Where are you?

Where are you?

In the fear, in the anxiety in the struggle.

Where are you?

In the loss, in the heartache, in the agony and the tears.

Where are you?

When the future feels overwhelmingly unknown and scary. When it doesn’t look like you thought it would.

Where are you?

In the loneliness, in the separation and the rejection.

Where are you?

In the chaos, in the deafening noise and the mess.  When you know one more look at the news will send you over the edge.

Where are you?

When we aren’t quite sure which way to turn, or how to make a good decision.

Stop for a moment. Be quiet. Be Still.

You are still there. You haven’t gone anywhere. In the big and the small. Maybe in these days, these days that are long and at times feel like an eternity, we need to search a bit harder for you but you are still there.

You are there in the text that says, “I love you and I am with you, I have your back.”

You are there in the flowers and brownies that turn up on the doorstep.

You are in the little boy that shouts over the fence to come play Moana or who wants to sword fight.

You are there in the Instagram feed filled with promises that are true throughout the ages, that pop up at just the right moment.

You are there is the many many walks, in the woods, the rivers, the trees and the wildflowers.

You are there in the presence of friendship, those who have many years of memories and those that are just beginning, in those moments of connection, of understanding, of caring.

You are there in the love of family, that lets you cry, that cries with you, that keeps wanting and believing for so much more.

You are in that small voice that whispers in the middle of the night that this is not the end of the story, that there is still so much to come, that wills you to hold on.

You are there in the heat of the sun on our faces and in the rain as it pelts down on the roof.

You are there in the quiet times where it is just you and him, where it is only his voice and his words that stand.

You are there in the moments where hearts are full; music is turned up loudly and there is dancing.

Your are in the tears and the laughter.

You are threaded throughout it all.

You remind us of all the ways you have come through for us in the past helping us to know you will do the same in the future.

You remind us that we are never alone.

You remind us that there is ALWAYS beauty even in the hardest of places and times.  ALWAYS.

You remind us that light always outshines the darkness, the love is greater than hate, and truth wins over the lies.

You remind us of what really matters, what is worth fighting for and what to invest in.

You remind us that best is yet to come.

But you also ask of us too.

You ask us to be that light, that love and that truth for others, to carry them when they can’t stand.

You ask us to speak you into the lives of others, into brokenness and pain.

You ask us to be carriers of healing and restoration; you call us to be generous.

You ask us to live out the joy that is so entwined with your character.

You ask us to believe for more, to fight for more, to speak out for more.

HOPE.

Along with love and faith you are my favourite.

Thank you that you are the greatest of things and always will be.

HOPE.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.” I Corinthians 13 vs. 13.

Jesus and Show Tunes

Well this has been quite a week hasn’t it?

I am not sure what I feel – I swing from being absolutely fine to being consumed by anxiety to being totally terrified. I can’t actually get my head round what is happening.  It is the craziest of times.

And I think one of the craziest things about is that normally when you are going through a tough time it is normally just you or your people, it is your journey to walk and those times are often unique to you. But this is everyone! Our whole city, nation and world – there is no-one who isn’t impacted. Now that blows my mind.

We all have our fears and struggles in this midst of this.

For me they are having to leave my mum and uncle alone in their own homes for goodness knows how long, not being able to be physically present with my Irish one and worrying what this will look like work wise and financially.

Again I think all our fears at this time run along similar lines.

My close friend has been in hospital nearly a week fighting this crappy virus, and his wonderful wife is in isolation. I have friends who are self-employed whose work is slowing right down and who are exhausted with worry. It is heart breaking.

None of us know what this will look like the other side.

I have had a few sleepless nights this week and so I have turned to prayer because actually for me in times like this I absolutely do not know how else to respond and each time I do that the fears subside and a new perspective comes.

What if family relationships are deeper, healed and changed? I have never spoken to my mum so much as I have done in the last few days. We are probably going to have a little bit more time on our hands than normal – time to connect in a different way. Last night my daughter read to her 18 month and 4 year old cousins, us in Sheffield, them in London, with Granny joining in from another part of Sheffield.  We are still a family.

What if this forges friendships that are so much stronger than they ever were before? I lay in bed yesterday morning talking to three sets of friends all of us still in bed but it was nice to start the day with them, to see their faces, and in fact we ended the day again, a day that had felt quite stressful, with different friends sharing different struggles, talking and praying. Thank you God for technology. My friend in isolation, not able to be able to see her sick husband, has said she has been overwhelmed at the messages, the care packages, and the love. I had a twenty minute conversation with her through the window, another friend prayed with her through the letter box. New and different ways of doing friendship but what if they create something more beautiful that we could have ever asked or hoped for.

What if we let this take our marriages and relationships to a deeper place? I had a virtual date on Friday night, me with an orange and lemonade him with a mars bar. If this goes on for a long time this part will be the hardest part for me but my prayer is that actually maybe we can look back on this time and see it as a really significant season for us.

I think we will see tough times ahead. Without a doubt. But there is always hope, always.  I think it will mean a simpler, stripped back life for many people but  maybe that may bring a freedom with it. Financially who knows how this will impact our economies but maybe it will teach us that we actually don’t have as much control as we think we do and that actually money, things, holidays are not the things of substance in our lives. Maybe for some of us it will be a call to be sacrificial and generous in ways we have never had to before – going without those luxuries for a while, giving our excess income to those who have lost theirs, or to those where this throws them into even more dire straits than they were before.  Maybe we will learn to do community in a whole new way, in a way that makes us all richer.

I think when we are forced to let go we often find things we could never have imagined.

