused on his will?
I recently created a table of things important to me: pictures of the kids, Britt, my mum, dried flowers, bible, bullet journal, pens, a candle and cross. I try and sit here each day to be still and live these words I have challenged myself with: whole, grounded, gracious. I like to read, listen to music, and I’m beginning to enjoy some Celtic prayers and liturgy—not common from my Protestant background!

Do you have a favorite scripture that brings you comfort or gives guidance? Or a hymn or music that you turn to regularly?
Love, love to sing! You will hear me every day singing. Hymns by the Gettys and Andrew Peterson are excellent. Peterson writes with insight and beauty. I have used pieces in therapy. My all-time favorite verse is Zephaniah 3:17:

For the Lord, your God is living among you.
He is a mighty savior.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
With his love, He will calm all your fears.
He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.

What is your hope for East Belfast Mission in the future?
I think that verse encapsulates what I hope for: not to live in fear; to know that the presence of God is close by and how incredibly beautiful to know that He, the sovereign one, who gathers nations, rejoices over us. That is the Garden of Eden for me, as we live in barren lands.


Learning Quiet

August 14, 2017

Gilmore’s in Belfast: Summer 2017IMG_6983

A year ago I received a message asking if I would act as a spiritual director for the lady on the other end of the phone.  Spiritual Direction is probably more practised in the States, whereas, the idea of meeting with a person to seek where God is leading or being present in one’s life is very new in Ireland. 

I was a little hesitant as, after all, I’m more a therapist and I knew the tendency in me to dig and explore together in a Counseling relationship was different from the quietness and less directive approach of a spiritual director.  I also knew the person well from olden days, a woman of vast intelligence, sincerity and analytical in nature.  

I did what I’m learning to do and had an open conversation with her about how this might possible look and we setup some healthy boundaries: I may  slip into psychodynamic mode and would struggle to remain silent; I offered a trial period and if they wanted to leave and find a more gifted director then there was permission for that too.  A date was set.

In our Monthly meetings this is what I’ve learnt:

  • Stillness is beautiful as I listen to my breathe and hear my heart beat.  
  • Minutes of quiet without a word is rich.  
  • Every month I’m actually left stunned that questions and words and thoughts are planted by God.  I do zero preparation, barely any prayer leading into it and yet, God is present and challenging both our lives.

A word was selected that summed up what she needed in her life this year: ‘Permission’.  Permission to say No.  Permission not to follow the pathway that society pushes you along.  Permission to try new adventures.  Permission to laugh more.  

I liked the word so much that I made it into my blocks that sits above my sink.  Having no dishwasher for a few months (😢) I wash dishes with assigned child on rota and give us both permission to moan, talk and allow child to talk about whatever is big that day for them.

Permission Blocks

Each month in this “spiritual time” with the lady we discuss books, music, parents, early mornings and faith.  I have learnt bundles of grace and serenity from observing her life.  I read the books she suggests, and her company in this faith journey is a blessing.  I love how uniquely God works in that quiet space for one hour each month.

All of this is in direct contrast to some of the people before and after.  Many of the clients walking down the hallway of East Belfast Mission, lack those boundaries that we set, have no permission to open themselves up to the vulnerable that lies within their very core.  Too frightened, too rigid, too hardened to allow the Spirit to soothe and warm their souls.  I’ve been troubled by the high level off anger in one client.  I see pain in secrets never shared in case it erupts the relationships, and I see how death leaves a tsunami of grief.  

The violence of Belfast war years still lies dormant, easily set off by Brexit, failed governments, injustice.  I hear the grief from a mother whose child was gunned down many years ago but the lifelong devastation it brought to them still like yesterday.  I see how the secret of an affair tears the fabric of family life.  

If I can feel the presence of God in my spiritual direction role, then why can I not feel Him with the angry person?  

The advantage with the lady during spiritual direction is, of course, the shared Christian faith that has both unhinged us in the past and is now being re-made, renewed.  She also comes with great self awareness.  The majority of my present case load lack that vital need – who are you? what are you about? Where do you belong? what journey are you on?

I suppose I need permission to keep in check the lack of opportunities that many face to explore themselves, and keep balanced that God can be present.  I need that permission again to sit with the angry person, understand where they come from, that they have not been offered the same opportunities that I have to explore my heart and mind.  I believe I’m called to this ministry; to graciously offer them acceptance, space and invite each to explore their vulnerabilities, resolve negative patterns and give them permission to invite stillness.  

Funding Issues:

We have two new counsellors working at East Belfast Mission.  Victor is on student placement, and Stephanie is working towards accreditation.  They join Eileen, Norma, Stuart and Janet (all volunteers), and myself.  Together, we offer around 40 hours of free Counselling services to the community around the Mission.  However, we have no funding and feel concerned 

about future roles.  We would like EBM to fund a salary or be able to raise money in order to provide the stability we need.  This is a matter of prayer.


The children (Ellie 12, Emily 10 and Jake 5) are enjoying summer holidays.  We managed to travel to the Isle of Wight and unto Denmark to join American friends for a joint holiday.  Great to catch up and explore the city, laugh, eat picnics and raise our shared 7 kids for this week.  Tiring but fun. 😊

Until the Fall, may you grant yourself permission to be who you really are,


Alison, Britt, Ellie, Emily & Jake

Pictures from our Summer: Tree House Building, Mum’s Quiet Space and Plenty of Tree Climbing (Which ended Jake in Hospital last night – only stitches, thankfully!!)




Truth, goodness, and beautiful cookies

May 3, 2017

The mind often battles with believing the truth about oneself.  Negavity and self-spiralling thoughts, words and scenarios cloud our mind.  As one client told me last week, “there are too many ‘chattering monkeys’ in my head”.  

Maybe that is why we keep busy.  We keep ourselves preoccupied with work, household chores or doings just to keep the chattering monkeys at bay.  The things that we know to be good, true and what we deeply long for, like rest, reflection, thankfulness and self care, become elusive, hard to reach or weighed under a cloud.

“You’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies”. 

Philippians 4:8 (The Message)

As we know, there are many different kinds of people.  Ones who see the glass half empty, half full or somewhere in between.  There is the self-loathing person who is a victim of circumstances or a victim of self.  Then there is the self-deceiver (I’ve met quite a few) who have conveniently made up a lie and convince everyone else they are right.    They smell of arrogance and play an elusive game.  

Though both types trouble me, it’s the upbeat and optimism person that has grasped my attention as off late.  I have valued how a more optimistic mind can see good or put a different perspective on situations.  I feel their calm in my turmoil, their reflectiveness to my impulsiveness as they are Winnie the Pooh to my Eore.  I love having the ‘Poohs’ in my life, and thankful for their serenity and outlook.  

Why we think and feel the way we do is partly due to our genetic makeup, our life experiences, personality, and sometimes, dare I say it, an unwillingness to deal with the ‘elephant in the room’.  Sometimes our positive attributes mask pain too difficult to even begin to unravel.  It’s much easier to avoid than to lay it bare on the table.  Working with a female client over three years was a roller coaster that she often wanted to stop.  Perseverance and love kept her in it, facing the pain and now releasing it.  

In conversations where it seems life is: “fine” , “wonderful” – I like to prod.  What do you do when life gets tough?  Or when someone lets you down?  What would it be like for you to be more vulnerable with someone safe?  Those questions often lead to a gasp, or a slight tinge.  The word ‘vulnerability’ makes the eyes widen and the body back further into space.  Dealing with real emotions is really hard to do.  

How do we stop living the lie and believe in the truth, that though there are many wrinkles in our relationships, and patterns of behaviour we need to work on, if we can face the truth with honesty, humility and a supportive friend, then we can live into the truth that we are more than enough.

One of our children was making beautiful cookies that needed to be rolled into petite balls, then covered in melted chocolate and sprinkles.  This was their own plan.  They found the recipe and asked me to purchase items.  The table was ready for their own quiet, afternoon activity, and it certainly didn’t involve other members of the family.  