I am not for one minute trying to downplay what is going on. I know for many the mental health implications will be massive. People will grieve and I know given the circumstances of isolation and social distancing, that process will be even harder. People will struggle to feed their families.

But for those of us who are able maybe this is a time in history where we get to choose a different way. A less selfish way.

I know for me personally this will put my faith to the test. But whatever wrestles and struggles come I know he is bigger, that he is mighty, that he can always make a way and that he loves us. We may not understand everything that is happening in the course of the weeks and months ahead but I know he still has a plan and a purpose, that we still have a future. I can’t do this without believing that.  When everything I know and love is temporarily taken away from me, other than my home and child, he is it. He should always be it, but I am so easily distracted, life gets busy and so I know this is a time where all of that changes and so it will change my relationship with him if I let him. And that can only be a good thing.

So if you pray this is a time to pray hard and if you don’t maybe give it a go. Each day make time to say thank you for because we still have so many things to be grateful for. Sing – I intend to play show tunes each day because a good show tune makes everything a little bit better. Dance. Play. Laugh.  And love hard.

And know that whatever comes, whatever is taken, you are still loved, nothing can take that away and that will see us through.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13 vs 13

He’ll make a way….

So the last few weeks for me have felt quite hard. A real struggle trying to keep anxious thoughts and feelings at bay.

Generally I am not an anxious person but every now and then it comes and it overwhelms and terrifies me consuming everything. I struggle to engage properly and in my head I take every situation/part of my life to the worst case scenario from death to jail (irrational I know!) to losing my job.

90% of the time it is triggered by work, which is in a large part rooted in the past (litigation is probably not the career for you if you are prone to worry!!!), but it then spirals into every other area of life. A few weekends ago after a lovely weekend away we drove home and within hours I had convinced myself I had not locked the cottage up that we had been staying in so in the middle of a crazy storm I drove all the way back to find that yes of course I had locked it up but that on the 45 minute drive back I felt all the stuff of the past – the loss, the fear swirling under the surface.

What if he dies too?

What if I lose my job and can’t pay the bills?

What would I do without them? 

How do I keep her safe?

I know none of these things root in anything of any substance, because life is in a good place, but in those times a darkness comes which I can’t shake and whilst I sit and rationalise still those feelings of panic feel bigger.

A few days later a colleague said to me “What is going on because you are not ok are you.” I was honest with him and said I felt really anxious and he simply responded saying “It is ok. We all have these times.” It helped!

Now I am fortunate because it always passes, and peace returns, there are always people there who will listen, reassure, speak sense, pray for me and with me and I have arms that hold me tight and don’t let me go. Those things help but they don’t take it away.

I am a big believer in speaking things out loud, that by saying the words the fears and worries somehow lose some of their power.

I am learning to handle these times better when they come because actually I know there is only one truth that makes any sense in the midst of it all.

I AM NOT ALONE. HE IS BIGGER. HE IS GREATER. HE MAKES A WAY WHEN I FEEL LIKE THERE IS NO WAY.

A couple of weeks ago I was getting ready to go out for dinner but I could feel the panic swirling in me and I knew I had to get my eyes on the only one who could calm me, so I sat with a journal looking back through my phone at things I had saved last time I had been through this and just wrote and spoke these truths out and over me:

  • God is fighting your battles, arranging things in your favour and making a way even you don’t see a way.
  • Shout Hosanna over every fear.
  • “He will cover you with his feathers and under his wings you will find refuge.” Psalm 91 vs 4
  • God loves me (and he loves you). God is on my side (and he’s on your’s). He is coming after me (and you too). He is relentless.
  • “Fear not, for I am with you. Be not dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you. Yes, I will help you. I will uphold you with my righteous hand.” Isaiah 41 vs 10.
  • “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5 vs 7
  • “THE LORD WILL FIGHT YOU; YOU NEED ONLY TO BE STILL.” Exodus 14 vs 14

The truth helps. It brings hope. It brings safety. It brings peace.

I know life at times can be a battle and sometimes that battle feels harder than other times but I also know the battle is won, and that the one who is victorious is on my side, for me, making a way for me – the one who created the world, holds me in his hands. I may not always get it, I may not always understand how or what or why, but I know he will never let me go, that he is faithful.

Then I worshipped because in the hard moments it is sometimes the only response I have – it is again a way of surrendering it to him.

Then I wondered whether maybe today someone else needed to hear these words too. That you aren’t alone. That it will be ok. That it will pass. But above all that he loves you, that he’s bigger than it all and that he will make a way.

An unwelcome friend

I want to say thank you to you.

Thank you that you came. Thank you for what you brought. Thank you for what you changed. Thank you for what you did.

I actually think that you were one of the most beautiful gifts I have ever been given.

I didn’t always feel like that though. I hated you at times. I fought against you. I resisted you. I swore and screamed at you. I would have done anything to make you go away and to never see you or know you again. I wish you had never come.

You have been the hardest and yet the most beautiful thing.

You are the biggest tension – you steal but yet your presence brings with it so much, you hurt but because of you there is joy, you are pain and love all at the same time. You are death but from you comes life.

Without you I am not sure I would have known so much richness and depth. You have grown my capacity to love, to feel, to care. You allow for vulnerability, for faithfulness, for tenacity, for integrity, for kindness and so much more – things I have been given in abundance from those around me because you came to visit.

You are inevitable. As surely as we take each breath you are somewhere, you are everywhere. I hear of you every day. I see you in the eyes of people I love and of strangers. I recognise you so clearly in their words, in their tears and all over again I hate you but know you will weave into those stories unimaginable beauty.  Or maybe beauty is just always close on your heels – I am not quite sure and certainly not clever enough to fully comprehend exactly how you or it work. I know you are part of a divine story where you are a main character but never the winner.

You are mystery. You leave your scars, and your marks, they don’t go away and when knocked those scars can hurt like it was yesterday but yet I look at those scars, mine and others, and am overwhelmed at how beautiful they can be.

I want to make your presence easier for people – to be the hope when you shatter and destroy because despite the destruction you leave in your wake you make way for that hope. Yet another mystery of who you are and how you work.

So thank you, thank you for all the lessons you have taught me, all the love and kindness that came because of you, all the places you took me and where I am now because of you.

I only hope when you come again, and I know you will, I can remember what I know now so that somehow I can learn to embrace you harder. I hope I can be braver next time knowing that however much you hurt you are never the end of the story, you will never have the final word, but that with you will always come with the promise of more.

It’s been a while

Just over four years ago I felt like God was saying I needed to start writing and set out my story in words – it felt incredibly vulnerable, there were a lot of “what will people think” moments but the words flowed and I felt like there was much to say and most of all it was the start or at least a key part of an amazing journey of healing.

Four years ago I was pretty broken, I am not ashamed to say that 8 years on from losing my lovely husband I was still struggling, that that grief still weighed heavily, as did the rawness of losing my Dad. I was in a job that was sucking the life out of me and without meaning to sound over dramatic I don’t think I was that far off a bit of a breakdown.

I haven’t really written for the last year and party because of time and energy, or rather lack of, but also because I haven’t had that much to say. Not that life hasn’t been full or good but there has been no burning desire to set words to paper. There has however been a little bit of me that has missed it………so here goes again and maybe this will be a one off and maybe not. We shall see!

Christmas marked the 12 year anniversary of John’s death and my friend, also a John, asked me how I was feeling. I told him that actually I felt good, that it all felt like a lifetime ago and that actually I felt overwhelmingly thankful. And whilst I would never have wished John to die in a way I felt an immense gratitude that it had happened because of the story, all it had given me, all it had taught me and the ways in which it had changed me.

I know that I have known a totally transformational healing this last four years – I don’t recognise the girl from those first few years  (can 8 years be classed as a few?) of loss and grief.

I came into 2019 not really having thought about the year ahead – I didn’t have any feel resolutions or aspirations – I was a little tired and weary after a tough few months at work at the back end of 2018 and was just thankful to be coming out the other side of that.

But as the weeks have passed I have thought about the overwhelming thankfulness I had felt at John’s anniversary, about how the immense transformation that I know has happened in my life blows me away and how I stand here today a very different person to who I was 12 years ago, to who I was 4 years ago.  Today I no longer feel defined by being the girl whose husband died when she was 6 months pregnant, or by being a single parent whose child did never and will never know their father, – I know life again and a freedom from those tragedies, I have made peace with the past, with my God who I don’t always understand (I know I am not meant to understand him but oh I did I try for a long time to) but who I have learnt to trust in a much deeper way.

That being said I still prone to irrational anxiety at times, which I can see is clearly linked to the past. My child’s text to tell me she had arrived at school doesn’t arrive and I go into a crazy panic that she has been abducted. A close person, is unwell, and they don’t text back to answer a question, and in my head I am already at their funeral and imagining life without them – on admitting this crazy thinking I am met with eye rolling!! I am working on those anxieties.

What I do know though is that I have known transformation in my life in a very significant way and I know that this year I want to see it in the lives of the people I love and people I don’t even know.

So as I stand in this place of immense gratitude and a longing for change, for more healing, to see miracles come, to see situations changed and lives bought to life again I am believing and trying live out these truths:

 

  1. No situation is beyond hope or beyond repair.

A few years into losing John I was at a social justice conference in London. It was at the end of the conference and I probably hadn’t engaged that much given at that stage I was very much still wrestling with God and faith. I was sat a good few rows back from the front and everyone had dispersed to get prayer, have a drink, to chat and I was sat on my own, disengaged and probably miserable. This young girl, in her 20s came up to me, and said she had had a picture of me – I had been sat in my life, nice and safe, with what was like a glass cover over me. When she said that I sort of saw me and my life inside one of those glass cake covers you find in a café. She said she could see that something had happened that had smashed that glass cover to many many pieces, that it felt like it was all so shattered that it could never be put together again. This girl had no idea who I was or what had happened in my life over the few years prior to that moment. She said she felt God was saying to her that he was going to take those broken pieces, that felt beyond repair and rebuild something beautiful.

I have not thought about that conversation in years but it came to me a few weeks ago as I was reflecting and I thought WOW – he has built something so beautiful, and by that I mean the story he has woven in my life, the significant moments, the people (so so precious – I am a blessed woman to have so many people that are such a special part of that story- I love you all), the passions and compassions he has set in my heart, the desires, the fight, the strength – the things that actually I can’t actually put into words because I don’t really know how to explain them.

So I don’t know where you are today and what is going on for you. Or maybe it is a heavy heart for someone else. I have those heavy hearts for people I love, for situations I don’t understand, situations where I have prayed and prayed and prayed some more and the answers haven’t come as hoped. I do know though that these times pass, and it may be a month or in my case 8 years, but they will pass. Healing and transformation are possible and probably the story will not look like you hoped or wanted but nevertheless it can be beautiful. God is good. As a precious friend reminded our church in his sermon last week, God is the beginning and he is the end, it starts and ends with him.

I am praying for more healings, more transformation this year because I believe passionately that it is never the end of the story, and that there is always hope and always beauty however messy and broken it all is, feels or seems.