Alas, this was not the plan of others.  Others wanted to be involved and help, causing much distress to the cook, who in frustration send the melted chocolate balls into a messy heap at the bottom of the fridge.  Running to hide away from all siblings, anger, mum’s frustration and their own shame, they sat alone (and cold) – hating themselves the most.  After some time, as space and quiet is a good healer, I found myself huddled beside child in the cold garage having a chat about believing in the truth, dealing with their anger and my own. I really wanted child to hear from my lips that there is always a way back.  Don’t sit alone and broken.  Don’t remain slumped in shame of what you did or said.  Eventually, child came inside.  Weepy, shame buried deep.  “There is always a way back”, I whisper.  I needed to hear it as much as child.  I tried to stay quiet as child patiently repaired by re-rolling, touching up the icing and sprinkling with colour.  We both looked at the cookies on the decorative plate.  We both felt pleased.  The coldness had gone, my frustration had eased and love remained.  Something more beautiful was at work.  By carefully reshaping the cookies the ugliness was removed.  I gently hinted that maybe as the cookies were “repaired”, could they also seek to “repair” the brokenness in the relationship with other family members?  

The word sorry might not have passed their lips, but there was an invitation to the others to be part of the kitchen again and share in what was made.

Did it exhaust us and make us worry and take up valuable time? Absolutely.  But one thing this child is learning, and me, is there is a way back.  Believing in the truth that forgiveness and love and a renewed space can grow.  By not living in shame or denial, but facing the messiness, good can occur and whatever is lovely revealed.

It may take a cold afternoon in the garage to realise that, but it can also take 3 years and counting.  So don’t hide behind “everything is okay”.  Often it is not.  Surround yourself with a safe person, walk towards the fault, hurt or pain, knowing there is always a way back from shame.  There is redemption for us all.

A star in the shadows

July 18, 2016

star“For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”

I always feel June is like December.  June is frantic with busyness and end of year this and thats.  I always struggle with this end of year madness.  For reasons that will unfold, this summer has brought an even greater feeling of weariness.  Travelling to the counselling room I felt tired even before I started.  Certain clients I was meeting gave me a heavy in the heart pit feeling that continued into the summer.  I couldn’t really explain it. Until now.
The summer has Britt and I glued to the BBC News each night witnessing some historic moments in British politics. The Referendum, Brexit and subsequent leaders resigning. The Chilcot Enquiry raising doubts and questions over the Iraq War. Donald Trump stating if he is elected President he will go to war with ISIS.  Comments that give rise to what David Ford has called “multiple overwhelming’s”.

Fear takes rein and you wonder if it is safe to fly or travel on the undergrounds in London this summer.  Worldwide violence from shootings not far from our old house in Orlando, to horror in Nice made us both heart sick and wondering why? Why is there so much hatred and violence that only leaves pain for families and loved ones? Nobody wins in this battle.  I think the weariness I felt counselling was made more intense because of these events, and also because of the on-going internal battle of pain and mental health my clients are facing.  Everyday seems hard for them and I suppose I questioned my hope for them.  Hope is the very one thing that is foundational for me. As Britt taught yesterday, we all need to hear stories of hope and encouragement, to know that God has not abandoned us or has left that person dangling.

There seems to be so much darkness in people’s lives and in the situations they are facing. I see in their lives a lingering dark shadow with nowhere for them to turn.  Then I doubt God.  Doubt His ability.  Doubt my own ability.  So, it was refreshing to be reminded of a quote from Tolkien.  In The Return of the King, Sam and Frodo are in a difficult place.  They are tired and overwhelmed and all around is just darkness and eerie shadows.  Then Sam looks up to the mountains a sees a white star twinkling in the sky. The beauty of it spoke right into his heart: “For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach”.

Despite the shadows lurking in people’s minds or situations, or the shadows of terror that looms over the world, I have to believe there is a brighter light.  A source of beauty.  The television overwhelms us with horror, but equally fails to s2016.07 children smilinghow us the good.  There are stories of many people helping, supporting, trying to bring beauty out of dirt.  There are stories out there of rescue and warm hugs, meals being cooked, and friends walk the pathway with each other.