 

  1. We are all in it together.

If its too hard, if it feels too much, too overwhelming – be honest, be real and be vulnerable.  I know it feels so hard to do that but I believe passionately in bringing the darkness into the light. That by speaking those battles out loud it takes some of the power out of them. And I know it makes you feel weak to have to keep saying its hard but we all get to those places at some point in our life and we will all probably get there again numerous times before we get to the end and there is no shame in that. It is part of life and I don’t believe we were meant to do any part of life alone let alone the tough parts.

If you are watching someone breaking in front of you – listen, pray and fight – please don’t give up on them. My people never gave up on me and I promise you they would have been totally within their rights to. Eight long years they stood by my side and I will be eternally grateful because they were so significant in that transformation.

I heard someone say the other week that “loved people love, healed people heal” and my soul said a loud amen. I know love transforms but I also know that it can be a long drawn out, messy process but again it can be the most beautiful of processes, one which I am so thankful for in my own life, so many times over.

 

  1. The lessons to be learnt in those dark, difficult places are the most precious.

As I have touched on already I had a few months at the end of last year where I was struggling with a few things work related and the anxiety was all consuming. It felt reminiscent of old job stuff and it scared me. This time tough it was different – I knew it was a battle that I wasn’t going to let win. I spent a lot of time praying, I had key verses on my phone which I looked at 20 times a day, I just kept asking God to show up, I chatted it through with a few safe people, asked them to pray and it slowly started to pass.

Weirdly though some part of me didn’t want it to pass (although I am very thankful it more or less has) because I felt close to my heavenly father in a really precious way, in a way that perhaps isn’t always as easy to find when all is fine and that desperate need for him isn’t quite as strong.

I know that God will always turn up, will always change us, and will always do the impossible, the unimaginable, the miraculous and the wonderful if we let him. For me it is about surrender, perseverance, and a willingness to trust that He is good and He has it – not that I always get that right or do it well.

 

  1. Pray, pray, pray and pray some more.

Say thank you for all the good things. Acknowledge how great He is. Tell him how you are feeling – your fears, your hopes and dreams. Tell him where you have messed up, what you want to change, what is breaking your heart.

It’s so powerful. It has the power to change people, situations and our hearts.

Pray on your own. Pray together. He doesn’t need big eloquent speeches; he just wants to hear your voice.

 

So those are my thoughts as I have sat down at this laptop tonight – I am thankful for the one who brings hope, who brings peace, who brings joy – for the one who never gives up on us.

Stories

“We feel the most alive when we’re connecting with others and being brave with our stories.” Brene Brown

 “Story –  report of connected events, real or imaginary, presented in a sequence of written or spoken words, or still or moving images, or both. A report of something that has happened.”

“Chapter – a distinctive period in history or in a person’s life.”

I have been thinking a lot recently about stories over the last few months.

I love stories. I love hearing people’s stories. Nothing gives me more life than real, honest stories – I could sit for hours listening to people’s stories. One of my favourite things is making new friends who bring with them the promise of new stories. I have a habit of asking a lot of questions, but I like the details. As a friend recently said to me they have learnt to give me my heart and guts otherwise they are just faced with more questions.

The details of love and loss, of the different characters, of experiences, of travels, the colour, the tears and the laughter, the food, the emotions, the words – the richness that makes up each and every one of those precious stories.

That actually not one of us could tell our story briefly or succinctly because our stories have so many facets, so many seasons, so many different parts to them. And therein lies the beauty.

This is what I have been reflecting on:

  1. Being brave in telling our stories.

“Owning your story is the bravest thing you will ever do.” Brene Brown – Sorry I love Brene – but not really sorry at all – she is amazing and if you haven’t read any of her books you need to!

Our stories, in all their fullness take time to tell and often trust to tell the harder parts – those parts that we hold close, deep and dear – those parts that require vulnerability, that can be a whole lot scary to share.

We need to hear each other’s stories. As another of my favourite’s CS Lewis puts it so well “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”

One of the reasons I have been thinking about stories so much recently is that I have come to the end of a very precious season in my life in the last few months and I have been reflecting on my story and the part that particular season has played in the overall story. I have been thinking about each  people that has played a significant part in this season and why those relationships have been so important to me and one word was consistent for each person – HONESTY. They have being willing to listen to my story, in all its gory detail and have still loved me, they have trusted me with their stories, they have wanted to be part of my story and given me the privilege of being part of theirs.

So please keep telling your story, because it will be an amazing story, and it is a story worth hearing and a story not ended, a story with so much more to be written. Celebrate your story, celebrate each person who is part of your story – thank them, be thankful for them, enjoy them. Celebrate the experiences, big and small, the exciting and the normal, the boring, celebrate the memories – the good and bad because they are all such precious parts of your story. Celebrate who God has made you to be, because you will be such a blessing to so many people around you, you give so much.

  1. We need to listen to other people’s stories. It is so important not to get so tied up in our own stories that we don’t listen to other people’s. People need to be heard and need to be given safe spaces to tell their stories and to find acceptance whatever those stories may be.

Being brave with our stories, of telling them and of listening to them helps us and others to heal, to overcome, they become a place of encouragement, a place where you hear the words “you are not alone in this”, a place that pushes us forward with love towards healing restoration and all the “more” there is to be had.

The other day I text one of my closest friends, in the middle of the working day, because I was having a minor stress and I needed to say it out loud. I knew they would help me find perspective. I had told them about the particular situation a few months before but had not expected them to remember but their response showed me that they had heard me the first time round and had listened and remembered the detail. In that moment I felt cared for because I had been listened to, I had been heard – that they cared enough to remember the details of my life I had shared. So in all the stress which the minute I had shared it and bought it into the light had quickly reduced the overwhelming feeling that I came away with was that I had been heard and I mattered enough to be heard. What a precious gift to give to someone.

Some of us will be better at listening than others because we are all so different, and for some it comes more naturally than others, but it’s a discipline to listen and to listen well and its such an important discipline to develop because it brings such power with it – it tells people they precious, that they matter and I think it brings the power to transform with it, as it encourages vulnerability and trust.

Who do we need to listen to today? Where do we need to slow down and make time to connect and be present? What can be put to one side to allow relationship to come first?  Life is flipping short – I do not quite understand how I am entering my fifth decade because surely I am still in my 20s but the reality is that time is going by fast and I desperately want my time to be about connection, relationship and loving and listening well.

  1. All our stories are made up of chapters and each of those chapters have chapters within them. Some of those chapters are painful and rubbish, some we would rather shut the page on, other chapters we would stay in if we had the choice but the page turns and we have very little control over it. Often we don’t get to chose when one chapter ends and another starts. If we did I would have definitely stayed in my last chapter a little longer.

As I reached the end of this particularly significant and special season of my life I have been reflecting, and looking back at all that has happened, all that has changed, and all that I have gained and learnt during this particular time.  I know with absolutely certainty that this is the right time to close this chapter but I guess there is no promise that the right thing is always an easy thing.

If I am being honest I felt scared of closing the door – it is a season that has bought healing, it has been full of love and it has been a safe place. I wasn’t sure what life looked like without those people, that place, that community but I know God was asking me to step out. As I made the final decision to close the door I had on a loop in my head the words of the Rend Collective song which says “letting go and trusting when I cannot see.” Trusting that where he was asking me to let go, to let go of things that are painful to let go of, he has other things waiting for me.

I also knew I wanted more, more adventures, more of the new and deep down I know I couldn’t have those things without letting go, that those things are only going to come by stepping out of the safe places, the comfort zones, into the unknown, trusting that he will catch me, trusting that he is and has the more.

Already in a few short months I have seen that because he called me out and I followed that call his favour has followed – he has bought peace, made the adjustment easy for me and protected those oh so precious relationships that I was so scared of losing, as well as giving me such life giving new ones.

I have also known those chapters were I was desperate for the page to turn, where grief and loss seemed to go on and on, where it took too much time and where I just wanted it to end. The more I see and the more I hear the less I understand, and certainly I have no answers for those chapters but what I do know with absolute certainty is that those chapters are never wasted, I am convinced when one day we get to see the whole picture we will see the precious parts those hard times have played in our stories, we will see the beautiful sub-chapters that formed part of those painful chapters, we will see the beautiful and the painful woven together and the ways it shaped us and others.

So here is to telling more stories, to falling in love with listening to stories more and to celebrating all stories in the different shapes and sizes they come.

Thank you God for stories, for the richness and variety of all our stories, may we learn to embrace and celebrate our stories and those of others so much more and thank you for all the chapters of our stories still to come, may we see the adventures in them and thank you that you are there threaded into each of our stories whether we see you or not.

May it start and end with LOVE

I haven’t written here for a while because whilst I have started posts nothing seems to have been coming very easily or felt quite right so I figured better to leave it than to force it. But recently I have had lots of thoughts going round my head although I am not sure quite if and how they fit together or how to put them into words so I hoping that by starting to type they will come and make some sort of sense or maybe this will be another of those posts that is started but never quite finds its end.

The thoughts going round my head are all rooted around expectations, perfection and love. I think in my head they probably do somehow fit together so here goes trying to work out how.

One of the prayers I try and start each day with is a prayer that my day will be marked with love, that I will be marked with love, in the way I interact with the people that will be part of that day ahead, be that colleagues, clients, family, friends or strangers. Some days it may be the only prayer I pray, and sometimes I pray it over and over again, but for me it is one of the most important prayers I can pray.

“Let love and kindness be the motivation behind all that you do.”  1 Corinthians 16 vs 14

The older I get, the more of life I experience, the more I continue to try and find my place in this crazy world the more I know that my biggest passion in life is people, relationship, connection – for some it may be sport, music, art, or cooking that gives them life, for me it is people – real, honest and soulful conversation – heart and guts! I love those life-giving connections, I love loving people.

However, the last year or so I think my idea of what that prayer to be marked with love really looks like has changed dramatically. I know that for a long time I bought into a fluffy notion that if I did my best to love well, everything would be beautiful and perfect, relationships would always be easy and lovely – which in reality I found to be a one-way ticket to disappointment. I believe wholeheartedly in the idea that love is powerful and has the power to heal and transform but for me the change in the way I see that prayer working out is that yes love is beautiful, transformative, life changing, redeeming, restorative among so many other things, but rarely does it come without mess, without struggles and wrestles, rarely is it is easy. And actually I have come to embrace that imperfection and to celebrate it.

I read this in my devotional (DVO Devotionals), the other day, which I just loved:

“Living a life of love is inconvenient, messy and often controversial – it will wondrously mess you up.”

I have also learnt that I do not have to keep striving to try and be perfect to live a life of love. Or that the impact of loving well does not have to wait until I am perfect or reach a state of perfection in certain areas of life. I am not prefect, so far from it. My imperfections could fill a book. I am over emotional, I am an over-sharer, I get tired and impatient, I think mean thoughts, I can be selfish, I spend too much money on clothes – the list could go on and on. There are some days where I get the being “marked by love” thing very wrong, when I am tired, or frustrated, days where I lack grace or patience, where I respond out of my own insecurities, where I want to be anything but loving.