This song deeply ministered to my soul today as I leaned gently against the window, took in the beauty of the greens and blues and pondered how wonderful it will be when all tears have been cried, all sighs and weariness spent, and Jesus will be waiting, waiting with His overwhelming, generous love.

I hope as you ponder the lyrics, they will also touch your heart.  You can also listen to it here (Youtube of “After the Last Tear Falls”).

After The Last Tear Falls by Andrew Peterson (on the album Love and Thunder)

After the last tear falls
After the last secret’s told
After the last bullet tears through flesh and bone
After the last child starves
And the last girl walks the boulevard
After the last year that’s just too hard

There is love
Love, love, love
There is love
Love, love, love
There is love

After the last disgrace
After the last lie to save some face
After the last brutal jab from a poison tongue
After the last dirty politician
After the last meal down at the mission
After the last lonely night in prison

There is love
Love, love, love
There is love
Love, love, love
There is love

And in the end, the end is
Oceans and oceans
Of love and love again
We’ll see how the tears that have fallen
Were caught in the palms
Of the Giver of love and the Lover of all
And we’ll look back on these tears as old tales

‘Cause after the last plan fails
After the last siren wails
After the last young husband sails off to join the war
After the last “this marriage is over”
After the last young girl’s innocence is stolen
After the last years of silence that won’t let a heart open

There is love
Love, love, love
There is love

And in the end, the end is
Oceans and oceans
Of love and love again
We’ll see how the tears that have fallen
Were caught in the palms
Of the Giver of love and the Lover of all
And we’ll look back on these tears as old tales
‘Cause after the last tear falls
There is love



Glorious Light

October 27, 2015
DSC_0790The end of October greets us with the end of Day Light savings.  As I type, it is total darkness outside and we are thinking of ways to heat our house!  Many in Northern Ireland are more susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)  as we are situated in the higher latitudes of the northern hemisphere where there are large changes in light between summer and winter.  We also experience periods of dark, gloomy weather which further reduces the light we receive and therefore has a profound effect on our body clocks.
What I am finding at East Belfast Mission is those people who already suffer with depression and other low moods are now buried under an extra layer of sadness.  What they coped with reasonably well just a month ago now feels unbearable.  One of the dear people I work with said it is like, “a heavy blanket covering over me, and I don’t know how to get it off…I feel choked and angry with who I’ve become.”
Can glorious light shine out of the depths of despair?  Even if we don’t struggle with depression but experience weariness, loss, busyness from school runs, dishes, meals, people, even church, is there joy?  Can joy – strong and unshakeable, remain constant?  I probably would have hesitated on answering this until I met an amazing person who has dealt with more than I’ve ever heard before.  Words like cancer, bankruptcy, terminal illness, burying their child and anger are part of the words between us.  I actually wept on hearing such things.   What I also heard was God and love and presence and power and prayer.  Somewhere, with their own blanket of grief covering them is a small glimmer of Hope.  It’s what she holds onto when vomit from cancer and tears of a lost child engulf her.  She is also in the arms of a praying community and the blessings from that are life saving.  Glorious light, even faintly, still shines.  I was deeply encouraged.  DSC_0804
John 1:5-The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness had not overcome it.
     The kids are on half term break which also brings around birthday celebrations.  Ellie turns 11 years on 3 November.  Her creative spirit had me busy working out how to make a macaroon tower and make crepes for the first time!  She is a lover of the American Girl movie Grace, which has a french theme.  Along with her sister and 5 friends I think the “oh la la” was flowing.  We praise God for how she is growing so beautifully (and creatively!).
Please remember her over this coming month as she finally sits three one hour examinations for secondary school.  These tests are the culmination of years of work (though the school she is selected for is not known until May 2016).
Ellie has worked hard these past few months, but more importantly, beyond Maths and English, she is learning to live with forgiveness and truthfulness and her heart is being shaped.  We love the journey she is on and are so proud of her.DSC_0797

A new journey…

June 26, 2015


Britt is finishing his time as a missionary with Global Ministries, and is being stationed by the Methodist Church in Ireland at another congregation in East Belfast. Alison will be continuing in her role as a Global Ministries Missionary – using her counseling gifts at East Belfast Mission. Both of us are grateful to all who have prayed for and supported us these four years, and would be glad for your continuing support for Alison and prayers for our whole family!