 

Part of my story is that continuing to strive to try to be perfect, to have it all, to do it all only made me poorly. Yet I still find myself every now and again striving for perfection. On New Year’s Eve I had a total wobble. I felt overwhelmed with loneliness and I couldn’t really understand why as there were a whole host of people at the touch of a button or a short car journey away. I was chatting with a close friend on text and shared this wobble and then immediately felt vulnerable for telling them, and got myself into a spiral of beating myself up for being too emotional and for sharing that weakness. That friend very patiently and very lovingly reminded me that that emotion of loneliness was not who I was, that weakness was not who I was, yes I may have those moments, and yes maybe those moments made me less that perfect but they did not stop me being good enough to love well. He spoke the words over me that I was a child of God, that I was worthy, I was valued and that was how he and God saw me.

I do not have to be perfect to be marked with love, to love people and to make a difference through that love and neither do you. Yes there may be days where we have to say sorry, to say we got it wrong, to have to start again with the love and yes there are days where we get it really right and it feels amazing but I am increasingly convinced that wherever we are on any given day that if we always start with love, choosing to be marked with love then the foundations of all we do, whether we get it right or wrong, will bring beauty.

Since losing my lovely daddy I have reflected a lot on who he was and how he lived his life. We are a pretty real family and we have had a lot of honest conversations over the past few years about how wonderful my daddy was but also about the fact he had his weaknesses, his struggles and his insecurities but none of those things take away from the fact that he loved us well. He didn’t have to be perfect to impact our lives, in a massive way, in the biggest way, with his love.

The same is true with the majority of people I love – I love them fiercely, but not because they are perfect, I see their weaknesses and struggles but it doesn’t stop the depth of what I feel for them, it doesn’t stop me seeing all the amazingness which makes up each one of them. It doesn’t stop them impacting my life in big and small ways every day.

Love is messy. I am messy. We are all messy. It has been my biggest lesson of 2017. You have to be brave to love and to keep loving. If you let people in, if you have those vulnerable and real connections then there will be mess, because we are broken people – you don’t have to scratch the surface too much with any of us to find the mess. And those messes may be hard, they may be painful and frustrating but give me that mess any time over superficial.

My three words for 2018 are SIMPLICITY, CONNECTION and ADVENTURE. In terms of simplicity I think it will be a journey this year for me to work out what that means for me and how that plays out in my life but the one thing I do know starting out at the beginning of this year is that I need my life to be simpler, I want to be marked by love more and more, I want it to be the beginning and the end in my life, I want less of the stuff and more of the things that matter, those connections with people that are little glimpses of heaven, despite my imperfections, and something tells me it is there, in the messy business of loving people, the best way I know how, I will find the adventures I crave.

The Book of Joy

IMG_2157So this summer we hit a rough patch. A rough patch that saw my kid struggling with anxiety and panic attacks, that saw her lovely spark go out. I knew the day would come eventually, I had always known it was around the corner but perhaps naively I thought that corner was a little further down the line.

During one of the panic attacks she was struggling with her breathing and was crying at me that she was going to die. I was trying to calm her down but she was inconsolable. I told her she was not going to die and she responded:

“you don’t know that everyone in our family dies young.”

And right there it had come.

It is a question people often ask me “how does she cope/deal/manage with her Dad not being here, with never having met him?” I always responded that she didn’t cope/deal/manage because it simply didn’t affect her, she was a happy kid, she was loved and had lots of people around her – she had never known him and so you can’t miss what you haven’t had, or something along those lines. But this summer it did start affecting her, she was beginning to process what it meant for her.

Watching your kid struggle is hard, whatever it is they are struggling with, but when it is your biggest struggle too – it took me out, it knocked me flat and took me low, my long time wrestles and struggles came to pay another visit. It took me back to those hard places, like it was only yesterday.

Then one morning on my drive to work I was listening to a Sheryl Sandberg podcast – she is an amazing lady and for me she is up there with Brene! Sheryl is the COO of Facebook and two years ago she lost her husband suddenly leaving her a single mum to two small children. I cried as she cried for all she had lost, all we had lost and the pain it had brought. But she ended that podcast talking about joy and how struggle, loss, disappointment should always be a catalyst to learn and appreciate joy more. It hit me again that I had a choice in this.

Only a few weeks earlier I had found myself one Saturday evening in St Pancras with some time to kill before my train and as anyone who knows St Pancras will tell you it is probably the best station to have time to kill because the shops are pretty special. I had walked into an overpriced stationary shop coming out £30 lighter in the purse. One of my purchases was a small, thick, pale blue note pad with the numbers “365” on the front in gold and on each page a number from 1 to 365. I had no purposes for buying it except that I thought it was pretty – I wasn’t really sure what I was going to use it for.

Fast forward a few weeks to that morning in the car listening to that podcast and that book came to mind and I knew exactly what I was going to use it for. And so was born our “Book of Joy” and so a new ritual was started. Each night at bedtime we sit together and talk about our days and the things that we have been grateful for in that day, the things and people who have bought us joy, that have made us laugh. We have to include at least 3 things each, but some days it is more. Those things range from ice cream, to a conversation that touches our heart, to a situation that turned around, to answered prayers for people we care about, to Netflix.

On that podcast Sheryl talked about how joy is a discipline. I guess sometimes it is easy to get overwhelmed by the stuff that is hard, to allow that to take hold and that is ok, its ok to struggle and to voice that but for me in those hard moments of this summer, watching my child in pain I needed to hear that I needed to bring joy into the situation, that I needed to be intentional in doing that.

And you know we are 5 weeks into our Book of Joy and it has been such a positive exercise. In those moments where the struggle was looming we would say to each other “Joy” and there and then we would talk about the things we were grateful for in those moments and so shifting the focus from dark to light.

For me personally it has helped me recognise throughout the day things I am thankful for, something will happen and I will think “that will make the Book of Joy today.” I have been surprised at recognising how it is the small things that lift my soul, the simple things, and for me it has been nature – it has been my amazing beautiful journey to and from work, my beautiful passion fruit plant and its flowers, the clouds in the sky. It is those moments that bring me peace, that have helped me start to settle the wrestles in my heart.

For my kid well the spark is back, the panic attacks have lessoned, I am not sure we are out of the woods totally, and the processing will maybe continue for a lifetime but I am convinced that our little book has helped.

Sheryl Sandberg talks about second derivatives, so if you get angry you get angry that you got angry and so the anger becomes anger becomes anger. Likewise with joy – learning to find joy and gratitude in the small things of life multiplies the positives because joy becomes joy becomes joy – I love that! I love that so much! It is such a life-giving concept.

For us that Book of Joy is here to stay, because I know the negatives, the hard stuff of life is part of the deal but I don’t want it to take me out, I don’t want it to take my child out – I want us to be people marked by love and by gratitude because the more we go along with this new discipline the more I see the fruit of gratitude, the challenge it brings to bad attitudes, to self-focus – it has helped me see again how small I am, it has humbled me because yes I hate that my child was ever put in this place but the minute I start to think not about what we don’t have but rather all that we do have (which is an amazing amount of amazing things) the battle, the ego, the “poor me” mind-set gets kicked back down.

And something tells me learning to walk more and more in the ways of thankfulness and gratitude still have an awful lot left to teach me!

You matter…..

She sits on the floor in a ball sobbing, her heart breaking in front of you, the next minute screaming and shouting, overcome with anger and despair. The man she loved, the person she expected to share her life with gone forever and her future feels overwhelmingly scary and desperately lonely.

Not many people knew, they were waiting until they were certain everything was ok but then it was gone before it had really arrived but it was here long enough to allow dreams to bubble up, for the excitement to start to build. It feels like it is happening for everyone else and she simply has to smile and share their joy but inside it is like a knife going into her deepest parts.

The anxiety overwhelms him, his hands shake not so that many people would see but you know and you see. Sleep will not come easily in fact most nights it is broken. Exhaustion overwhelms him. He puts a good front on but inside he feels like he is falling apart.

You aren’t meant to bury your children. That is not the right order of things. The thought is too unbearable. But it is their reality – it is the nightmare they find themselves in. Their baby cruelly and shockingly taken with no warning, just as he was becoming a man, as he had his whole life ahead of him.

He had studied for years, so so hard, you had watch the years of spending hours with his head in a book, and he did it, he succeeded, he thrived in his career, he was good at it. Then the bullying came and the accusations leaving him broken, exhausted and wondering what the future held.

She had always dreamed of her wedding day, of what she would wear, of the flowers that would fill the room, the words that would be spoken. Each year that passes the more the disappointment grows.

We all know these people , maybe there is a little bit of our stories in those stories. These stories are not easy story. They are not fun. They are not particularly attractive. But they are real and they are all around us everyday whether we see them or not or often whether we chose to see them or rather look away.

These are all stories of people I know and love. They are the stories that have broken my heart. The stories that have had me cry oceans of tears. The stories that have had me on my knees until they are sore.

I don’t have the answers. I wish I did. I wish I could have made these situations right. If it is one thing I have learnt its that I can’t fix everything, I don’t have a magic wand that can make it all better, that can change the past, or direct the future.

I have had lots of conversations over the years about how to be in those situations, what to say to people when their worlds are falling apart, how best to help people, and I think my answer is probably that to some extent it depends on the person and the situation and in some situations it may well be different things on different days but the overwhelming thing that people need to know when faced with the unbearable, when everything is closing in on them is that they matter.

I have recently finished reading the book “Option B” by Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, who in 2015 lost her husband suddenly leaving her a single parent to two small children, and trying to navigate the complicated journey of grief and at the same time learning how to be sole parent. As the cover of the book sets out it is about facing adversity, building resilience and finding joy.

It is a book that I really recommend whether grief has been part of your story or not, as it is not just a book about grief in terms of death, included in it are lots of stories of people finding their life in pieces and how they overcame in amazing ways.

There were lots of things in the book that resonated, that touch cords and that have been filling my head. One of the things she talks about is about the fact that it is really important that we as human beings know we matter. That may sound a really obvious statement but I wonder often how well we do that especially when things are hard.

Sheryl Sandberg talks about how important it is in recovery from life’s tragedies and hurts to know you matter, to know that other people notice you, care about you and rely on you.

My experience is of having good people around me who have repeatedly told me and showed me that I still mattered – sometimes that was a one-off, the words, prayers or actions of someone I didn’t know and maybe would never see again, but more often it was the consistent, faithful and patient presence of people who didn’t give up, over many years (bless you and thank you for not giving up on me I know it wasn’t pretty!!). I think it is only with hindsight I can look back and see how much their actions spoke of how much I mattered, because it was truly ugly at times and not for the faint hearted and it went on a long time. I know without a shadow of a doubt God put those people around me because I know I wouldn’t have come through those tough years, when it felt like one by one those that I mattered most to and who mattered most to me were taken, without those people surrounding me, holding me up, showing me I mattered and most importantly that I stilled mattered to God.

Who in your life needs to know they still matter?

Please keep telling them. Be it a text to say why you love them, why they are special or that you are saying a prayer for them. Make them dinner or take them flowers. Allow them to be part of your family by including them at meal times or bank holidays – I cannot tell you how hard those days are for people on their own, and for people who have lost and how an invitation can turn a painful day into a bearable day! Remember the key days. Let them know you haven’t forgotten. Let them have space to talk – be there to listen. Be consistent in telling them and showing them they matter.

Those you don’t know too – those you see sat on their own, please go talk to them, given them time, show interest. Lets encourage our children to do the same – I have had a gutful of playground politics recently, lets be raising our children to be kind, to include people, to let people know they matter and the importance of telling them they matter.

And I get that that isn’t always easy, and that often in the hard stuff of life it is uncomfortable to get alongside hurting people. That you can end up being battered in the process. But I say this with love you have to get over it because I guarantee however hard it is for you what they are going through is so much harder and one day you will need those people to do exactly the same for you. Love and life is messy, and after 40 years I have come to a joyful acceptance that it is always going to be that way and the only way to know the abundance of life, love and relationship is to walk those messes with each other.

I have a very special man in my life – he has become my surrogate Dad and he will never know how much he has meant to me. He has helped me through some hard stuff recently, repeatedly telling me I matter, and that I am important. The thing is I am not the only one he texts regularly to care for – I see him doing it over and over with so many people, people struggling with their health, with their pasts, with loneliness – he is probably one of those most loved people I know because he sacrificially shows people that they matter and in that brings light into the dark places.

Showing people they matter, over and over again, changes situations. I have seen it in my life and in other people’s situations. I think we need to learn to do it better, to get over our embarrassment and fear of vulnerability, because it brings life, it brings hope and it brings something beautiful. I think it is probably what our world needs most for people to know they matter.

And if you need to know you matter today please hear it deep in your heart – you do matter, you are precious, you are needed, and most of all by your heavenly father – he’s got you, he loves you, he’s fighting for you and has gone ahead of you x

Home Sweet Home

The other day I had a bit of a revelation in that I realised that one of the things I feel most passionate about, one of the subjects that excites me and makes me come alive most, one of my greatest heart’s desires is also something that brings with it pain and disappointment and that that pain and disappointment stop me really embracing it. And that made me feel sad.

I love the concept of home, of family and of tables but for so long my family has felt incomplete, my home not quite a real home and my table not as full as I would choose.

I love my home, especially when it is clean and tidy (big joy for the cleaner starting next week!!) – my home is my safe space, its my comfort, and so often when I am tired and have had enough of people it is my place to come and hide away. My little house has been a place of healing and rebuilding. It has been a gift. It has come with wonderful neighbours. But often it feels empty, it reminds me when its other occupant is in bed that I am alone in ways I never expected or wanted. It is not as full and busy as I had dreamed it would be. Yes most of the time it is calm and peaceful but often I crave noise and chaos.

I love my child, I love her more than anything else, she is more than enough – we are each other’s family and we have a lot of fun, there is always music and often dancing and we share a lot of love but that family is definitely not what I hoped for. I read articles and books on raising children, on building a family and it hurts my heart because I am not raising my family in the way I would want. My family is so much smaller than I would like.

I love nothing more than sitting round a table with people, sharing life, eating food, laughing, talking, maybe even a few tears. Proper and real connection. Vulnerability, authenticity and courage – sharing stories, sharing memories.

A while back I read the following and it resonated so deeply in me:

“Tables have the potential to break down walls, open hearts and mend bridges. They nourish and give, but they also need and receive. I would wager a guess that most wars we’ve seen throughout our ragged history started around tables. But I know redemption starts there too. Healing. Mending. Peace. Sometimes wisdom isn’t found in governments, intelligence, science labs and even religious institutions, but in more simple and intimate places, the every day and ordinary, around human tables set to give and receive.” (DVO app)

I think I have pulled away from inviting people to sit round my table making excuses that my house is too small, I am not a great cook, cooking stresses me out, that working full time makes it difficult when actually the truth is I don’t feel like my family looks quite right.

I realised these last few days that because my picture didn’t look quite look like I thought it should or would want it to it had been stopping me embracing the things that I really love in life, because my home, my family and my table didn’t feel like quite enough.

My heart is for love, it is something I try to do and want to do better that love which transforms, that brings safety and acceptance, that gives comfort, that tells people they are enough. That love that always points people towards Jesus. I am not always very good at it, I get it wrong but as long as I have breath in my body I am going to try with all I am to love well. It is that love that excites me more than many other things, the potential that loving well and intentionally brings with it – redemption, restoration, healing, mending, change.

I want my home to be a place of that love and not simply for the people who sleep there but for all those that come through its doors. So I made a decision – my home, my family and my table are the ones I have been given, the gifts God has given me for this season and I am going to learn embrace them, celebrate them and share them. I am going to be braver in inviting people in. I am going to be intentional about that. I want to love better and I want my home to be a place of life, of love, of people and I have a choice I can fill it full of those things or I can shut the door and keep wondering what could have been.

Its choosing to believe all over again that my family, all 2 of us, is a family God put together and so it is more than enough. And that family, if I let it, can still bless others, can still give, can still love – so here and now I make a choice to not let disappointment and pain stop me taking hold of the things I love, to stop letting comparison or expectation dictate what it looks like. We are enough.

You are enough, whatever your home, your family and your table looks like. God has plans and purposes for each of us, for each of our families, our homes and our tables, the question is will we embrace and celebrate what we have been given rather than fight against it and wish things were different?

So my table is going to be set much more often, the food may be simple but there will be more of it, more people squashed in and a door that will always be open.