As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once they left their nets and followed him.”

Mark 1:16-18

There are some journeys we undertake without fully knowing our destination.

When Jesus called the disciples to follow him, they had no idea what kind of change it would bring to their lives. Would they return to their nets in a week, a month, or a year? What places would they visit? What would they actually do (‘fishing for men’ may not have made much sense)? They could not have imagined the joy, amazement, or pain that they would encounter. They only knew, in that particular moment, that it was right for them to go with Jesus.

Worship in Connswater Community Centre.  Photo by Mike DuBose, UMCom.

Worship in Connswater Community Centre. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMCom.

In the summer of 2011, as we were saying goodbye to friends and family in Orlando, we weren’t sure what it would look like for us to be serving at East Belfast Mission as a family – we only knew that it was right for us to go. I did know something about the place, having previously spent two years with the youth at EBM. Yet we knew that the organization was undergoing tremendous transition, as they were building a large new space with a vision of offering renewal for the surrounding community. For our first eighteen months, therefore, the congregation met in a local community center, and there were plenty of conversations about the move in the midst of normal life of building community, preaching God’s word, and caring for one another.

Plenty of Change!

After an EBM service in Skainos     Moving into Skainos, however, was just one of the major changes that EBM has traversed during our time. There have been expanded projects and new staff, so that EBM has nearly twice as many employees as when we arrived four years ago. Last year, the mission welcomed a new Superintendent in Rev. Margaret Ferguson, as Rev. Gary Mason finished his fifteen years leading the organization. In addition, there was a particularly difficult year bridging 2013-14 as a number of key staff were dismissed following a lengthy investigation.

Together, these changes have created an atmosphere of constant shifting – and have formed our understanding of God’s call for us as mission partners. Our growing sense of vocation was to offer care, help and peace (as we could in our limited ways!) to the community at and around EBM in such intense times of transition. Though Alison’s role as counselor has been steady, my responsibilities as Associate Minister have varied from year to year depending on the needs of the season.

A week might have entailed the following:

  • Meeting in our cafe offering encouragement to a young adult trying to stay sober and find a way through a difficult time, or listening and offering prayer with a resident in our hostel.
  • Preparing and leading a Bible study and discussion for long-term members of our congregation.
  • Meeting with and offering support to our homework-club co-ordinator, and then popping by to say hello to the children.
  • Visiting a congregant in the hospital.
  • Writing a grant monitoring report to give feedback to a funder of our social programme for seniors in the community.
  • Hosting and offering a tour to a visiting group from America (GA, FL, MN, WV, etc…), Malawi, Malaysia, Belgium, or Belfast!
Getting ready for a community service day.  Photo by Mike DuBose, UMCom.

Getting ready for a community service day. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMCom.

Everybody Matters

These bullet points, however, are just a listing of activities and only mean something when there are representative of caring relationships. One of the things I have enjoyed about EBM is the many people who seek to honor the worth and dignity of each individual – no matter their past or current failures. The clearest organizational value is ‘Everybody Matters’, which is rooted in our Biblical understanding that every person is created in the image of God. Some people who come across the door of the mission may be overlooked by the rest of society, but they matter to God and should matter to us.

What is next?

As Alison and I prayed about the future over this past year, we felt that this summer would mark a turning point. It has felt to us like this season of significant transitions is now drawing near an end, and that EBM would be entering a new season of life. It is difficult to put months of prayer and conversation into a few words, but I felt that this summer would be the right time to say farewell to a place that has shaped me profoundly over two seasons in my life.

Having now been stationed by the Methodist Church in Ireland, I will be taking up the role of minister at Knock Methodist Church from 1 July. This church is only located about two miles away from EBM, and yet it will be a very different experience for me compared to the last four years.

Alison will continue in her current role as GBGM missionary as a mental health counselor at EBM. She has received much positive feedback from her ministry, and (though I’m clearly biased!) I see how she is clearly gifted for this work. Due to the trauma that Northern Ireland has endured in the past, there are many people with severe depression, along with many other mental health challenges that have arisen through a time of such conflict. She offers hope and perspective to people in very difficult places. The counseling service at EBM has been and continues to be in high demand. Alison will be increasing her hours in the upcoming months, and continues to be sent and supported in this work by Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church.

For those of you, therefore, who have sent financial support to Global Ministries in my name, I would ask you to consider whether you might continue your support of the missionaries across the world by picking up Alison’s name. Her missionary profile can be found here (

Alison’s missionary support code (or Advance number) is 3021321.

DSC_0075Thank you

So we find ourselves on a continuing journey – seeking to follow God with our lives and yet unsure what the next stage will feel like. I am thankful for these past years at EBM, and am conscious that the ministry offered across the world by Global Ministries would not be possible without individuals and congregations who give and pray and support this work. So thank you once more, and may you know God’s blessing and guidance in your own adventures of following Christ today.



Finding Our Place

May 5, 2015

Finding our place…

ellie and hopeSnapping some pictures of our new Puppy Hope this week, opened up the thought off change and growth. Hope is an incredible puppy who has rapidly growing in the 4 weeks since we collected her (is this a sign off bigger things to come?), but also in the picture I captured was Ellie. Her love for animals has never waived and her dedication to Hope is lovely to watch. It is difficulty for her to be ‘firm’ with Hope – especially in those nippy biting moments – ouch!

One big change for Ellie this week was coping with her best friend moving schools, having to seat beside the more rowdy boys in class and realising that getting her own room is still on hold! Simple things through the eyes off an adult, but not so much when you are 10 years old.

Another place and another change is in-that packing boxes have arrived at our house. Some of you may know that we are moving house in a few weeks. Britt’s role is changing and so we are moving (we will share more about his journey in an upcoming post). We have loved living in this peaceful home for the past 4 years. It has become our retreat after long days working in the dysfunctional and hectic world off the Mission and it was where we brought home our last baby.  I will be sad to leave the spacious kitchen and hidden garden. The bright light invited me to cook more interesting menus (!). Our new place is not very far away so thankfully the girls can stay at school. This will be the last school year for Ellie before she moves into the high school system. Children in the UK seat a transfer exam in November to determine their ability and next school to attend. It is a long, hard examination process and seems way too intense for 10 years olds to cope with. I hate it, and I hate to see their little faces crumpled when they perceive failure on practice papers. But there is always Hope….

emily and jake readingAs I toured around the house my camera caught one of those special can’t believe your eyes moment when Emily was teaching Jake to read! They have a budding and wonderful relationship that can move from hugs and kisses too squeals of, “Emily took this away from me…”, “Jake stop pulling my hair…”, “your not allowed to make my bed into a boat…”

Emily loves loves to teach. If it is not Jake then it is Hope and sometimes me. I couldn’t imagine her not in our family. Emily turns 8 in June and is eager to plan her party. She is restricted not to speak or make lists for food preparations until 4 weeks before. She is quite a cook….

britt readingAnd then of course there is Britt. Safe in his quiet world (which never seems to happen for him), tucked with a book. The new house will give him a box room to study. This makes my heart glad and will be the first space I will yield my decorating skills on. He has felt a dryness in study over the past few months, missing moments to reflect and vision God’s ways.  I admire and love his faithfulness to God’s call and the hard work he has poured into people and the mission and us.

Over Easter I was able to find a quiet place to think about the woman who went to the tomb and couldn’t find Jesus:

“Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” (John 20:13)

I just love that. Finding the Lord. Searching for Him and realising that He is right there. The Lord is right beside us. Walking our path and tenderly lifting us up and filling us with His love.

We often cannot find Him in the noise, mess or plans we have made. It is often difficult for me to calm my heart and listen and be still (I know you can identify). Apart from the quiet rocking chair in our room, one of the most powerful places for me to listen is during counselling sessions. It is such a challenging task to block out noise and really hear what is being said. I love listening for the under tones, the “not saids”. I love listening for tears not yet poured. I love knowing that God opens up the darkness and shows glimpses off the past and uses me in that journey.

In listening you also have to make right judgments. Is this person ready for a new direction, to take ownership? Can they tolerate and cope if they go to that place off pain? In areas of sexual trauma I take my shoes off because this is sacred and vulnerable and very painful. Patrick (not real name) told me recently that in his dreams/nightmares they see a green curtain (not real colour). They are not ready to see behind it and don’t want too. They are strong and confident in what God has done so far, and he is very thankful for the such a beautiful work in his life. He is not that fearful child anymore. What my client knows is enough for her at this stage. I love that ownership and personal responsibility because it is healing in itself.

What I love even more is that God is right there and it is He who is leading the sessions and taking my feeble (I am serious) feeble abilities and allows the person to breathe and be still and feel cared for and satisfied. The curtain can be revealed, or not. It all depends on what the person needs to help them heal. In the searching they go through grief and anger and hatred, and for some, a new excepting, a new kind of peace. They have found their place.

If you would like to read further on this issue then some of these resources may be helpful:

It’s not fair… reflecting on family and ministry

November 30, 2014

DSC_0282I don’t know who announced it first, maybe it was our daughter who decided that life wasn’t fair when we told her she could not eat chocolate before breakfast, but whoever started the new phrase, Jake has suddenly latched onto this concept that life really is not fair especially when he can’t climb, cut with knives, eat dessert before dinner and re-braid the dolls hair.
With two birthdays just past and Christmas approaching we (or maybe I), try to think thoughtfully over gifts.  What do they really need, and what would be manageable with budget and size of house (seriously, there is no room for a train table so I just have to keep tripping over Thomas and Rosie the Special).  DSC_0343So many items seem desirable and of course EVERYONE in school has a DS, I-PaDSC_0266ds and all things involving plugs.  Noted, they are not asking for them, just sharing the almost truths.

I have felt ridiculously stressed about gifts, trying to make the right choices.  Stupid.  I know.

I also easily fall into discontentment, want and “not fair”.  After finding 15 year old journals in my parents’ attic, I realised this is an on-going problem!  Happiness is short lived.

However, as I say to the kids, “I know it’s seems unjust to you, I get that”, I’ve also come to an okay place that it is okay to want and like and need.  It’s okay to be occasionally extravagant.  What I’m really wrestling with and trying to teach the girls is that deep down, we all want something more lasting and more joy filled.

I am that woman wanting streams of living water to flow.  I am that mum who longs to bring squeals of delight and deep gratitude together.  I am that person wanting more steadiness and unwavering faith in those “for goodness sake” moments.

Many years ago a piece of paper with the following question was slipped to me: “within the painful circumstances you am facing, how can you still know joy in God’s presence?”  I’ve mulled this over many times and shared it with many people.  This question has sometimes, not always, led me to true joy that has sustained me in a time of confusion or hurt.

Many people in our church and community are experiencing much hurt from anger, cruel words, and strife from various sources.  Some clients coming for counselling see a blank page of misery and despair.  There is certainly nothing joy-filled in their circumstances.  The picture I hold is beauty and possibility.  I don’t push it straight away, in many cases it is very hard work and years of a journey together, but as their counsellor and as the church, surely we should try to be known by our hope, love and even joy in impossible circumstances.  What that looks like is valuing who they are and where  they have come from.


The love of God means giving something beyond the Christmas platitudes.  It may mean saying, “I will walk with you in your hurt and pain.”  I will walk with you and together we can find more joy in the story around us.  In the miserableness can glimpses of beauty be found?

In the demands of trying to be everything for everybody and getting Christmas right, can we just be still and content? I’m going to try, because I do know One who offers so much more (and we kind of have a difficult relationship).

I do believe there is a lasting joy in Christ that makes sense even when life seems so darn unfair and these are the words He draws me with –  “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (John 7:37-38)


%d bloggers like this: