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Kids making a mess?: Six reasons to let it go, for a while anyway

Most of us are able to look at the chaos in the kids’ bedrooms or playroom and laugh it off, roll our eyes, or even sigh and shut the door.

Most of the time, that is.

There are moments, though, when it all just gets too much. We step on a plastic pineapple or a stray piece of Lego and we snap. Out of nowhere, a stream of threats come thick and fast…

‘You better watch or the hoover will get your toys,’

Those things will be going into the roof space if they don’t get put away, fast!’

We’ve got a running joke with a friend – affectionately named ‘Auntie Beth’ – that she ‘will come around some day with her bin bag when you’re not there, and if she finds these toys on the floor, into her bin bag they’ll go!’

Shame on us, eh? Maybe none of you make those kinds of threats 😉 But if the mess is getting you down, here’s six reasons to not be too down in the dumps about it.

1. This is normal

Mess is totally normal. Let’s face it – what most people’s houses look like on Instagram is not what they look like from day to day. Especially those with young children.

There are those who thrive on tidy and are experts at it. But they are few and far between.

So if you find odd socks and toast mixed in with your duplo once in a while, it’s fine.

2. Mess may be in the genes

Yes, you can ‘train a child up in the way they should go,’ but I’m not entirely sure this totally applies to messiness. Bill nicknamed me ‘Cinders’ when we first met. My mum was very thorough in preparing me for life; we did lots of chores and tidied up regularly. But am I still messy? Yes, I am.

Actually, now most child psychologists agree that messiness is predominantly an innate personality trait. That’s why, from an early age, children will usually lean either towards lining up and organising their toys, or dumping them out on the floor.

What’s the lesson here? Do your best to train them, certainly, but don’t think you’re failing if they don’t always catch on.

3. You may be teaching independence

At one point in my early teens, my mum gave up nagging me to tidy and let my room become my responsibility. At that point, I got creative and enlisted help from my childhood bestie. Suddenly, tidying became lots more fun! We played games while sorting through all the stuff and letting my gerbils run wild in the midst of it.

Are you ready to give up on keeping on top of the clutter? Look on the bright side. At an appropriate age, allowing independence in this area can actually pay dividends.

4. Learning is messy sometimes

Maybe learning is actually a messy process. Some mums crack up when the toys are mixed up. But what if the Disney princesses wanted to go to the aquarium that day? Kids don’t play by manufacturers’ rules when they play. The world is their oyster. Let them play with more than one thing at a time, if their scenario requires it. After all, their play is their work, and their work is their learning.

5. You learn to function in mess

Ever heard the phrase, when a room is cluttered, your mind is cluttered? That is true, to an extent. Mess can negatively affect your mental well being, but only over a prolonged period of time. And maybe it’s partly because, especially in Northern Ireland – mess has such a stigma attached to it.

I remember the houses I loved going to the most as a kid. And I’ll be honest, they were the ones where mess was ok. Where your imaginative scenarios weren’t interrupted. Where you were given freedom.

A little untidiness from time to time can actually help you feel comfortable in a range of environments. Win win!

6. Mess isn’t wrong

This one is really important to remember. Order is nice. It makes us feel capable and in control. But sometimes disorder is beautiful too.

Like when the leaves fall from the trees and gather in a heap of fiery hues. Breathtakingly disordered.

If creation itself is messy, then it’s not a bad thing if our homes are from time to time.

Don’t mind the mess!

If kids are always pressured to put a toy away after they are finished, then maybe the play adventure ends before it’s supposed to.

Depending on my mood these days, I usually just leave the playroom now until just before bed, where the tidy up song is played.

Recently I’ve also put half of the toys in the roof space, and plan to do a switch in a month’s time. That’s why even the messiest it gets won’t be as messy as it could get.

Whatever your approach to mess, at the end of it all remember that one day you’ll miss that mess and the memories it created. Really, you will!

H xx

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The struggle is real, but what will we let it bring out in us?

Watching the live news report on BBC tonight, I was struck by the disparity of the comments, coming one after the other.

Sharp criticisms.

Cutting sarcasm.

Venomous words.

Coarse humour.

I felt the force of the frustration and the upset of the unknown.

I felt sorry for the leaders speaking; human beings who are trying to do their best at an impossible balancing act, but who have become the targets of collective anger.

I’m feeling for the people who know they won’t have jobs after the weekend. I feel the fear of business owners who don’t know if they will survive this time round.

I am devastated for special needs families who are being denied essential services, again. They were already on their knees. Now they’re on the floor.

I feel the disappointment of those who have weddings coming up and for whom everything is up in the air. Should they postpone or forgo their once-in-a-lifetime dreams? It feels like an impossible decision to me.

I feel afraid for domestic abuse sufferers who will once more be confined to their private nightmares. Where can they escape to now?

I am gutted for grievers who once more will not feel the physical presence of those mourning with them. How will they cope without someone to hold them close?

I am disappointed for our kids who have just got into a routine of education only for it to be unsettled again.

The struggle is real. The challenges are closer than ever, for so many.

And yet, I find myself dreaming… longing and praying, with:

Hope that we will stop allowing ourselves to be so divided by our opinions

All of us can so easily fall into the trap of callously labelling and categorising people. This is not a case of the ‘faith-filled versus the fearful.’ Or the ‘reckless versus the ‘responsible.’ Or the ‘selfless versus the selfish.’ All of us have good days, and bad. Days where we make wise choices, others where we make the wrong ones. Days when we are fearful, and days when we are brave.

So often we are so consumed by what separates us that we forget what we all share. We all have in common the human condition of being finite and prone to weakness and frailty. If we acknowledge our shared finitude, we can be united in it and strengthened by the fact that, we are not alone. No one else gets it right all the time, either.

Hope that we will stop pointing the finger of judgment

Oh we are so good at judgment. Suspicious glances at the person behind us in the shop who is coughing. Shaking our heads in disapproval when we see guidelines aren’t being followed. Glaring at young people who aren’t ‘social distancing.’

We aren’t so good at self examination though. Whatever happened to the plank/s in my own eye? Please God, open my eyes to see what I need to fix in my own life before I become so focused on fixing other people’s behaviour.

Hope that we will see through the lens of compassion

I’ve loved some of the crowd funding initiatives I’ve seen on Facebook recently. Fundraising for operations. Dieting for charity. Climbing mountains for a good cause. Donating clothes for people in need. It’s amazing to see the compassion rise up in people as they understand and respond to genuine need.

And let me suggest that what we all need right now is a good dose of compassion.

Because when we look at one another with compassion, people cease to be an inconvenience, or a hindrance, or an irritation, or an enemy. They are just people. People with good points, great points, poor points and ugly points. People with a story. People who need grace, just like you and me.

What will this (very real) struggle bring out in you and me?

Yes, this time is super hard for everyone, for different reasons, and in very different ways. Crises have a potent power to divide. To intensify the judgmental tendencies within us. But challenges also have the potential to bring out compassion in us.

There’s a very special kind of plant that blooms in the aftermath of forest fires. It’s called the fire poppy. For fire poppy seeds, intense heat is their very signal to sprout.

What if, when we are under stress and duress, what bloomed in our life was compassion first, always, every time?

We are all human

We are all finding this hard

Let’s not label or point the finger

Let’s let this furnace bring out a blaze of compassion in us rather than a flame of judgment.

The struggle is real, but what will we let it bring out in us?

H xx

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An operation in resilience #2

Today my wee Zoë is having follow-up surgery on her arm. She smashed the bone just under her elbow in June and had plates and screws installed. I wrote a post during her first operation – I’ll admit, it was partly to distract myself from pacing the corridors and going out of my mind.

This time around, she’s getting the metal work out. And just like last time, we’ve been pushed down the theatre list because higher priority cases came up.

Just like last time, Zoë has spent all day without eating or drinking.

But this time, I am able to be with her. And now, as she’s being operated on and I’m sitting on my own in the ward, I’ve found myself thinking, ‘what have I learned from the last time?’

Back in June, as she was being operated on and I was crying my eyes out in the carpark, I realised that resilience has very little to do with how you feel, but everything to do with how you respond.

This time round, I feel just as tense, just as helpless, and just as emotional. And yet I’m more at peace that this is simply a natural way to feel as a parent. How I choose to respond is much more important than my emotions. So this is what I’ve tried to do this time around.

Hospital selfie

1. Go with the flow

If there’s one thing the last few months of this pandemic have taught us, it’s that things change all the time; often unpredictably, and not in the direction we’d like.

What in the world can we do? The only thing we can do. Go with the flow.

Back in June, I became so frustrated that the timescales kept shifting and the plans kept changing. But this time, I chose to let reality be reality, accept it and look at the big picture. We are not the only priority for the medics caring for us, and they are doing it beautifully. So we just make the best of it; and that’s what we’ve been doing today:

⁃ Playing tic tac toe

⁃ Practicing writing our letters

⁃ Colouring in countless mermaids

⁃ Working through an activity book

⁃ Enjoying some crafts

⁃ Drawing pictures for the nurses

⁃ Playing memory games

⁃ Practising some rhyming flash cards

⁃ Modelling putty

⁃ Listening to music

⁃ Watching programmes

Each time Zoë asked, ‘When am I going for my operation?’ I responded as brightly as I could, ‘Hopefully soon!’ – and changed activity.

When things keep shifting, go with the flow.

Mouse craft 🐭

2. Look for the gold

Let’s not forget that the purest gold is forged in furnace temperatures. When we are feeling the heat in life, the opportunity is presented for golden qualities to rise to the surface.

Now that’s she’s in theatre, I’ve realised that what has made me so happy inside today is how Zoë seemed completely unperturbed by the situation she found herself in. She smiled and made polite conversation with everyone, and was just a ‘delight,’ according to the anaesthetist’s assessment.

I’m realising again just how proud I am of my daughter and the joy and fun she brings to others’ worlds. I’ve also admired her maturity today about not being able to eat, as well as having to wait so long.

I’m sure many parents whose children are in hospital regularly find themselves feeling this immense pride over and over again- delight at the strength and beautiful characteristics that come out of them in those moments. It doesn’t mean they don’t have their sad, emotional, and even angry moments. But it does mean that the gold shines through them – even, and sometimes especially- in hard times.

In challenging times, look for the gold shining through in the people around you.

3. Take time to dance

As the op was put back yet another hour today, wee Zoë started to flag. By now, she was super tired, and ravenously hungry.

Then I had a eureka moment.

It was time to dance.

I put on ‘The Nutcracker’ and her eyes lit up. She did a beautifully wholehearted (if slightly staggery) performance, and then (somewhat out of character), I jumped up and joined her of my own volition.

It was a good job the door of our side room was closed, because me doing ballet is not the most graceful sight to behold. Between the two of us there were more clumpy feet and disjointed timings than there were pointed toes and synchronisation. But as we swayed and she giggled, I thanked God once more for the beautiful relationship we have.

There’s days when we just gotta take time to dance (no matter how bad we are at it.) In fact, the hard days are the best days for it. For a split second, I forgot that we were in a hospital ward, and it was just me and my girl, painting our own beautiful moment in time.

I’ve just heard the wee pet is in recovery. And at the same time as remembering what it’s like to breathe deeply again… Here’s what I’m going to try to remember next time I’m in a situation anything like this:

…Go with the flow

…Look for the gold, and

…Take time to dance!

Are you facing a situation at the moment that you could affectionately name an ‘operation in resilience’? Have you been here before? If so, what lessons can you apply to right now?

H x

Brave girl post op
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On the days you just want to go back to bed…

Anyone else in the same boat?

This morning, I pulled the covers over my head and said ‘No thank you’ to the new day. Yes, you heard me, this imperfect pastor’s wife does not always wake up warbling, ‘This is the day that the Lord has made,’ and neither do I always ‘rejoice and be glad in it.’

Today, my kids got the bleary-eyed, grumpy, uppity and woozy me- so much so, in fact, that they gave up trying to badger me out of bed, went downstairs on their own and made themselves chocolate porridge. I admired their independence, I have to say…

My kids keep finding reasons to get up early. I don’t really understand it, but they seem to waken earlier in winter, when it’s still dark and the street lamps are still lit.

Yesterday, it was 5 am because the tooth fairy had left a pound coin under the pillow.

Today it was someone stealing someone else’s bed.

Tomorrow, it’ll be one child poking another awake and asking about dreams from the night before.

So, how do you make those groggy winter mornings a little more bearable? Here’s what we’ve tried over the last few days. And believe me, we’ve needed all the pick-me-ups we could get!

1. Start the day with positive words

When your child, husband, or animal puts their freezing cold hands/paws on your face and wakes you up with a jolt, it’s a good idea not to say what you’re tempted to in that moment…

A better alternative might be, ‘Good morning- I love you! We are going to have a great day.’ See if it doesn’t make you feel a bit different! (I’ll have to try that one tomorrow 😊).

But if you need to follow that statement with, ‘But it’s still the middle of the night, so I’ll see you when it’s actually morning,’ that is more than acceptable.

2. Put on some music or an audio book

It’s amazing what listening to songs or stories can do for your mood and motivation. If you’re a parent, a happy tune or a sunny kids’ story often does the trick. Zoë can be really bouncy in the morning, but if you give her something to listen to, she’ll be more likely to concentrate on colouring in or doing something a bit calmer than talking non-stop or launching herself off the furniture.

Time for a coffee, I think!

3. Have a shower and get dressed

This one might seem obvious, but when you’re at home all day, it’s very tempting to stay in your pjs. My advice (from a wealth of experience) 😂 is, don’t! It’s remarkable how much better a shower and a fresh outfit can make you feel.

4. Lay out your clothes the night before

The days I am running around like a mad person looking for a missing school sock are not the most harmonious. I’ve started putting all our clothes out on the sofa just before I put the kids to bed. If you know everything is laid out and ready, you’ll immediately be more relaxed when you first open your eyes. In Instagram lingo, it might actually even make you feel more like the organised mom and less like scary mommy.

5. Don’t hit the snooze button

“Hitting the snooze button in the morning doesn’t even make sense. It’s like saying, “I hate getting up in the morning so I do it over and over and over again.” (Dimitri Martin, Comedian)

So many of us do this all the time, don’t we? But what’s the point! I’ve come to terms with the futility of this exercise. We are awake, so we might as well just be awake! Let’s not prolong the pain!

6. Set your heating to come on for wake-up time

This, my friend, is a very simple thing. But it can be a game changer. I remember growing up we lived in a big cold house in East Belfast. If you were freezing, you just put on a jumper. I still remember how cold the floor felt in the middle of winter. 🥶

Bill, on the other hand, grew up in a small, scorching house. He wore shorts in the middle of winter. Now, two having become one, we try to find a happy medium. The heating on in the morning but not much during the day we find to be a balanced approach, and makes crisp mornings much cosier all round.

How do you make cold winter mornings more bearable?

H x

“Morning is wonderful. Its only drawback is that it comes at such an inconvenient time of day.”

Glen Cook, Sweet Silver Blues
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Screen fatigue and digital addiction: a family experiment

We’re all tired of screens, but we’re all also addicted to them. It’s making us sick. And tired, too. Here’s three tips for beating the digital blues.

‘Screen fatigue’ is a phrase we are hearing a lot these days. Employees are complaining of being exhausted after long online meetings. Some are loving online church, others struggle to stick with it. Meeting virtually keeps us connected, but we miss real people interactions. We enjoy seeing people’s faces, but we’re uncomfortable seeing our own staring back at us.

Some parents are stuck home with the kids isolating and are running out of other things to do. People whose income depends on online interaction find themselves sucked in 24 hours a day and longing for a break. And so the pendulum between screen fatigue and screen addiction swings back and forth until we are dizzy from it all.

The thing is, smart devices are useful. Too useful. They have calendars, internet banking, games, Amazon, Google, Zoom, social media platforms, Bible study apps – everything you need in your hand. For most people, they’re just too useful to set down altogether.

But it’s not just their usefulness that pulls us to constantly check our phones. It’s obligation. Work communications. Relational connections. Every time the phone buzzes, many of us feel like we have to reply right away. (If you don’t think that’s you, try not reaching for your phone when it buzzes. You may feel more uncomfortable than you thought you would!)

We all want to reduce how much tv we watch and the time we spend on social media. Yet as if it wasn’t challenging enough in ‘normal life’ to cut back on screen time, our ability to regulate our screen usage in the ‘new normal’ has become even further out of reach when we are required to work remotely, socialise online, and interact on school apps and Facebook pages.

Chatting to people, I’ve found that over lockdown they’ve often gone one way or the other; they’ve either put the phones away altogether because they found online stuff too draining- or else they’ve become more and more drawn in to the online world.

But what about the side effects of screen time?

I’ll be really honest here… the following is not an unfamiliar scenario in my house:

The stillness of the morning is broken by the shrill whine of child number 1 or 2, ‘I wanna watch something.’

The neighbours are then treated to a cacophonous crescendo of disagreement about what to watch:

‘Dora’

‘Elsa and Anna’

‘DORA!’

‘Elsa and Annnnnaaa’

DORRAAAA!!

[Resounding wails.]

Mum groans while dad runs to intervene. Or vice versa.

Great start to the day, huh? Please tell me I’m not the only one??

I wonder, if we really considered the potential costs of too much screen usage for all of us, would this cause us to take more drastic action? Here’s what I notice in myself when I’m on my phone too much:

🤔 Lack of interest or concentration for other activities.

😴 Poor sleep quality

😬 Increased irritability

🤯 Increased anxiety levels

I’ll admit that I haven’t always been convinced screens make a huge difference to these things. But a while back I decided enough was enough when I started to look forward a little TOO much to those moments when some digital character was entertaining my kids, so I could sit in a quiet room with a coffee and a chocolate bar.

So we turned it all OFF. For a week. And let me tell you how enlightening this simple experiment was for us.

Day one. I braced myself for strong feelings and bad moods. In the morning, I explained that for all of us to have a wee break from screens, we wouldn’t be watching tv for a week. There was very little reaction. I planned a busy day; going to the park in the morning, meeting a friend in the afternoon.

Day two. I notice that our pace in the house had slowed down. I was actually getting chores done with the kids in tow. They were ‘helping’ unload the dishwasher and brushing the floor along with me.

Day three. My kids were covering boxes with their creative art, making all kinds of creations out of play dough. They were fighting 10x less a day, and were much more contented and well-mannered.

And I felt more relaxed too. I was letting my phone battery run out and stay off. I wasn’t repeatedly checking facebook or looking for the next of those addictive little red dots. I felt much more present, and I felt like they were too. It actually made me consider whether to ever go back to where we were.

But now, after six months in lockdown, some days we are there again. Agitated, distracted and not sleeping as well.

So here’s my plan for the month of October, along with some ideas that might be useful for you:

Reduce

Limiting the amount of time you spend on devices in lots of little ways can add up to a lot of time!

📞 Take the Facebook app off your phone

⏰ Limit checking social media to x3 a day (after breakfast, after lunch, after dinner)

✅ Cut off the WiFi at 11 p.m. every night (for those of you with older kids, you can an download an app that allows you to shut off your kids’ phones remotely.)

🛌 Don’t use phone an hour before bed

🥰 Give yourself a reward for each of these goals you achieve!

Replace

Replace screen time with something good for your body, mind and soul!

📖 Read a chapter of a novel each night before bed

📅 Set a reminder for your daily devotions

🖊 Do a ‘brain dump’; write down your prayers, thoughts, feelings and worries at some point in the day.

🦆 Do something fun in nature; feed the ducks, splash in puddles, collect conkers or go for an evening power walk.

💄 Slot in a little pamper activity each day; even if it’s a five minute face mask, nail file and paint, craft activity or game of football – whatever helps you relax!

Refresh

Here’s the final, more radical step, that we need to be more disciplined about, but which is totally key to feel refreshed and rejuvenated.

For one day a week – for 12 hours at least, try to unplug everything electronic.

📺’Screen free Sundays’ are a habit some families are getting into.

🎨 Paint, do puzzles, play board games, play music, or bake together. Quality, focused time with family is a beautiful thing.

So how can we begin to beat the screen fatigue and addiction pendulum swing?

👍 Reduce the time spent on screen using a combination of habits.

👍 Replace what you do on your device with other fun things.

👍 Refresh from the digital by withdrawing from it for a day a week.

Next time you see or talk to me, please ask me how I’m doing with this! And If you’ve got some good tips on how you do screens in your house, I’d love to hear from you!

H x

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When your best is not enough

‘Do your best’ is a phrase we hear all the time. We tell our kids to ‘do their best’ and the rest will take care of itself. But what does doing our best mean? And what should the outcome of our best be?

I say this because sometimes without realising it we can unconsciously misinterpret the meaning of ‘do YOUR best’ for ‘do THE best at all costs.’

⭐️ For example, I used to think doing my best meant bending myself both directions until I nearly broke with exhaustion.

⭐️ I used to think doing my best was staying up into the early hours, trying to meet commitments I never should have taken on in the first place.

⭐️ I used to think doing my best was re-reading an email twenty times to make sure there was no mistake in it.

⭐️ I used to think doing my best was forgoing dinner so I could make a planned commitment right on time.

⭐️ I used to think doing my best was meeting the expectations of everyone around me.

⭐️ I used to think doing my best was never missing a note in a performance.

How wrong I was.

You see, doing your best is important, but so is recognising that not only will your best not always be the best – sometimes your best will not be enough.

Yes, sometimes you will invest 110%, only to find it still isn’t enough for those around you.

⭐️ Sometimes your best won’t be enough to get you that dream job.

⭐️ If you’re a boss, your best won’t always be enough to please your employees.

⭐️ If you’re a parent, your best won’t be enough to meet all your children’s needs all of the time.

⭐️ If you’re a friend, your best won’t always be enough to never disappoint.

⭐️ Sometimes the pressure of your circumstances will mean that temporarily you won’t be your best self.

And that’s ok. Really.

Because that’s where grace has the opportunity to abound.

Grace is unmerited favour. Grace is undeserved acceptance. When you experience true grace and learn to give it out, it is life-changing.

Here’s five ways grace kicks in when our best is not enough.

1. Grace accepts my limitations

We are limited beings with limited resources, capacities and abilities. For example, I am just not naturally sporty; even if I gave a 100m sprint my best shot, I’d still probably come in last. I’m also not naturally tidy; I could improve my organisation and do my best to keep on top of clutter, but my house still won’t look like the Joneses down the road.

I’ve also only got so many hours in the day. On the days when it’s my mum’s birthday, I’ve got a report to work on, my kids are off school sick and a friend has an unexpected crisis – I may forget to brush my hair, or fail to make dinner from scratch. And that’s perfectly fine, when grace is present. Because grace knows and accepts our limitations – whatever they may be.

2. Grace is realistic

And that’s because grace is unapologetically realistic. How many times have we expected far too much from ourselves or from friends or family members? But when grace fills our hearts and minds, we are able to accept the frailty of our humanness, and understand that we can’t be all things to all people, all of the time. Experiencing grace allows us to be more sensible about what we can actually achieve, and releases us to put less pressure on others to fulfil unfair expectations.

3. Grace celebrates progress

Grace is not only realistic, it helps us to celebrate when we do achieve something. Even if we have accomplished something seemingly insignificant – like getting to the bottom of the laundry basket or exercising every day in a week – when we have tried hard we should take time to acknowledge that. And even if we fail at something, when we have learned important lessons in the process, then we still have something to be joyful about!

4. Grace extends kindness

Grace assures us that doing our best does not mean sacrificing our mental health or stretching our physical limits out like chewing gum. When we learn to be generous to ourselves even when we get it wrong, how much more will we be equipped to extend kindness to others! We won’t expect our employees to work 60 hour weeks, or our friends to drop everything to speak to us. We can extend kindness, whether it is deserved or not. Do you want to be that type of person? I know I do; giving and receiving grace is the key.

5. Grace sees the heart

Lastly, embracing grace is a journey towards understanding that we are not the sum of your achievements; motivation and effort are much more important. It’s better to do something with a genuine heart and not get it totally right than produce something polished with a terrible attitude.

Your best will not always be enough, so embrace grace

Are you feeling like you aren’t enough today? That’s probably because none of us are, not without grace anyway.

There are some standards we will never meet. Think about it; when the best we could offer wasn’t even close to good enough for God, he gave His best instead – His perfect Son – so He could extend His unmerited favour to us. That is grace.

So next time you’re tempted to be hard on yourself or someone else who isn’t meeting your standards or expectations, remember,

Grace is realistic. Be aware of your (and others’) limitations, and accept them!

Grace celebrates progress. Don’t look for perfection, or you’ll always be disappointed. Look to learn instead.

Grace extends kindness. Look for ways you can merciful to yourself, and extend favour to others today.

Grace sees the heart. Attitude is more important than ability. Always evaluate motives above performance.

Sometimes your best won’t be enough.

And that’s where grace comes in.

H x

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Living a #nofilter life: who are we when no one is watching?

Kids have a way of humbling you in front of other people, don’t they? Parents never forget some of those red-faced moments. Like the time when Zoë told someone I barely knew that, ‘Every time mummy gets on the scales she is heavier,’ or blurted out to a crèche volunteer, ‘You couldn’t go anywhere near our car, it’s full of dirt.’ Both statements were true at the time, of course, but definitely not truths I wanted all to hear!

It’s well-known that young children have no filter. Filtering our thoughts and opinions before we say them out loud is something we learn to do as we grow up. Not enough sometimes; a little too well other times. Yet just as we learn to hold back comments that might hurt people as we get older, somehow at the same time we become accustomed to hiding much of our true selves from those around us.

Bill and I watched ‘The Social Dilemma’ the other night. It’s a documentary about the how social media manipulates human psychology – including how using it contributes to poor self esteem, anxiety and depression. I tell you, it was pretty concerning, as well as thought-provoking.

One of the problems with social media for mental health is the pressure to present our best selves online. The best of our pictures, angles, memories, family activities – you name it. Let’s be honest – it’s tempting for all of us to present the world with an unrealistic picture of what we look and live like.

But when you’re living a ‘filtered’ life, how much of yourself are you actually letting people see? Who are you when no one is looking? And how much of a difference is there between the two? Everyone has struggles, problems, flaws, hurts and insecurities. We don’t need to share them all with the world, but neither should we pretend we have it all together!

And here’s why:

We are made to be ‘instruments’ not ‘ornaments’

True impact only comes when our motivation is to become an instrument for others’ flourishing, instead of just an ornament for their admiration.

Think about it; if our public persona only ever includes idyllic family photos, sparkling surfaces, glamorous achievements and flawless complexions, what effect does this have on those looking on? They may admire us, but is the person they are admiring even real? And are we impacting them for good, or simply perpetuating a destructive cycle of comparison and inauthenticity?

Some of the most impactful people on social media are those who began their journey seeking to encourage, to comfort and to build others up by bringing a bit of reality to online platforms.

Take Kristina Kuzmik, for instance. After moving to America from a war-torn Croatia and facing divorce, single-parenting, poverty and depression, she found herself wanting to provide the support for others she so desperately needed during those challenges. She’s now a worldwide icon of real-life motherhood; but she has never strayed from her core motivation: to be an instrument of encouragement.

So a good question to ask ourselves before we post something online might be, ‘Is this purely ornamental, or could it impact someone for good?’ If it’s more often the former than the latter, we may need to click the #unfilter button for a time.

We are made for connection above impression

I have never felt more deeply connected to my husband than after I had major surgery. It was far from glamorous for us both, I can tell you. On one level, I found the vulnerability of not being able to shower myself or dry my own hair really difficult; but on another, it was deeply intimate and precious. As I learned to receive support from him in my helplessness, we bonded on a richer level than ever before.

When you sacrifice your desire to make a great impression and replace that with true connection, nothing can replace the level of relationship you get to have with people. When you allow them into the unvarnished world of you – with all your fears and flaws – and they still choose to love you and draw close, it’s the most beautiful thing. Think about it, if people – even your family – think you’re self-sufficient, you only ever give them the opportunity to love you from a distance.

I love my friends who are open about when they get it wrong. Shared stories about parenting fails, work blunders, and relational mistakes bring us closer together. I want to spend time with them, because there’s not this pressure to have it all together. It’s comfortable. It’s natural. It’s deep. It’s liberating.

Connection always involves vulnerability. It’s not comfortable, and it can result in hurt if you are rejected as a result of being yourself. But we owe it to others, and we owe it to ourselves not to pretend. What’s the point in being loved, if you’re being loved for something you are not? But when you’re loved exactly as you are, and you seek to do the same for others – now that’s something truly special.

We are made for service, not self-promotion

One of the questions I love to hear my work colleagues ask is, ‘How can we better serve our users?’ It may be hard to believe, but they actually mean it. That really is their primary focus. And when that’s the pervasive attitude in a company, any marketing strategy becomes more about benefitting the people they are reaching, than earning prestige or acclaim.

What a rare ethos in a world that is so often too interested in getting ahead! It’s counter-cultural, but incredibly powerful. And it’s the way we are supposed to live. Consider the fact that the Creator of the universe chose to come to us as a humble servant. Paul tells us in Philippians to ‘Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.’ And as John Maxwell says, “The best place for a leader isn’t always the top position. It isn’t the most prominent or powerful place. It’s the place where he or she can serve the best and add the most value to other people.”

What would happen if we focused less on the amount of likes we get, and more on the value we could add to others’ lives? It’s exciting isn’t it? How would our ‘timelines’ look? What would we post about? What filters would we remove?

Maybe we can redeem the ‘social media dilemma’ after all – if we choose to ditch superficial edits and live a #nofilter life. If we seek to become an instrument of healing over an ornament for admiration. If we invest more in unvarnished connection than we do in maintaining a good impression. If we spend more time in service than in self-promotion.

The question is not ‘can we?’ – but ‘will we?’

H x

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‘Winter is coming’: five ways to keep your family happier and healthier

Before I became a mum, the phrase, ‘winter is coming,’ conjured up cosy evenings by the fire, brisk walks in the fresh air, and sipping hot chocolate with marshmallows in coffee shops while watching passersby through steamed up windows.

Now, on first hearing, the phrase evokes something else altogether… that dread of hearing feverish moans in the middle of the night as children wake up with temperatures; the continual rescheduled plans; cabin fever and perpetual runny noses.

Covid realities have added another level to this sense of uneasy anticipation. Here we are, only two weeks into term, and both my kids are off school already! But before I can feel too sorry for myself, I want to make sure I write down what I can do – what all of us can do – to stay healthier and happier in this season! We all know the benefits of a balanced diet and exercise, but is there anything else that makes a real difference? Here’s five things that will give you and your family an extra boost:

Fresh air ❄️

There’s no such thing as bad weather, only poor clothing’

If you’re anything like me, when the weather is cold the last thing we can feel like doing is going outside. But once we make the effort, it’s more than worth it for the benefits.

My beautiful and wise Finnish friend taught me this. She is always prepared for all weathers with impressive all-in-one suits that keep out the wet and the cold, and keep little ones warm as toast. Check out the Reima range at www.reima.com – these are expensive but long-lasting; if you buy them oversized they’ll last for years and can be handed down from child to child as they grow.

Not only does being exposed to the cold increase your metabolism, being active outside causes your brain to release more of the hormones that make you happy (epinephrine, adrenaline and norepinephrine.) So get out there and get some fresh air!

Vitamins 💊

When my kids were constantly getting infections a couple of years back, I did a LOT of research on vitamins. The best ones I’ve found for kids are from the Nature’s Plus Animal Parade range – you can get them on amazon and in some local health shops. These are amazing! Not only do they contain the key vitamins and minerals but they taste great too, and the GOLD ones also include probiotics for improved gut health. Since my kids started taking these ive noticed a huge difference! They still get the occasional bug like the rest of us, but they fight it off much faster than they used to.

For the adults among us; if you can take vitamin C, vitamin D and Zinc supplements consistently, you’ll be giving your immune system a huge boost. They need to be good quality though. Most gummy vitamins contain more bad stuff than good- watch out for additives and artificial sweeteners!

Essential oils 🧴

Essential oils do not work miracles, but when used properly and safely they can give your mood and immune system a much-needed boost. Used as cleaning products, they reduce the amount of harmful chemicals coming into your home. They can also help with mood, sleep, ailments, aches and pains.

A kind friend recently made me a wellness roller blend from thieves, lemon and frankincense oil. It smells gorgeous on your wrists and is mild enough for the kids; we put it on the soles of their feet at night (with socks on!) Talk about a pick me up!

Here’s some benefits of the oils we love in our house!

Thieves: the individual components of thieves oil have been shown to have antimicrobial properties, promote respiratory health and wound healing, and may provide pain relief.

Clove: antimicrobial, tooth and muscle pain reliever, improves respiratory conditions like cough and asthma.

Frankincense: anti-inflammatory, improves gut function, relieves asthma and improves oral health.

Lemon: Reduces anxiety, improves cold symptoms, improves energy, antibacterial and anti-fungal.

Good quality sleep 💤

I’ve yet to put this one fully into practice! Most of us need 7-8 hours of good quality sleep to stay healthy. This is super hard to achieve if you work shifts or you have young kids. But if you can get to bed earlier, and avoid screens two hours before bed you’ll feel so much better when your alarm goes every morning. Alternatively, why not try these great glasses from sleepspec? If you want to go on social media or work late at night, wearing these can cancel out the harmful effects of blue light on your sleep.

If little people wake you during the night or you have health conditions that keep you awake, what can really help you get the best from the little sleep you’re getting is taking magnesium supplements. I started doing this a few weeks ago and have noticed a huge difference in the quality of sleep I’m getting.

Making memories 📷

Lastly, let’s not forget that the colder months bring lots of opportunities to make amazing memories. As a friend put it,

‘When I think of winter, I think of earlier bedtimes for the kids as it gets dark earlier, reading by the fire before bed always feels special, more routine, welcome breaks at Halloween and Christmas with all the fun and extra time together those bring, being cuddled on the sofa under blankets more often, cosy lighting and smells. Everything feels a bit magic in winter.’

Isn’t this so true? We’ve all got harvest, fireworks and lanterns, cosy evenings, snowmen, stockings and gifts to look forward to! Why not plan in some new family traditions for the harvest and Christmas seasons? Twinkl has some great ideas for creative new winter activities.

So let’s all stay healthier and happier this winter by:

1. Getting more fresh air ❄️

2. Taking our vitamins 💊

3. Trying out essential oils 🧴

4. Getting better sleep 💤

5. Making new memories 📷

How do you and your family stay healthy and happy?

H x

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Are you fluent in love?

It takes time to learn a new language. A long time in fact. In order to become fluent in French, for example, I’d still need to spend at least three months living in France, even after learning it for years in school.

And just as it takes time to learn a language that’s not your own, it takes time to learn how those around you best give and receive love.

The people in my family communicate love in very different ways. Different things make them feel special. Different things make them feel warm and fuzzy inside. And so I find that each new day is a new step in the journey of learning to love well.

For Zoë, nothing says ‘I love you’ more than sitting on the floor with her and doing imaginative play. Her main love language is most definitely quality time. I really struggle with imaginative play; but I try to do it each day for a little while so that little love tank is filled up.

Eden is the cuddliest little article. For her, nothing says ‘I love you’ more than a bedtime snuggle and me allowing her to twiddle my hair through her fingers. Her main love language is indisputably touch. Sometimes it feels a bit claustrophobic, but because it makes her feel comforted and secure, I let her do it.

We joke that bill is the shallowest family member – his love languages are touch and gifts, in equal measure. If you want to reach Bill’s heart, buy him a ‘Jammy Joey’ (or a new guitar 😀) from the shop and give him plenty of hugs. For a long time I couldn’t understand why my compliments didn’t mean that much. He enjoyed them, but they didn’t mean the world. I was just speaking the wrong language! I’m still working on speaking his.

Nothing says ‘I love you’ more to me than when someone takes the time to listen to me, or to offer heartfelt words of encouragement. I’m words and time. Because Bill doesn’t need a lot of words of affirmation, he is still learning to speak aloud the positive things he is thinking!

You know where I’m going with this, right?Most of you will already have heard of Gary Chapman’s classic, ‘The five love languages.’ He talks about five main ways of expressing and receiving love: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch.

To know what your main language is, ask yourself, ‘How do I express love most naturally?’

💜 Do you love doing something for someone?

❤️ Are you quick to verbally encourage someone?

💛 Are you willing to spend a lot of time and attention on other people?

💙 Do you love giving personal and thoughtful gifts to others?

🤎 Do you naturally reach out to hug someone?

In the reverse, what do you ask for from others most often? A back rub? A weekend away? The grass cut?

Knowing how you and your other family members give and receive love is the first step to closer relationships.

Imagine if a husband knew that doing the dishes was much less important to his wife than buying her flowers once in a while?

Or what about the wife who showers her husband with compliments when all he needs is loving touch?

Or parents who continually buy their child gifts, when playing a game with them would speak greater volumes.

See how miscommunication can so easily happen? Don’t assume what you find meaningful others will too. Even sincere efforts to love can easily get ‘lost in translation.’

Why not take a moment today to ask the people in your life what makes them light up inside? You could begin (or continue) learning how to speak love, their way. Because when love lights someone up, everyone around feels the beauty of the glow.

What language do you speak when it comes to love? And how have you been learning to love others better?

H x

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Fact or opinion? A question for handling criticism

‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.’

I don’t know who first said this, but I can’t understand why it became so popular. Because it’s quite simply wrong. I would re-render it as:

‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but there’s nothing like words to bring you down.’

Some of us can handle criticism better than others. On the one hand, I’m a bit envious of the thick skinned among us, and I want to know your secrets! But on the other hand, psychologists say you need five positive affirmations per one negative comment to thrive. That means that no matter how self-confident we are, a lot of us are operating at a deficit of positivity a lot of the time.

No matter how thick skinned you are, I think it’s safe to say none of us enjoy being criticised. But we can teach ourselves to evaluate any thoughts, feedback or comments more objectively; to learn what needs to be learned and leave behind what needs left behind.

Here’s a personal example. One of the most important heart questions for me is, ‘do you really care?’ Just as a major need of mine is to feel cared for, I try my best to care for others. I don’t always do it well, but it’s really important to me.

So one of the most devastating things someone could accuse me of is being cold or uncaring. It’s happened to me before, and I lost a lot of sleep over it. But when a kind friend helped me lay out the evidence and weigh it up, I realised that the accuser didn’t actually know the details of how I spent my time or who I spent it with. But I did, and there was a lot they had assumed that was based on an incomplete picture. Their assessment was not a fact, it was an opinion. And it wasn’t true. Now, I could let it go more easily, without holding on to it, carrying it around, or trying to justify myself to that person.

That episode made me realise the distress that comes from treating every thought in our mind, opinion about us or assumption about us as automatically true. Just because someone has an opinion, does not mean it is valid. Just because someone has made an assumption about me, does not mean it is accurate. And just because I subconsciously believe something to be true about myself, it doesn’t mean I’m right.

This world’s people-pleasers have a tendency to burn themselves out trying to fulfil everyone’s demands. But at some point all of us have to realise that we can choose to live either according to unlimited expectations or our finite capacities. No one else is going to make that decision for us.

And here’s the thing that can really help us not to be driven by what people think:

Knowing the difference between fact and opinion.

💯A fact is something that can be verified with evidence.

⁉️An opinion is an assertion based on belief and viewpoint.

💯 Fact – The music is in C minor

⁉️Opinion – That music is awful

Seems easy to differentiate, doesn’t it? But it’s not always as clear cut as all that when people are involved.

So next time you experience thoughts or words that bring you down, ask yourself, is this fact or opinion?

Weigh up the for and against evidence. If you decide on fact, then take up the challenge to learn what needs to be learned. If it’s a misplaced opinion, take the necessary time you need to identify it as such and …

LET

IT

GO!

Maybe we need to adopt another version of that saying from now on,

‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never define me.’

H xx

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Dear mummy, you are stronger than you know, and braver than you think

I was saying to someone the other day that I think this pandemic has been super challenging for one group of people in particular: mothers. Overnight, many mums became breadwinners, solo carers, and teachers all at once. At the same time, they were stripped of the extra family and school support they relied on. But as we look back over this time, we should realise something incredibly encouraging – we are stronger and braver than we thought we could ever have been!

Dear stay at home mum of littles,

As the nights bleed into days, you are stronger than you know – and braver than you think.

In the season of motherhood when you’re sleeping even less than your unsettled kids; you’re facing sickness after sickness; you’re heavily pregnant or you’ve got toddlers and infants in tow; and you’re struggling to make it through the day – you can think you are failing.

You can think you’re weak when you’re living in perpetual overwhelm, your house is in chaos, and you can’t keep things together. But look back now at how far you’ve come – You made it this far. And if you’re in the thick of it now – you made it through last night. And you’ll make it through another one.

Maybe you feel at times like you’re barely holding on. And yet you do.

Maybe you feel like this season will never end. And yet, it will. It may feel gruelling, and that’s because it is. But it is not permanent.

So grab all the support you can lean on for strength. No one can do this alone.

Dear working mum of multiple kids,

As time slips through your fingers, and the days blur into years, you are stronger than you know, and braver than you think.

When school runs, doctors appointments, work meetings and house work feel like they are clambering all over you and weighing you down, you can think you’re buckling under the pressure.

With every recital, parent-teacher interview, laundry load and football practice taxi run, you feel the tug of wanting to hold on to each precious moment, and yet longing for something that makes you feel like you’ve still got some of your own identity left.

Maybe you feel like time is going too fast, and somehow you’ll miss what matters. And yet, with each lovingly-packed holiday suitcase, and wave at the school gate, you are building something incredible. Something that lasts far beyond these years. You are building what family means for your children.

So please don’t feel guilty about doing those little things that make you feel ‘you’ again, so you have the endurance to keep building that legacy.

Dear mummy to those with extra needs,

You. Are. Special. Your tenacity, perseverance, and willingness to sacrificially give out is an encapsulation of real, agape love. A choice to lay aside your own needs for another. A beautiful expression of love as a verb.

You’ve worried more than most of us. You’ve researched more than all of us. You’ve spend money on treatments we haven’t. And at the end of each day you may feel wrung out, but you are beautiful.

After spending every waking minute caring, investing, and reading up on how to alleviate your child’s distress, pain or discomfort, you might feel like you have nothing left. That you are on your knees and that no one understands.

You may have had to exit a restaurant with an overwhelmed, screaming child. But we see you as flexible. You may have had to spend hours in hospital corridors. We admire your patience. You may have been hit, kicked and growled at. We are in awe at your resilience. You are not weak, you are not alone, and you are not invisible. You may be in a position of constantly giving out, but you too deserved to be cared for.

Self-compassion is your survival. You need to forgive yourself when you get it wrong, and give yourself permission to take a break when you’re offered it.

There’s many different kinds of mummies in this world, but you’re all stronger than you know, and you’re all braver than you think. We see you, we celebrate you, and we cheer you on! Keep going!

H xx

M

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Life is not a board game: Don’t ask me what’s next, ask me what’s now!

I’m running the risk of getting on a bit of a hobby horse with this one … but it’s too important not to say, so here goes!

I’m convinced many of us have a bad dose of milestone madness. From literally months old, our lives are plagued by the next achievement or attainment. Everyone always wants to know the ‘plan’ don’t they? What’s your next move? Where are you headed? What are you aiming for?

But what about what’s now? Here’s what I feel compelled to say today:

To the mum whose little ones aren’t speaking in sentences by the time they are six months, don’t panic.

Revel in those little nonsensical gargles and giggles that you’ll look back on in six years’ time with tearful nostalgia. Respond to those pointed, ‘when do you think he/she will talk’ comments with,Aw, they’ll do it in their own time, but watch now as they respond with delight to my every word!’

To the teens who go through puberty later than most, and feel unattractive and out of place, please don’t panic!

I was an early developer, my friend was a later one. When we were younger people thought she was my little sister. I felt lanky and awkward being taller than all the boys, while she wished she looked as old as me. Now you couldn’t tell the difference. And who really cares, anyway? If someone teases you about being a late bloomer, call them out on their shallow attitude and tell them about the more important things that are blossoming in your life right now!

To the 18-year-old who didn’t get the results you wanted in your A-levels, don’t panic!

You can repeat if you want to. And if you don’t, there are plenty of other options available. Volunteering, travelling, tech, you name it. I took a gap year just because I could, and completely changed my career path as a result. When someone asks you ‘what you’re going to do,’ ask them to quiz you about what you’re learning through the change of plans!

To the university graduate who didn’t get your dream job on the day after your ceremony, don’t panic!

The average person changes career 5-7 times these days. Experience in different fields and industries only enriches your life, increases your social capital and enlarges your skill set. When someone asks you when you’ll ‘make it,’ tell them to ask you how you’re building on your employability now.

To those whose friends are all getting married but you have no relationship on the horizon just yet, don’t panic!

You are not ‘left behind.’ You are no less good-looking or interesting just because you aren’t joined at the hip with another person. Life is not a board game. They haven’t moved ahead several spaces just because they’re married or have kids. Some of the loneliest people in life are married. Next time someone provokes you about ‘moving forward with love’, ask them to press you on what you’re enjoying moving into right now.

To those of you who are dating and constantly being interrogated about when the ‘question’ will be popped, don’t panic.

Instead, slow down. Get to know each other. Talk about the hard things. All of them. Enjoy the adventure and the getting to know one another before wedding planning and house buying sweep you away like a whirlwind. When someone asks you when the big day is, give them a detailed catalogue of what your best days together have been so far.

To the couple who don’t want to have children as soon as they get married, don’t allow yourself to feel pressured into it just because people expect you to. Don’t panic!

Enjoy the holidays, the lie-ins, the DIY projects, the date days – if that’s what you want. Because the people who are winking and gesturing at your stomach will not be getting up five times a night with your baby.

And when you’ve had one, you’ll be asked about having another.

Maybe you don’t want to.

Maybe you don’t want to, yet.

Maybe you are struggling to.

Maybe the question causes you a lot of pain.

And this is why, when it comes to the whole children question, it’s ok to say to people, ‘You really shouldn’t ask about that.’ Why? Because it’s really not their business. And it’s not the right question actually.

If you have children, ask people to ask you how they bless and enrich your life. And if you don’t, they should be asking you what many other people and things are blessing and enriching your life right now. Because although children are a wonderful source of joy, by no means are they the only fountain of fulfilment.

I could go right on through every season of life, but I don’t feel at all qualified to talk about what’s next, because I haven’t been there yet. I don’t know enough about climbing the property ladder, or looking after elderly parents, or pensions, or wills, or funeral plans.

The long and the short of it is, please, at least some of the time, let’s stop fixating on what’s coming.

Let’s focus on the gift of the now.

Let’s stop applying the pressure and instead take time to pursue what’s present.

Let’s care less about the ‘lowdown’ and more about the learning.

Let’s quit idolising the next and start celebrating the moment.

Rant over! 🤪

H x

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Baby steps: post natal exhaustion and my road to self care.

It was a day I’ll never forget. Eden was only a few months old. Zoë had just turned two. I was having a friend over for breakfast, and we were enjoying some really sweet conversation together.

Suddenly it felt like the room was swimming around me. I found I could no longer focus on what my friend was saying, but I could hear her concerned, ‘Are you alright?’ – in the distance, followed by a weird floating feeling as she guided me over to the sofa to lie down.

‘I can’t move,’ I remember muttering. Being an experienced nurse, she calmly took charge of the situation, asked all the right medical questions, phoned the doctor’s surgery, and got an emergency appointment.

I was so grateful she was there with me and the girls that morning. She was God’s angel to me in that moment.

When I eventually got to the doctor, I remember her diagnosis clear as day. ‘This is pure exhaustion. Your body is saying stop. Bed for you.’

For the next week, that’s what I did. Lay in bed. Bill brought Eden up so I could feed her, then took her down again and I slept. I felt like no sleep would ever be enough.

Two weeks on, I remember still struggling to lift my limbs to get up off the sofa and crying fearful tears, ‘Have I pushed myself too far? Will this be permanent? Is this chronic fatigue?’

I did recover fully eventually, thankfully, but I learned a very important lesson that day. I learned I had limits.

That I wasn’t eighteen anymore.

That I wasn’t invincible.

That I couldn’t stay up with a baby feeding all night and then do all I did before I became a mother, with two young children in tow. And here’s the biggest part- that was ok!

My body needed nourishment. My mind needed rest. And I needed to learn self care.

Baby steps.

And it’s still baby steps, to be honest.

I have such a woeful habit of packing activity into my week like a tin jammed with sardines.

All of us have an individual energy tank we draw from for work, looking after family, socialising, you name it. And when it’s empty, it’s empty.

If you feel like you’re at your limit, or you’re running on empty, but you don’t know how to set limits, try these five questions to help gauge where you are at!

1. Is my mind continually racing with what I have to do each day?

If so, I may be trying to achieve too much in a short space of time.

2. Is what I’m trying to do on a regular basis outside of my ability to achieve (in time, skills, energy or resources)?

If the answer is yes, you may need to pass some things on or shoulder responsibility along with someone else.

4. Do I always wake up tired?

If you never feel truly rested even after a night’s sleep, then you may need to slow your pace of life down before your body does it for you!

5. Have I begun to resent it when people ask things of me?

If you find yourself cross when someone asks you to do something for them then you may not have good boundaries in place. Time to say a polite ‘No’ to some requests so you can say a wholehearted ‘Yes’ to the right things!

I’m encouraged today that even though I still have a tendency to take on too much, I’m still taking baby steps to establishing good self care. Baby steps are still steps. And it’s the same for you.

It’s never too late to start! And it’s never too late to take another positive step towards a happier, healthier life.

How do you do self care well and where could you improve? I’d love to learn from you.

H x

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How to save time you don’t have (and save your sanity in the process!)

Ever wish time travel was a real thing, just so you could get through your never ending to-do list each day?

I have a bit of an obsession with time. How fast it goes, how key it is to invest it into relationships, and how I can find more ways to use it more productively.

Why? Because time is the most precious commodity we all have.

As Rick Warren puts it, ‘You can make more money, but you can’t make more time. When you give someone your time, you are giving them a portion of your life that you’ll never get back. Your time is your life. That is why the greatest gift you can give someone is your time.’

Because time is so precious, but so easily slips away from us, it can often feel from day to day like we are always trying to save time that we don’t have.

Here’s three tips I’ve learned (through many years of time-management mistakes!) about maximising my time and making the most of my days.

1. Sleep

What?? Hold on. You’ve just told me to make good use of time! I don’t have time to sleep!

Actually, adequate sleep is crucial for productivity. But so many of us are chronically sleep-deprived. Take it from me; a bleary eyed mum with young children who is still definitely not getting as much sleep as I should be. Very few people thrive on 4-6 hours a night. When you and I are physically tired, our productivity plummets. Full stop.

In fact, it may or may not surprise you to learn that studies of large corporations have shown workers who have insufficient sleep spend nearly three times as much of their day on the same tasks as those who sleep well. I know it to be true as well; the days I go to bed early and get up at six to work, I achieve so much more than when I struggle with a screen late into the evening.

Seems that early night is worth sacrificing an extra episode of Netflix for 🤔

2. Prioritise

Are there so many to-dos whirling round inside your head that it feels like a perfect storm and you’re too overwhelmed to do anything? Often we feel like this because we are spending our days multitasking, rather than prioritising.

I don’t know whether others struggle with this, but I have a really hard time sorting out in my head sometimes which tasks are the most urgent for me to tackle. I also struggle with over-estimating what I can achieve in one day.

But recently someone told me about the 1-3-5 rule, and I’ve found it so helpful for this!

1. Pick 1 big task you need to achieve that just can’t wait – and accomplish it first

2. Then choose 3 medium tasks that are important, but not as time consuming or urgent as the big one, and tackle them one after another.

3. Finally, dot your day with 5 small tasks that are easily achievable.

You’ll end the day with peace of mind that you accomplished what you needed to, started what you wanted to, and covered some of the little jobs that are always hanging over your head.

Hello productivity!

3. Delegate

When I was a kid, I used to pay my far-too-kind friend to clean my gerbil cages. 10p a cage. Sounds awful, doesn’t it? 😂

But maybe I realised the principle early on in life that time is money! And if money can buy you more time, seriously weigh up if it’s not worth it to delegate out some things.

During my teens, my neighbour used to pay me and a friend to mind her toddlers for one hour, just so she could walk around the block to clear her head. Her husband worked away and she didn’t have family living nearby. That £5 was well worth it for her. She came back refreshed and ready to parent again.

If paying someone else to wash your car on a Saturday morning allows you to go and visit your gran, why not?

If one hour of paid work will pay for three of cleaning, then it may be a no-brainer for you to get some help with the house!

Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to ask yourself, ‘What is preventing me from investing in what matters to me most? And can I delegate some of those tasks to buy some of that time back?’

So there you have it:

Sleep 💤

prioritise 📅

… and delegate 🖐 your way to a more productive day!

H x

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The power of the One: standing in the gap for others

They call him the ‘Australian angel.’

He was the man who lived beside ‘The Gap’ – a natural beauty spot where lots of people attempt suicide every day.

For over 50 years, Don Ritchie watched through his window for troubled souls, then came close to meet them at the point of their need.

Standing at the edge of the cliff, deliberating whether or not to end it all, many a hopeless individual heard softly-spoken words from this compassionate stranger, ‘Why don’t you come for a cup of tea?’

Seemingly insignificant words, but since 1964 they have saved at least 160 lost souls from the precipice of death.

Wow! What a legacy, and what a reminder of the power of one. The power of one to impact one life, after life, after life.

Have you ever doubted that your life could make a difference?

It may be time to start believing differently.

It can be so tempting sometimes to focus on numbers; likes on Facebook, attendance and crowds. But what about the ‘ones,’ and the ‘ones’ those ‘ones’ will impact?

Someone once gave me a word of encouragement that has never left me.

They said, ‘The impact of your life is a bit like walking along the seashore across the sand, picking up shells as you go. Those shells you lift along the way represent the lives you have touched. Before you know it, you’ve walked the length of the beach. A little love each day can go a very long way.

Sometimes we can expend so much energy into thinking about how we could make a big difference; but in so doing we miss the small daily differences, which over time, add up to big ones.

At this point in my life, I can honestly say I’d rather be an anonymous ‘angel’ than an insta icon. Who are we standing in ‘the Gap’ for? Which ‘ones’ can we look out for and love? Who do you know that is on the edge of breakdown, or financial ruin, or discouragement?

And if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, remember you serve in the power of the greatest One to ever live, love, serve and save.

🌱One Rescuer

🌱One cross

🌱One empty tomb

🌱One victory

🌱One salvation

Jesus was the only One who could ever stand in the Gap for all of humanity, forever.

Never forget the power of the One to change the world. Start with the ‘One’ right in front of you, and see where it leads you!

H x

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Back to school 2020/2021: burst bubbles and brave steps.

Every year emotional parents and excited children anticipate the big adventure of a new school year. Tips about where to get the best value school shoes, smart first day photos, and proud as punch posts abound on social media newsfeeds.

But it all feels a bit different this time around, doesn’t it?

Because, in a way, this pandemic has forced teachers, parents and children alike ‘back to school’ in some shape or form.

🌱We are all starting an adventure of adjusting to a completely new routine, the ‘new normal’ everyone keeps talking about.

🌱We are all being presented with opportunities to adapt and adjust to a previously unknown situation.

🌱We are all mustering up the different kind of bravery involved in walking into/walking our kids into a school building post lockdown

🌱We are all going into this with a host of new questions that are as yet unanswered.

How will teachers manage to keep children at a safe distance from one another? How will they cope with that increased pressure?

How will parents manage new stresses of work, childcare and scheduling pick ups for multiple children?

How hard will it be for children to overcome decreased physical contact, staff wearing PPE at times, minimalist learning environments and restricted social interaction?

As we walk into this unprecedented adventure, we do so carrying the weight of potential disappointments.

Burst bubbles

Many schools are keeping classes within protective ‘bubbles’ for learning, creating, eating and playing together. This is an attempt to protect children from the rapid spread of infection. The idea means that if a student gets sick or tests positive for COVID-19, everyone that has had direct contact with them can be quarantined quickly and efficiently.

The size of these bubbles has recently doubled after an announcement that all children would be returning to school full time.

But asides from the worry that safety bubbles could be burst on public transport or interactions outside school, other uncomfortable potentialities are:

🌱The idea of whole classes and their families needing to self isolate due to unidentified coughs and fevers.

🌱Parents’ confusion about whether, when their kids go back to school, they will need to make changes to their existing social bubbles.

🌱Children’s disappointment at not being bubbled with best friends, parents struggling with work, childcare and pickups as a result of haphazard school hours and staggered collection times.

Brave steps

And yet, despite all these potential uncertainties and disappointments, every adventure requires bravery, and this is one we are all embarking upon together.

So surely this is a perfect moment to celebrate the brave steps being taken by each of us at this time. Steps towards normality. Baby steps towards life as we knew it before. Steps to overcome the challenges ahead.

💪Parents bravely releasing children they have held tightly these last six months

💪Mums and dads bravely cooperating to ensure the best possible work, life, school balance

💪Teachers bravely accepting responsibility for supervising children – all so they can thrive and continue to learn.

💪Officials bravely and diligently working through risk asssesments and balancing pros and cons

💪Children (with all the current anxieties added to normal new term nerves!) bravely heading back to a classroom situation which will be very different in some ways.

Yes, we might feel the weight of Unknown’s and disappointments, but let’s lighten the mood by celebrating the beauty of our collective bravery as we move forward into this new adventure together!

As an English headmaster wrote to his pupils just before lockdown struck,

These are very unusual times and one day, when this is all over, you will be telling your children about the time that our brilliant community overcame a huge challenge, how we stuck together to help and care for each other. You will also tell them how brave you have been.’

👏Thank you, brave teachers

👏Thank you, brave legislators

👏Thank you, brave key workers

👏Thank you, brave parents

👏Thank you, brave children!

… and let the adventure begin!

H x

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When weariness weighs you down, who holds you up?

Once upon a time there was a battle. A fight which felt impossible to win.

The leader of one side was known for his great exploits. His courage. His bravery. His boldness. His unwavering confidence in his God.

But in this particular story, he is vulnerable, he is weary, and he is tired. A group of raiders had attacked his people, and he is watching what is happening from a nearby hill.

This ancient tale describes how, as long as the leader’s arms were raised high, the tide was turned against the enemy of his people. But as soon as his limbs buckled with tiredness, the opposition got the advantage.

What won this battle, you may be wondering? Well, it certainly wasn’t this man’s independence or will power.

It was his friends. Two people came alongside and held up his arms for as long as they were needed. With their combined strength, the enemy was defeated.

The turning point in this story was not self sufficiency, it was interdependence.

The turning point in this story was the strength that comes with shared responsibility.

The turning point in this story was the intentional bearing of another’s burdens.

All of us have times when we become battle weary. Drained. Tired. And we often don’t recognise that our personal weariness has the potential not only to impact our own lives, but that of so many others around us.

Tiredness is the cause of many a battle lost.

Exhaustion is often the underlying factor for giving up something that is important to us, and crucial to the flourishing of others.

But when does the turning point so often come? When someone comes alongside.

🌱To share the weight.

🌱To bear the burden.

🌱To show strength.

🌱To communicate support.

When weariness is weighing us down, stubborn independence is not a wise way forward. Interdependence is how God designed us to operate. We can achieve so much more together than we can achieve alone. Or, to put it a different way, we can survive so much more through partnership than in isolation.

What a difference this makes to us when we feel our worries, demands and responsibilities stretching us out like chewing gum.

🌱Are you feeling weary today? Maybe you need to ask a friend (or two) for the support you need.

🌱Or maybe today is a day to thank someone who has held your arms up at crucial points in your life?

🌱Finally, why not consider now whose arms you could hold up so that they too can have the strength to fight another day?

H x

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Dealing with disappointment: When things don’t turn out as you hoped.

Sometimes things just don’t end up the way we want them to.

When expectations are not met, disappointment rears its ugly head. When our hopes and dreams are out of line with reality, we are forced to admit we didn’t get something we wanted.

So many of us are experiencing disappointment at the moment.

🌱Disappointment that church isn’t what it used to be.

🌱Disappointment that we still have to social distance or shield after so many months.

🌱Disappointment at postponed weddings, cancelled holidays, attendance at loved ones’ funerals, or unfair employer decisions.

🌱Disappointment about deteriorating health.

I took time this week to write down some key moments of disappointment I’ve experienced:

🌱When our first church ministry experience together ended in mistreatment and great hurt.

🌱When the precious life of our first baby ended in ectopic pregnancy and emergency surgery.

🌱When we watched family members suffer awful illness and die prematurely.

🌱When a friendship I treasured ended due to events outside my control.

I’m sure you could easily make your own list of events where you felt let down or angry that things turned out the way they did.

But did you ever consider that if you respond to disappointment in the right way, it might actually be one of the keystones of growth? That it could change the way you live now, and kickstart a bright future based on reality rather than wishful thinking?

Here’s how we can turn disappointment into a productive, and even powerful, catalyst for change.

1. Feel what needs to be felt

Have you ever noticed how when children are upset, they will tantrum, cry or scream until the emotion passes and they are really ready to move on?

If you’re disappointed, you’re disappointed, and that’s just it. Denial will not make it go away.

Label the emotions you feel- worried, resentful, hurt, sad, let down etc. Think of the emotions as waves that wash over you but don’t engulf you. Disappointment is not a permanent condition. You don’t need to wallow in it. When you label it clearly, it loses its power over you and becomes a receding tide of emotion that gets further and further away.

2. Let go what needs to be let go

When you feel let down, it can be hard to let go.

But when we hold on to disappointment too long, it can quickly turn into discouragement, resentment, or even depression.

That’s why it’s so important we turn disappointment into determination to grow.

A wise friend once told me, release is a voluntary action. To find freedom from what it is you are holding, you have to choose to loosen your grip on it.

Next time you’re at the seashore, why not pick up a pebble, and consciously acknowledge the weight of it in your hand as you think about the weight of what you are carrying. Then let it slip from your fingers into the waves and watch as the water carries it away.

There’s power in release today.

3. Learn what needs to be learned

Don’t punish yourself for feeling cross or frustrated! Instead, commit to learning from every hurdle and challenge.

🌱Learn gratitude- train yourself to think of three things you can be thankful for each day.

🌱Learn discernment – learn to distinguish between the facts and feelings of a situation. You may feel strongly about it, but are things really as bad as they seem?

🌱Learn positivity- learn to see the positive side of the worst situations. Positive people attract positivity!

4. Build what needs to be built

Some people decide it’s best not to have high expectations about anything, so they are never disappointed. They avoid taking risks or going deep in relationships as a form of self preservation. But this leads to an unfulfilled and mediocre life.

Others set the bar so high that no one- not even themselves – will ever reach it. But this leads to anxiety and self deprecation- not to mention unnecessary annoyance at others.

We need to build expectations for ourselves and others that are realistic– not idealistic, pessimistic or perfectionistic.

Recognise who you are, choose who you want be, and take steps to build on that. If you want to be an open-hearted and gracious person, when unmet expectations tempt you to withdraw or run away, knowing your values will enable you to resist the urge.

1. Feel what needs to be felt

2. Let go what needs to be let go

3. Learn what needs to be learned

4. Build what needs to be built

… and kickstart a brighter future 🌟

H xx

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope”

Martin Luther King

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‘Good things come to those who…’ : 5 ways to live life to the full

My eldest daughter has inherited one of my biggest personal struggles in life: waiting.

Once she gets something in her head she cannot rest until she has acquired or accomplished it.

I am exactly the same; waiting to me has always felt like an utter waste of time- unproductive minutes forever lost in a vacuum of nothingness.

It used to drive me crazy when my parents would say, ‘Patience, patience.’

And yet, I’ve found myself saying to Zoë all too often- ‘Be patient, honey. Good things come to those who…’

1. …Wait

‘Instead of demanding the toy from your sister there and then, it might be an idea to ask once, then wait. She’s much more likely to give it to you than if you try to snatch it off her. Good things come to those who wait.’

‘Instead of asking me over and over for the sweet, it might be an idea to wait quietly without pestering me. Then I might be more inclined to give you two rather than one! Good things come to those who wait.’

If we are willing to wait around for a while, we will soon find life has lots of good things stored up for us. Waiting without demanding what we want is no easy task. But it often pays dividends- whether it be with a promotion, an investment return, or the provision of a need that we were were willing to hold off a little bit longer from splashing out on.

And if we are in a season when things are really tough; the principle remains. Wait long enough, and winter will end. Wait long enough, and you’ll see the shoots of spring coming through.

Wait, and the good will come.

2. …Give

We’ve all heard the saying, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive, but do we actually believe it? Well we should, because it’s true!

There is nothing better than watching someone light up when you give them a gift from the heart – whether it be your time, your money, your talents or your words.

Why?

Because the best things in life are shared. Because the hearts that give without expecting anything in return are the most richly blessed.

As Jesus teaches us- ‘give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38).

The measure we use will be returned to us. If you are giving with expectations, you’re robbing yourself of the blessing of real giving. Too often we give expecting the person to behave a certain way as a result of what we’ve given. That’s not a gift, it’s a loan or a contract.

How can you genuinely give with no strings attached?

🌱Love without condition.

🌱Talk without bad intention.

🌱Give without reason.

🌱Care without expectation.

How can you show true generosity today?

3. …Receive

All this being said, it’s not only important to learn how to give well, we need to be willing to receive the good, too.

Learn to let others bless you. To acknowledge you need their generosity, love, time and care.

Because too often, we let pride prevent good from entering our lives. Some of us won’t accept second hand offerings. Others don’t want anyone to think they are in need, so they either refuse gifts or try to pay them back.

Someone once told me, ‘make sure you are easy to give to.’ This applies to finances, compliments, hospitality – you name it. Be easy to give to. It sounds Irish, but the easier you are to give to, the more you will be given to!

Do you silently squirm inside when someone offers you love, care or encouragement? Do you find good things hard to receive from others? Or can you receive openly and with deep joy? If you’re awkward every time someone tries to compliment you, they’ll be put off doing so again. Make it easy for them!

Practice allowing yourself to surrender to the good feeling of receiving a gift! And in so doing grant the giver the great joy of seeing your delight in accepting their generosity wholeheartedly.

4. …Forgive!

This is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned and am always learning.

🌱Life is too short to hold grudges.

🌱Life is to short to keep record of wrongs.

🌱Life is too short to constantly expect too much of people.

Good things come to those who can let things go and move on. To those who can extend grace and realise that the majority of people are doing their best and haven’t deliberately offended or disappointed us.To those who do the hard work of processing deep pain so they can be free from it.

Forgiveness is one of the greatest gifts you’ll ever give yourself. When you practice releasing hurt and choosing to have an attitude of grace and kindness towards others, you’ll be able to be kinder to yourself as well (notwithstanding the fact that you’ll be less angry, sleep better, have less physical pain, better heart function and increased life satisfaction… I could go on and on about this one!)

So good things come to those who…

…Wait

…Give

…Receive

…forgive!

What words could you add to this list? I’m sure there’s many more I’ve missed.

H x

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The emotional rollercoaster of COVID-19: 5 ways to cope with the flatness, the curve balls and everything in between

One day, I wake up feeling fine. The sun is shining, the mood is good, the kids are pleasant.

The next day is grey from the start. It’s pouring with rain outside, tempers are frayed, and patience is thin.

The past few months have brought a perpetual series of ups and downs for us all. But when you continually experience such extremes, it leaves you feeling as if you don’t know whether you’re coming or going, doesn’t it?

In Northern Ireland we know all too well what it is like to experience every season of weather in one day. But now we know what it’s like to feel every emotion going in 24 hours as well! – From anxiety about the safety of our loved ones, to feeling isolated from friends, to frustrations with people who aren’t following guidelines, to joy when we get a thoughtful letter in the post, to comfort when we chat with grandparents over FaceTime.

Here’s how I’ve learned to cope with my own pendulum swings in the last few weeks:

1. Be thankful for the great days

We have made some beautiful memories since the pandemic began. From planting shrubs, to collecting shells, to picnic lunches in the garden, to leisurely family walks around our neighbourhood. Nothing can snatch those memories away. In moments of frustration, I savour on them like I would my last piece of chocolate. Gratitude is a great source of joy!

2. Acknowledge the bad days

It keeps our feet on the ground to acknowledge our human flaws and frailties. We’ve cried our tears. We’ve had our disagreements. We’ve felt the stress of cancelled holidays, uncertainties about work and church, and navigating different boundaries and expectations. But as one good friend advised, ‘it’s only when you allow yourself to feel the feelings that you can move on from them.’

3. Take note of the ‘blah’ days

You know what I mean by a blah day? Days when you’re so drained you don’t know what to be at, who to call, what household job to start with, what work task to attempt. Days when you feel like a toy that is running out of batteries and whose music is going flat. It’s normal to have blah days once in a while, but take note if they are becoming more and more frequent. No one can live in a constant state of overwhelm. You may need to reach out for more outside support.

4. Grow in the scary days

These are days when the gravity of the situation hits you. When you hear of a friend getting sick. When you know of someone who has died. When your little people run a fever. These days break your heart and test your resilience. But they also have the potential to develop faith and perseverance in you. Don’t discount them as write offs or try to avoid them at all costs. Walk through them knowing that they will pass, that they will form character in you, and that hope is never out of the picture.

5. Learn from each and every day

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in all this it’s that extremes are completely normal- so many people are feeling the same way! So please don’t feel you are odd if you’re laughing one minute and crying the next.

This time has included every conceivable emotion, from grief, fear and anxiety to elation, inspiration and hope.

We’ve witnessed people at their worst- looting shelves, violent behaviour on the streets, and committing racial injustice.

But we’ve also seen kindness, generosity, sacrifice and neighbourliness like never before.

We’ve seen people deep in despair, but we’ve also witnessed the brightest hope shining through at every juncture.

Days come in every variety, just like people. So-

1. Be thankful for the good days

2. Acknowledge the bad days

3. Take note of the ‘blah’ days

4. Grow in the scary days

5. Learn from each and every day

… and we’ll all get through this together!

H xx

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Find your voice and discover true greatness

I’ve always loved to sing. It’s more than just a hobby for me. It’s therapeutic. It’s creative. It’s meaningful. When words are paired with music, the truth of them comes alive for me.

I’ll never forget doing my first solo; I was six years of age, standing in front of a packed Sunday morning congregation. I still remember the lump in my throat and my knobbly knees knocking together, as my mum thrust me forward towards a podium that was twice the height of me. A crowd of two hundred people feels like the equivalent of a football stadium at that age. It takes courage to put such a little voice out there!

Another vivid memory comes from my twenties, when I sang a piece at a women’s conference during a Bible college placement in Ghana. The accompaniment was played on an ancient Casio keyboard and there were no microphones to be found.

I struggled my way through as sincerely as I could. Afterwards an old African woman hobbled up to me and complained that my voice was too ‘soft’ and ‘sweet.’ She suggested I get some of the African women to teach me how to sing.

I didn’t really know how to respond to that one! She wanted a bit more volume and oomph. She thought the passion wasn’t there because the performance wasn’t loud. She mistook softness for a lack of spirit.

In Northern Ireland, when you can hold a tune, people often say, ‘Och, so and so has a good wee voice.’ And in the same way, sometimes we think of our voices as just that- ‘Och, just a good wee voice.’

But boy is that an underestimation.

The beliefs and attitudes expressed when we open our mouths are more powerful than we will ever appreciate.

On the stage of life volume doesn’t necessarily equal power. Loudness isn’t not the equivalent of strength. The most important question is not, ‘Are people being impressed by what they hear?’ But rather, ‘Are they being touched, moved and impacted for the better by what they hear?’

So often we think, ‘I’m just ordinary. There’s not much mileage in the conversations I’ll have. I’ve got limited ability to influence others.’

But we all have a voice.

A unique voice that echoes around the chambers of our minds. A voice that ricochets around the corridors of our interactions with others. A message we can proclaim from the rooftops of our communities.

And we can always use it for greatness!

🌱When your mind is full of pessimistic assumptions, you can drown out negativity with the voice of hope.

🌱When things are uncomfortably quiet, between you and another person, you can use your voice to create new and meaningful connections.

🌱When you’re in a room full of people who are competing and jockeying for position, you can use your voice to inject cooperation and compromise into that environment.

🌱When you’re in an atmosphere of tension and offence, you can use your voice to infuse peace and harmony unto the air.

🌱When you see oppression and injustice, you can use your voice to challenge and bring change on behalf of the marginalised and downtrodden.

🌱When you see someone who is weary and burnt out, you can use your voice to affirm and encourage them to take another step.

🌱In situations where everyone feels confused and uncertain, you can use your voice to cut into the fog with clarity and composure.

🌱Where you see division and strife, you can use your voice to bring the balm of peace and healing.

Each one of us has a ‘wee’ voice that has the potential for ‘great’ impact.

How will you use yours today?

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What your bedside table may reveal about you

Have you ever thought your bedside table might just be a window to your soul? What we keep on them can say a lot about us. They can also say a lot about the differences between us and our partners!

Some of us like a well stocked table. We don’t mind a bit of clutter. We are larger than life personalities who love to be surrounded by people and things. The world would be less warm without us!

Others like to keep things simple. For them, sleep is sacred and only objects that are conducive to that should be kept nearby. They are intentional, practical, organised and efficient! A lot in life would fall apart without them!

One or two of you break the mould altogether and have no bedside table at all. You are the independent forces for change in this world. Nothing would progress in society without you!

But do you know what bedside tables were originally used for?

Necessity

Your bedside table was where you would have hidden your chamber pot in the old days. No more explanation needed there 😂

Convenience

The Victorians called bedside tables ‘commode’ which comes from the French word for ‘convenient’. That’s still true right? Many people use a bedside table (or nightstand) to store everything you need to use last thing at night or first thing in the morning.

Importance

Today, the furniture beside our bed can also be a significant revealer about what is important to us. I asked some lovely people yesterday to post what they had on theirs – with fascinating results! Here are some of the pictures you posted:

Some of your bedside surfaces were dominated by beauty essentials, some contained primarily practical items like alarm clocks or medicine, while others prioritised meaningful objects.

Some of you sentimentalists kept kiddies’ artwork and family photographs, while others preferred to have no clutter at all. You are the minimalists of this world!

For some of you the space had a spiritual focus, while others had a more earthly flavour. I guess it depends whether you like morning motivation, afternoon inspiration or evening reflection!

My mum and dad’s bedside tables were completely different growing up. My dad had a couple of books, an alarm clock, and a pen drive with all his translation work on it, but my mum’s was like the leaning tower of Pisa. There was so much on there just ready to fall off if you brushed past the wrong way.

It reflected them beautifully. One focused, strategic, intellectual and single minded, the other personally involved with a lot of different people and possessing a great many passions.

Here’s the lowdown on mine.

Currently perched within easy reach is a journaling notebook, as well as two books- ‘you are what you eat’ and ‘The anthropological lens.’ Not a mirror or beauty product to be found! The only practical items are a kid’s drink flask and an inhaler in case I can’t breathe during the night (because breathing is kind of a necessity 😂)

Oh, and in the process of taking this photo I also found my lost bank card underneath the pile of books! That says a lot about me! You can see a hint of the mess around the table here.

In other words, there you have it: three of my greatest passions in life – food, people and writing (not necessarily in that order😂). The phone is there too, but only in case someone needs to get in touch.

Bill’s is quite different. First of all, he made the table himself out of left over wooden floor. Anyone who knows him will see this as true to form! Then there’s a Bible, a computer and two books ‘Ancient-future faith’ and a book titled ‘Where is God in a Coronavirus world?’ So that’s three of his greatest loves right there: theology, technology and DIY.

That our bedside tables (or lack thereof) could reveal so much about us is something I’d never thought about before – until yesterday. It’s been a lot of fun looking through your lists and pictures.

But I suppose this whole lighthearted discussion can leave room for some reflection too!

🌱What do you think of as necessities in life?

🌱What do you feel the need to keep within easy reach?

🌱What’s important enough to you to sleep beside?

🌱What does all this say about you, or about the difference between you and your other half?

Just a bit of fun and food for thought for today,

H x

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The leverage of love: how to reach your child’s heart

We’ve all had those days with our kids where they test us to our limits. They get dirtier and messier than we’d like. They ‘push’ our buttons. They whine and fight with each other. They’re ‘ungrateful’ for the treats they are given.

The question I’ve been mulling over is, what is our parenting leverage in those moments? What influence – other than our authority as care giver – do we possess to achieve the desired change in our children’s behaviour?

Often the default in those moments is punitive discipline – we come down hard on the behaviour so we can squeeze the bad ‘out’, so to speak. Loss of privileges, threatening, shaming, grounding or smacking are common parenting techniques used to quash behaviours we don’t like.

But recently I’ve begun to think about the whole issue of discipline very differently. This is because not only is discipline training – and therefore so much more than punishment – I’ve also realised how often parenting comes from a place of:

  • Selfishness – making our lives easier
  • Habit – what we were raised with
  • Fear (of losing control or how others will judge our parenting)

The fact is, we are completely free NOT to use punishment if we don’t feel it to be the godly approach in that moment- even if we incur the judgment of those looking on.

I’m trying to reprogram myself not to immediately think- how can I stop this disobedience as soon as possible? Because discipline is not about making my life easier, or externals, or making sure people think I’m a great parent. It is being more concerned with the inward heart condition. How can I reach my child’s heart? How can I ensure they have a change of heart? How can I represent the loving authoritative discipline exemplified by Jesus?

Behaviour flows from the heart

Every behaviour has a cause – it comes from the thoughts and intents of the heart- how we understand the character of God, how we see ourselves, how we view others and how we perceive situations we are in. Actions are also influenced by our desires, wounds, hurts and unmet needs from situations and people.

So when I’m seeing unacceptable behaviour in my kids, I’ve found it helpful to ask myself, where is this coming from? And how can I respond like Jesus would?

Because while I thought of God as a cold, distant father, I ran from him, so I could hide from his scathing displeasure and conceal my shame.

But once I understood that it was actually when I was at my worst, when I didn’t love God or obey any of his laws, that Jesus chose to die for me, I wanted to live to please Him as best as I could.

Once I grasped that my Heavenly Father was infinitely close and loving in the times I messed up the most- my heart was captured by Him forever.

I’m not talking about a wishy washy kind of love that doesn’t confront or deal with behaviour. Christ’s love paints a very clear picture for us of our sin and how much we fall short of his standards. Wrongdoing should incur appropriate consequences. However, at the same time, this love covers our shame, and embraces us unconditionally while we are still in the mess of it.

It’s a question of love, for goodness sake.

Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. (1 John 4:18)

  • Do our kids run from us, or to us, when they do something wrong?
  • Does understanding the great love of God make us want to run from Him, or to Him?

It is His goodness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4)

So next time your child disobeys you, you might find it helpful to ask:

  • ‘How would God show His love to them in this moment?’
  • ‘What does divine goodness look like in this situation?’
  • ‘How can I make my children aware they have done wrong whilst at the same time assure them of my deep, unconditional and constant love for them?’

What are we teaching?

Maybe ‘teaching our children a lesson’ doesn’t always teach the lesson we want. When punishment is our automatic reaction, they learn that bad things happen when they misbehave. But they don’t learn how to change direction completely. When we know we are loved despite our mistakes, we are free to work on them.

So if I want to reflect in my parenting the love that my Heavenly Father has for my kids, and allow change to happen from the inside out rather than the outside in, it is definitely worth the effort to invest in loving influence as well as firm authority.

Don’t get me wrong, I fail at this every day of my life. I get it wrong many times a day. At times I’m harsh and anything but an example of God’s love or goodness. That’s when I’m all the more thankful for His loving kindness and mercies that are ever new.

H x

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Facing your demons: fighting fear with courage

The sounds of Africa by night can be scintillatingly soothing. I fondly remember lying in bed at night listening to the whirring of ceiling fans, the choruses of crickets, and the pounding of heavy showers on tin roofs.

But the sounds of Africa by night can also be chillingly haunting.

  • The shriek of a witch doctor performing a curse
  • The moans of a child hallucinating with malaria
  • The bloodcurdling screeching and droning chants of cultish groups performing exorcisms.

It was the last of these that I remember being terrified by as a child.

In Ivory Coast, we lived for a time near a compound of ‘Christianisme Céleste’ devotees. Their worship rituals didn’t seem quite so frightening by day, but during the night, to a young girl of seven, it felt as though gnarly fingers of darkness, carried by their songs, were reaching through my window… swirling round my bed and always on the brink of snatching me away.

It got to the point where I was terrified each night to go to bed, because I knew that awful singing, chanting, drumming and screeching would begin all over again.

One day, my mum decided enough was enough. I’ll never forget the steely look of indignation on her face as she took me by the hand, and marched me round the corner to the entrance of a compound with whitewashed walls and a blue sign.

Our appearance caused quite the stir among the crowds of devotees, who were dressed from head to toe in white. Why on earth was a white woman marching over with her young child?

It was more than a little intimidating when a young man promptly shouted at my mum to take off her shoes. (We didn’t know at the time that this was an important emphasis of this group – probably inspired by the story of Moses and the Burning Bush.)

I felt awkward and frightened. But my mum seemed wholly unperturbed.

I heard her assure them briskly in no-nonsense French that God would hear their prayers just as well if they prayed them with a little less volume and if they moved their exorcism circle to the other edge of their compound – not right beside our bedroom window.

Believe it or not, a short time later they actually obliged.

I’ve never forgotten that event. That day taught me something very important.

I learned that it’s only when we have the courage to face up to our fears that things can ever change.

Fear magnifies. It makes the shadows bigger and the nights longer.

Fear torments. It grows and multiplies like cancer, doing untold damage in the process.

Courage, on the other hand, switches the light on. It exposes the source of the fear. It makes the shadows disappear. It forces us to acknowledge that the fear is there. But the fear isn’t as big as it first seemed.

Courage motivates. What we fear is still present, but at some point the determination to face it takes over.

Courage gives you the gumption to march over there and give that fear a good talking to. Enough is enough! This far and no further!

Courage transforms. Just because you face something head on, doesn’t mean your circumstance will change. But something within you will. And that’s well worth fighting for.

Fear magnifies. It makes the shadows bigger and the nights longer.

Lookingforeden

How do we defeat the gnarly fingers of fear in our lives?

🌱Acknowledge the fear is there

🌱Decide enough is enough

🌱March right over there and give it a good talking to

Then see what changes take place!

H x

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Making room when you can’t share space: showing hospitality in a pandemic

I’ve been thinking a lot about hospitality lately. 

  • How do you do hospitality with 2m between you?
  • How do you make room when you can’t share your space?
  • How can you be social when you have to social distance?
  • How can we welcome our neighbours when they do not welcome a deadly virus we may accidentally pass on to them?

Before lockdown began, it was our habit to invite someone into our home at least twice a week. We were intentional about that because not only do we love having people over, we believe tasks and work can never take precedence over people. Welcoming others in prevented us from becoming too comfortable in our own wee bubble.

But current circumstances mean that over the last few months we have been forced to do just that: stay in a ‘bubble.’ 

So what do we do now?

Because the aspects of hospitality that seemed important before now appear inconsequential or simply out of reach.

For example, I used to get really frustrated trying to tidy my house before guests came round. When there’s kids about cleaning is a bit like treading water – you never seem to get anywhere! But now people are in each other’s houses a lot less, and this preoccupation seems kind of irrelevant going forward.

Before COVID-19, ‘a warm welcome’ may have conjured up images of a roaring fire, Good Housekeeping interiors, a substantial supper and attentive service. Now – notwithstanding the fact that hardly any of us live up to these ideals anyway – they seem somewhat extraneous under current restrictions.

As I’ve thought back over my most treasured memories of hospitality, it felt tempting to be wistful at how far out of reach some of them are to me now:

• Falling into a friend’s spare bed for a much longed-for nap and coming down two hours later to freshly made pizza and well-cared for kids.

• Sipping a steaming cup of tea in the candlelight, with a purring cat curled up on my lap.

• Lifting a big pile of washing off the sofa onto the floor and sinking down into it (the sofa, that is – not the washing!) for a morning heart-to-heart.

• Being told to put my feet up, handed a blanket and a plate of my favourite oatmeal biscuits, then dozing off for the afternoon.

• Squeezing elbow-to-elbow around a table in a tiny kitchen with steamed-up windows and tucking into a bronzed turkey that was almost the size of the room itself.

As I’ve reminisced, however, I’ve realised that in all of these memories, it wasn’t so much the food and ambience that were important, but rather the message communicated to me by the people who offered them:

Come and share my life. I have made room for you – not only in my home, but in the recesses of my heart.‘

Photo by Kelly Lacy on Pexels.com

You see, in the midst of these moments, I didn’t once measure the warmth of the welcome by the surroundings, the heat of the fire or the sophistication of the supper spread. What I treasured was the feeling that surrounded my heart as someone offered me the best of what they had: food, time, attention, love and care.

While we can no longer entertain squeezing ourselves like sardines around a dining table or having a nap in someone else’s bed, these memories have reminded me that what you serve to others and where it happens doesn’t matter as much as how you offer it and the heart you offer it with.

So what might hospitality look like going forward? Here’s some food for thought:

  • It might be your lovely neighbour delivering you a homegrown lettuce and punnet of strawberries.
  • Or distributing some scones you’ve made to the residents of your street.
  • Or taking the time to see if friends need shopping or letters need posting.
  • Or chatting leisurely in the street.
  • Or starting a community Whatsapp group so you can keep in touch and ask for help if needed.
  • Or even looking after a pet while its owner is on holidays.

… It’s making room for those extra interactions

… It’s slowing down to enjoy meaningful conversations. 

… It’s offering the space in our lives, that we didn’t have before, on a plate to others.

Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

What you serve to others and where it happens doesn’t matter so much as how you offer it and the heart you offer it with.

lookingforeden

Before lockdown, ‘making room’ meant cleaning the house and clearing a couple of hours in our packed schedules.

Before lockdown, ‘making room’ meant scrambling around chucking things into cupboards and wiping down surfaces; so when guests arrived we could be present to the people in front of us, not distracted by a splattering of spaghetti Bolognese on the floor or the muddy footprints at the front door.

So maybe it’s not so bad that things have changed now. After all, it’s during challenging and perilous times that little things given with a lot of love make the biggest impact. It’s when we offer immediate and tangible care that our neighbours realise we want to do their bodies and souls good!

Christian hospitality shines brightest in challenging, perilous days. Shallow interactions thrive on shiny surfaces and glossy first impressions, but deep friendships are forged in the real stuff of life.

Because hospitality is not just about “opening our doors, but opening our very souls.” (Rev. Mark Suslenko). It’s not packing meet ups into your diary… but offering people your inner space, giving them sustained attention, and meeting the needs of the people who are right in front of you,

What does hospitality look like for you these days? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

H xx

Shallow interactions thrive on shiny surfaces and glossy first impressions, but deep friendships are forged in the grimy stuff of life

Lookingforeden
Photo by Harrison Haines on Pexels.com
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Can we stop pretending, please? Where denial helps us and when it starts to hurt us

I’ve been heartbroken this week reading news reports about the Coronavirus parties people have been holding to challenge the reality that COVID-19 is, in fact, ‘real.’ Some of the stories of the consequences of reckless and irresponsible actions have been totally heartbreaking.

It’s as if some people have chosen to live in an imaginary world, in order to escape the unsettling reality of what is.

My Zoë has a wild imagination. One minute she is a twirling and skipping fairy princess; the next she’s pretending to be a gurgling, crawling baby. When she’s fully in character, it can be a bit of challenge to bring her back to earth and to establish anew that she is – in fact – simply herself.

The other day I had to tell her she couldn’t run about in her Rapunzel dress because it was too long and she could easily trip and hurt her arm (which is currently in a cast) again.

The devastation that ensued was quite something. ‘But I AM a princess, and princesses don’t wear trousers,’ she protested, as the tears streamed down her face. The reality of the situation brought my little drama queen to the depths of despair.

It seems, too, that human responses to crisis can be found somewhere on a spectrum between these two extremes.

The first extreme is to deny that the difficulty even exists, turning away and hiding from it. This reaction results in a disconnect from reality and is accompanied by behaviour that seems reckless and irresponsible to others.

The second extreme is to be so weighed down by the reality of trials that they are magnified exponentially and fear sets in. This response fixates on difficulty to such an intense level that everything feels hopeless.

Both responses aren’t healthy, and yet – in the case of this pandemic – we’ve seen both in action.

We were at the seaside yesterday and the close proximity of the crowds was remarkable to me. Everyone seemed to be blatantly throwing caution to the wind. It was as if they were totally convinced – like a child deep in imaginary play – that they themselves were Superman or Mrs Invincible.

But why is it that so many are sticking their head in the sand and refusing to accept what is real?

As I’ve been thinking this over, it’s occurred to me that denial is the first stage of grief – and that this might give some insight into what is going on.

The 7 stages of grief (Kubler-Ross)

– Shock and denial.

– Pain and guilt

– Anger and bargaining.

– Depression and isolation

– The upward turn.

– Reconstruction and working through.

– Acceptance and hope

In this health crisis, people are grieving the ‘normal’ that was. And rightly so. But when events are too painful for people to cope with, denial often kicks in.

When you are grieving, denial is your body’s way of giving you time to adjust to distressing situations.

But it is never meant to be a permanent condition.

Denial should be a temporary mechanism that helps us process a frightening truth. It helps protect us from the realities of our lives until we can begin to cope with that truth and have hope again.

So at some point, grief should work its way through to some form of acceptance of a ‘different, new normal.’

And yet, it can be tempting to live in a perpetual state of denial in an attempt to avoid facing what is real.

Steven Taylor, a professor and clinical psychologist, calls one type of denial an ‘unrealistic optimism bias.’ It’s a tendency to minimise threats and to see yourself as being more invincible than the average person.

But please let’s not pretend all is normal when it’s actually not.

🌱If we pretend we are impervious to sickness, we will put ourselves in unnecessary danger.

🌱If we pretend we aren’t in a pandemic, we can put others at untold risk.

🌱If we pretend we aren’t at all unsettled by the uncertainty ahead, we prevent others from feeling safe to share their worries and concerns with us.

🌱If we pretend we don’t have areas of brokenness in our lives, then we don’t leave our lives open to healing.

It’s part of human nature to throw pat answers at a problem that are meant as quick fixes. For example I’ve heard this one used – ‘As a man or woman thinks, so he or she is.’ (Proverbs 23:7) The implication here is that you can ‘think yourself’ into being out of danger. You just need to believe you’ll be ok, and you will.

Fact is, believing falsehoods to the nth degree won’t actually do anything for us. If the thoughts we think are untrue, we will live deceived.

It is only when we fully face up to the situation we are in – that is when real change in our attitudes, hearts and minds can begin.

🌱I may be facing many kinds of uncertainty in this crisis, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have the certainty of heaven.

🌱Yes, I may have struggles and heartaches, but when I recognise that, I become ready for healing.

🌱Yes, there may be danger out there, but I can take positive steps to protect myself and others.

🌱Yes, this situation is tough for many, but it won’t last forever.

Let’s not resort to pat answers at this time. Let’s face up to where we are, think of others, and allow God to change our attitudes and responses in the process.

H x

Let’s stop pretending we have all the answers

And bow down our heads and pray

Denying the problems we now have upon us

Won’t keep them hard times away

Merle Haggard

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We don’t see eye to eye, and that’s why I need you: the benefits of conflict in relationships

I’m convinced that the exact moment Bill and I fell in love was right in the middle of a heated theological discussion.

He loved that the girl in front of him had a brain and a voice, neither of which she was afraid to use. She loved the fact that the boy in front of her didn’t pretend or flatter, but was honest and passionate about the things that mattered.

Ever since that first altercation, at the foundation of our relationship there has been a deep reciprocity and understanding that we respect one another enough to be able to disagree.

And we have learned a lot from each another as a result.

One of the things I have learned that it is ok- on occasion – to be strong and assertive, and to throw caution to the wind when considering the way forward. And he has learned – also on occasion – to be influenced by others’ opinions and be cautious about making decisions.

In our case, it’s most definitely iron sharpening iron, though sometimes the moments of friction can smart a little more than either of us would like.

Young love 💕 (me at 18, and Bill at 21)

The truth is, though, that all of us grow through the right kind of conflict. Not through the bullying, domineering, manipulating or controlling kind – but in the midst of the loving, reciprocal and transparent kind.

I remember my closest childhood friend saying something I’ve never forgotten, after we had a disagreement at age 13 – ‘You just always have to prove your point, don’t you? Whatever the cost.’ I didn’t like this at the time, I can assure you. But she was right. And her summation has operated as a kind of Jimminy Cricket check and balance ever since.

Many years later, another friend rubbed salt in just the right place when I was sharing how hurt I was as a result of someone else’s thoughtlessness. She said, ‘you’re annoyed you haven’t got all your ducks in a row, aren’t you?’

Tough, but also fair.

In that situation, things weren’t turning out how I thought they should, so I was all in a flap about it. I learned from that conversation that an adjustment of my expectations of other people was needed.

Why does speaking truth and disagreement matter so much in our relationships? Why does Proverbs 27:6 tell us that ‘faithful are the wounds of a friend?’

Because people who really love you tell you the truth. They don’t butter you up, fan your ego, or fuel your delusions. They encourage you when you need it, but they warn you when your attitudes, words and actions warrant it. They do it because they want the best for you.

None of us are perfect. All of us need accountability. All of us need to be challenged now and then.

This is why, if you occupy any kind of leadership position, it’s so important not to surround yourself with people who will always agree with you. Instead, make a decision to welcome diversity and embrace different opinions. In the process, you’ll generate new ideas. You’ll understand more about yourself. You’ll learn to communicate more effectively and to appreciate different perspectives on life.

So when was the last time a friend or team member challenged you on something you did or said?

I remember one time when someone came to see me privately and lovingly shared their concerns about how I’d handled something in a meeting. I can honestly say that in that moment they won my eternal respect. They loved me enough to be candid, concerned and respectful, all at the same time. To me, that is worth its weight in gold.

People who don’t really love you talk about you behind your back. People who really care confront you to your face. They tell you when you aren’t seeing eye to eye, and that’s why you need them. You need their insight. You need their perspective. You need to see their heart for your heart. You need them to grow.

But if it’s been a long time or forever since you felt the jag of healthy disagreement or confrontation, it may just be that you’re surrounding yourself with the wrong people.

Could it be that you are now thinking of a moment when you walked away from someone who challenged, cautioned or corrected you with wholly loving intentions- just because what they said offended you? Perhaps you need to revisit that moment with a different perspective and be willing to go back and make things right if necessary.

Im thankful for the people I don’t always see eye to eye with, but who walk with me by the hand, share their heart with me, and are walking in the same direction.

H x

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🎶 ‘This is me’ – A loyalist is who I’m meant to be 🎶

I’m a loyalist, and proud to be so.

No, not the kind that wears an orange sash and marches on the 12th July.

The enneagram type 6 kind.

Don’t know what I’m talking about? Let me say, if you’re interested in personal growth, and you haven’t done the eannegram yet, you’re missing out!

The eannegram is a model that gives insight into the vulnerabilities of each type of personality. The idea is that once a person understands their core motivations, they can take full advantage of opportunities for growth.

Here’s the nine types – I’d be interested to hear which one most resonates with you!

Ones are motivated by integrity and most fear corruption.

Twos are motivated by love and are afraid of being unlovable.

Threes are motivated by success and worry about having no inherent value.

Fours desire significance and identity and fear having no unique purpose.

Fives desire knowledge and ability and fear being incompetent.

Sixes crave security and belonging and are afraid of losing support.

Sevens desire happiness and are concerned about being trapped or in pain.

Eights want to be in control of their own life, and hate the idea of being controlled by others.

Nines are motivated by being at peace, and most fear disconnection.

The enneagram is a really insightful tool for working on your weak points. Someone said to me lately, though, that I have a tendency to dwell on the negative side of my personality. The worrying, cautious, indecisive side. The side that overthinks. The side that constantly interrogates whether I am managing everything in my life well enough or not.

They were right, of course.

But not today!

Many of you will know well that powerful scene in the Greatest Showman, where the bearded lady realises that – despite her oddities and flaws – she is who she’s meant to be. I love this line in particular:

‘I’m not scared to be seen, I make no apologies, this is me.’

Have you ever considered that what you give yourself a hard time for each day could actually be the key to understanding the unique contribution you make to the world?We should never be afraid to acknowledge our imperfections, but neither should we shy away from recognising our strengths.

Because ‘Loyalists’ (type sixes) may be cautious, skeptical and crave security – but they are also cooperative, reliable, responsible and trustworthy.

Loyalists may need more affirmation and reassurance than most, but they are also unswervingly loyal and committed to their beliefs. They’ll hold on to relationships far longer than most people and have deep and meaningful friendships. They will defend their loved ones even more tenaciously than they would defend themselves. And that’s something to celebrate!

So, here are some ‘this is me’ statements I’m making today:

🌱 I might be terrible at noticing dust on surfaces, or following road directions correctly – but I’ll listen well beyond your words to your heart. I’ll also stick with you the whole journey – whether that involves watching a beautiful sunset together or being stuck in a ditch waiting for help.

🌱 I might not be able to watch sad films and cry at the drop of a hat, but I’ll weep with you when you’re sad and empathise deeply with your pain.

🌱 I might be easily hurt by criticism, but that also means I’ll never let anyone run down my friends and will take every opportunity to defend and champion them.

🌱 I might tend to envisage the worst case case scenario, but this means I can visualize pitfalls in my head before they happen – preventing many of them in the process.

🌱 I might forget to pass on important news items I’m supposed to, but at least you know I’ll never pass on the confidential information you trust me with!

🌱 I might be a bit scatty when it comes to remembering practical details, but I’m pretty sharp when it comes to digesting complex ideas and abstract concepts.

Maybe it’s time for you to have a ‘this is me’ day!

Every personality type has strengths and weaknesses, but instead of being your own worst critic – why not for once celebrate all the things about you that bring extra colour and beauty to the world?

For most of us, this won’t be self indulgence or an unnecessary ego boost, but actually just regaining a bit of balance.

Yes, it’s important not to think of yourself more highly than you ought. But it is also important, as someone made in God’s image and fashioned by His perfect hand, that you celebrate what he has made.

Write this down – or even say it out loud :

This is me:

I may be … but I am also …

I might do … but I also do …

I’m not great at … but I excel at …

Let’s get some balance back!

I’m a loyalist, and today I’m proud of it.

How about you?

H x

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Waiting well: an ‘operation’ in emotional resilience

How do you wait when so much is on the line?

I’m writing this journal entry while my four year old is undergoing an operation for a fractured elbow. Because of COVID-19, I’m not allowed to be beside her. My mummy heart is hurting a lot right now.

So I’m waiting in the car park, glued to my phone for any news, while glancing intermittently at the world going by.

Then I receive a loving text that simply says, ‘children are so resilient, and I’m praying for resilience for mummy and daddy too.’

Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. And in reality I feel anything but resilient right now.

But resilience isn’t really about how you feel, is it? Resilience is about how you respond. It’s choosing to feel the feelings when they come and responding appropriately to those feelings.

But how does one wait well in a situation like this? I’m wondering this very thing, as the tears come in waves and trickle down my cheeks.

Here’s some thoughts that came to me through the tears:

1. Surrender control

In moments that test and stretch me – I choose to trust that my life is in greater hands, and release control accordingly. It is my faith that I’m being held in Heaven’s care that gives me the courage to endure the anxiety and fear. There is so much that I’m not in control over, but I trust a God who’s got this, and has got me. It’s up to me to hand it over to Him – again and again, if I need to.

2. Develop patience

There’s a lot to be said for learning to wait. There’s even more to be said for waiting patiently.

There’s also a reason why it’s important to teach delayed gratification early in life. Because learning to wait for gifts and treats in childhood translates in adulthood to patience in queues, patience with moving goalposts, patience when things don’t pan out like they are supposed to. Patience when tiredness causes frayed tempers and short fuses. Patience for the things you dream about and hope for. Someone once said that ‘Patience is not the ability to wait, but the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting.’ That, my friends, is a sign of resilience.

Patience is something we will always need more of than we have. We need to commit to it on a lifelong basis.

3. Embrace comfort

Even though we can’t physically hug right now, we can all feel hugged by messages of love, special deliveries in the post, surprise visits and assurances of prayers. All these things provide comfort through presence. Being lifted up in prayer or thought of in a time of need by a friend is the feeling of being buoyed by others’ love and care.

Never underestimate the comfort your mere presence can bring. Company can speak a thousand times louder than mere condolences.

4. Use distraction

Everyone is different, but the worst thing for me when I’m waiting to hear news is to sit and do nothing. Pouring my frustration and worry into something productive is key. Even writing this has helped me ‘do something’ with my feelings. When we deliberately move our focus away from something we can’t do anything about to something concrete we can do- whether it be pray, write, create or exercise- we develop our ability to endure.

Don’t bounce back, move forward

Contrary to what a lot of people think, resilience isn’t about bouncing back to normal. The reality is that in this crisis and many others, the impact of adversity may be long lasting or even permanent.

Instead, I like to think of resilience more as growing and moving forward even in difficulty. In other words, your life is not altogether paused because of what you are experiencing, but there is evidence of growth and development even in the worst situations.

Because resilience not an inbuilt disposition, but a skill we can all develop and learn to be better at. From this day forward, I’m committing to continuing my operation or foray into resilience. How about you?

H x

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Coming out of lockdown: the power of pressing pause

Over the last few months, life across the world has been paused to a great degree. Work furloughs, postponed holidays, rescheduled weddings and suspended surgical clinics have left everyone in a strange sense of limbo and uncertainty.

Now, as restrictions begin to ease all around, many of us are thinking about what things will be like when as a society we press ‘play’ again.

Queues outside Lidl, Connswater Belfast

• Some of us will remember how, pre-pandemic, we lived life in FAST-FORWARD

…I mean that perpetual push on to the ever-elusive something ‘better’ in the future.

🌱 ‘I’ll be content when I get that promotion.’

🌱 ‘I’ll be satisfied when I accomplish that self build in the country.’

🌱 ‘I’ll be happy when I have 2.4 kids and a people carrier.’

🌱 ‘I’ll enjoy life a lot more when I’m retired and travelling the world.’

Planning ahead can be profitable, but living too far in the future can be seriously detrimental. It disconnects you from your present self and stops you processing the here and now. Nobody knows what
things will be like next month, never mind next year. Try to stop your mind from time travelling, open the doors and take in the view in front of you.

An uncharacteristically empty scene in the Cathedral quarter, Belfast

• Pre-COVID-19, some of us lived life on endless REPEAT…

…I mean replaying past events in your head and constantly mulling over the ‘what ifs?’ I mean re-runs of conversations had and opportunities missed.

🌱 ‘If only I hadn’t invested in that company.’

🌱 ‘Things might have worked out better if I had stayed at that church.’

🌱 ‘wish I had trained for a different career.’

🌱 ‘What if I had waited longer to have kids.’

🌱 ‘I should have invested in my marriage sooner.’

Making sense of our past is freeing, but living in it is destructive. You are not defined by your past. It is your story, but there’s always another chapter to pen, and more twists in the plot to discover. Turn to the next page, and start writing your dreams again.

A deserted Victoria Square, Belfast

• Pre-Virus, how many of us were on PLAY 24-7?

… I mean you didn’t stop. You never switched off. You couldn’t unplug. You had a fear of missing out. You had an addiction to social media and answering emails; and a fear of being alone.

Everyone knows that this isn’t good for anyone. But it doesn’t stop us from doing what is bad for us. Constant connectivity might be socially beneficial, but it is emotionally draining.

Over the next few weeks, why not try letting your phone run out of charge once in a while and experience the freedom of disconnecting for a while?

I suppose one important question remains: as the new normal unfolds, will we remember the power of the PAUSE?

The pause is powerful because there comes a point where most, if not all of us, have found ourselves forced to STOP.

The pace of life we lived at before this pandemic was completely unsustainable. Yes, things now may feel completely out of our control. It’s a frightening place to be. But it’s also a place where we can take stock. Reflect. Determine to live a different way.

• It’s in this place that we learn the power of the PAUSE.

What does that look like? I don’t know how it will play out for you, but I can tell you what it looks like for me.

🌱 Pressing pause is when my little girl is laughing so hard she can hardly breathe; I screen-shot that moment in my mind and reflect on it, in all its joy, simplicity and wonder.

🌱 Pressing pause is when my worries threaten to spiral out of control, and I force myself to pause and ask ‘what can I find to be thankful for in this very moment? What blessing am I enjoying right now?’

🌱 Pressing pause is when I’m tempted to fast forward to when my house will be clean again; I make a mental note that right now I have a disorderly house with two loud and mischievous little girls, but in years to come It’ll be a whole lot cleaner and a whole lot quieter. What an important reminder for me to hold them tighter and laugh about the chaos!

🌱 Pressing pause is when I’m about to lose my temper and I count to ten, allow myself to breathe it out, and leave the room. This gives my brain time to recalibrate and choose a calmer way to communicate my frustration.

🌱 Pressing pause is when I’m tempted to buy something I really want, but I don’t, because I really don’t need it. In a week’s time, will I still want it? Probably not. Will my bank balance be better for it? Most definitely.

🌱 Pressing pause allows me to rest, to re-calibrate, to reflect on my priorities and make time and allowances for my special people.

The Bible has a word for this kind of pause. It’s a Hebrew word called ‘selah’- and it means something like ‘pause and calmly think about that.’

The art of Selah is a habit that takes effort to form. It’s still far from habitual for me!

But what if pressing pause allowed us to enjoy this wonderful, beautiful, crazy, painful, bewildering thing called life as we should?

Knowing that greater things are ahead, understanding that significant things are behind. But unwrapping the gift of the present with anticipation and wonder, revelling in what we are about to discover.

What does ‘selah’ look like for you?

H x

Lady Dixon Park, Belfast

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You shall know your ‘shoulds’ and your ‘coulds’ shall set you free

should

“A verb used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticising someone’s actions.”

It’s a odd moment as a parent when a four year old corrects your table manners. Bill and I were having a debate about something over dinner last night, when Zoë suddenly piped up – with a wry smile on her face – ‘Daddy, you really shouldn’t talk with your mouth full.’

What could he say?
Guilty as charged.

That simple little statement got me thinking though. Because how often is the use of the word ‘should’ connected with feelings of guilt and shame? And not only that, if you look more closely at many of our lives, you’ll find most of us suffer from an acute case of ‘shoulditis.’

Here’s what I mean.

‘I should be more successful at work.’
‘I should weigh X number of pounds.’
‘I should have a super clean home.’
‘I should always look “put together.”
‘I should always say yes whenever people ask me for help’
‘I should be able to balance it all.’
‘I should keep my needs to myself.’
‘I should be more organized.’
‘I should know what they want.’
‘I should always reply when they expect me to.’

Exhausted even reading that list? I know I am!

And that’s because ‘Should’ is like a harsh boss who stands over us, holding us all to unrealistic high standards, and refusing to face the reality that we will never meet them.

What’s even worse is that our lives can be completely choc-a-bloc with ‘shoulds’ without us even realising it, because we don’t often say these kinds of things out loud. In fact, we often don’t know they are there at all, because they operate as a inner dialogue that we have with ourselves during the day, rather than in actual conversation with other people.

You shall know your ‘shoulds’ •

What are your ‘shoulds?’

Your ‘shoulds’ are the things you feel you must do. They are the criticisms you (or people you know) make about your attitudes and behaviour.

Often we have no idea where they come from, and never even question their validity. They rarely generate positive action and their negativity drains us of motivation and energy. But yet they drive much of what we do.

Let me share an example.

I don’t know how many times I’ve not been feeling well, but pushed myself to attend an event because I felt I ‘should’ go. And I don’t know how many times by doing so I’ve not only not enjoyed the night, but made my sickness worse in the process.

What made me push myself to go? When I really got down to it, this was my thinking behind the ‘should:’

‘I should attend that event, because if I don’t go, I’ll let people down and they will think I’m unreliable.’

Really? Would they? Or would they understand that illness is not something we could have predicted? Does it really matter what they think as long as your own integrity is intact?

• Your ‘coulds’ will set you free!

Let me suggest something a bit radical. What would happen if I tried replacing some of my ‘shoulds’ with ‘coulds?

I could attend that event, because it would make my friends happy, or I could
leave it tonight, because I’m exhausted and not feeling well.

When I frame it like that, it makes better sense not to go, doesn’t it?

‘I could’ is so much more empowering than ‘I should,’ because it emphasises the pros and cons of a choice rather than the guilt that accompanies a sense of real or imagined unfulfilled obligation.

In other words, while ‘should’ doesn’t allow me to make mistakes, ‘could’ helps me to understand that I am human.

• How to break free from your ‘shoulds’ •

1. Each time you realise you are being hard on yourself, write down the ‘should’ statement behind it.

2. Ask yourself, ‘Who says?’ What great authority says I should do this thing? And why? What evidence supports it and what doesn’t? If your ‘should’ is rooted in Truth (which for Christians, we find in the Bible) then absolutely go for it. If it’s not, it needs to go!

3. Rewrite your ‘should’ sentence with the world ‘could’ and see what options open to to you.

4. Choose any ‘coulds’ actually worth taking action on – then replace them with ‘I wills’. Positive actions at the ready!

You won’t believe the clarity and freedom this will bring you. I’ve been practising over the last few months and seen the difference already.

A life of ‘shoulds’ is full of clouds but a life of coulds is full of clear blue skies.

You shall know your ‘shoulds,’ and your ‘coulds’ will set you free. Try it and see!

H xx

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Glitter, Mud, and Wet Cement: the footprints we leave behind

Yesterday morning in our house, we all woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Or should I say, Eden was in the wrong bed, and Zoë got up at the wrong time.

Whatever the wrongness was exactly, it began a series of events that precipitated various trails of destruction.

The glitter episode was a major glitch in my day. Anyone who knows me knows that (unlike most people) I don’t mind a bit of glitter – as long as its administration is closely supervised. My kids love it, and a dusting of sparkles never did anyone any harm.

But a deluge of glitter generously dumped onto the floor when my back is turned… combined with a meltdown of epic proportions when I dared to hoover up their precious abstract masterpiece? That’s enough to make me lose my cool!

What pushed me over the edge, though, was a mud soup exercise gone wrong. Just as God clearly instructed Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, I laid out in no uncertain terms that Zoë and Eden could stir the mud, add ingredients to the mud, but they could NOT get into the mud. That was the one precondition. That was the forbidden fruit.

But the temptation was too great, and my fuse was too short.

My kids left a trail of destruction behind them today. But I left behind my own path of impatient encounters, cross words and harsh attitudes. What they needed from me was an appropriate consequence, but what they got from me was untethered belligerence.

Yesterday evening, I made my mind up that tomorrow’s trail would be one of forgiveness, grace, fun and embrace instead.

Because truth is, at the end of each day we will either have left a pretty path for those we’ve encouraged, or a heavy load for those we’ve wounded.

You see, human hearts are like wet cement- how you treat them will leave a lasting impression – for good or for ill- on people’s lives.

I don’t know about you, but by the end of each day and the end of my days I do not want what is left behind to be:

🌱Sticky sarcasm or cutting humour

🌱sharp shards of broken relationships

🌱Spatters from shouting and mud slinging

🌱Smears from hurt feelings and unfulfilled promises

‘Human hearts are like wet cement- how you treat them will leave a lasting impression’

Instead, I want my life’s trail to be:

🌱A trickle of Breadcrumbs of kindness that people can follow to find their way home

🌱A sprinkling of sparkling, life -giving words that cause faces to glow and eyes to shine

🌱 A channel of grace that draws people in to taste the measureless love of God for the very first time.

🌱 I want to leave footprints of healing and hope, and tread the injustices I see into the ground.

‘Wherever we go, whatever we do, we will leave a trail behind us for the world to see.’

Tyler Knott Gregson

The question is, what will yours be?

H x

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In times of disaster, look for the helpers

On the face of it, this week was a disaster for our family.

Our four-year-old fell off a see-saw on Sunday afternoon. The ominous crack and blood-curdling scream told me that something was definitely broken, which was confirmed soon after by x-ray as a smashed bone near her elbow. After an initial appointment at A & E, we were told to return the day after and wait for surgery.

The poor wee pet hadn’t eaten anything since the night before, but due to unforeseen circumstances it ended up that she had to wait all day before she was called to theatre. Because of COVID-19, only one of us could be with her. I had planned to relieve her dad of duty a couple of hours in, but we weren’t allowed to do this after all because of infection control.

Feeling helpless, I decided I would go and buy some food, but my car wouldn’t start. When Zoe finally did get her operation, it was much longer than planned, as was her recovery because the nurses were struggling to bring her round from the anaesthetic. When she eventually became conscious, she was pleading tearfully to go home, but because it was so late she needed to stay overnight.

Sounds like a series of unfortunate events, right?

Not really.

Not if you look a little closer.

Not if you look for the helpers.

After Zoe’s fall, when it became clear that her arm was in a bad way, a nurse from a neighbouring garden came over to help. She used her own scarf to make a sling and gave us advice on which hospital to go to. We found out later that lady had just buried her father that day. And yet she chose to intervene and use her expertise to help us. Wow.

And it didn’t stop there.

After that, I saw helpers everywhere.

Our thoughtful friend made sure that Eden was delivered safely to her grandparents, while we rushed Zoe to hospital. Eden’s granny and granda made sure that she was pampered and spoiled so much that she didn’t even have time to miss her big sister.

When we arrived at the fracture clinic, we bumped into our friend, who works as a children’s nurse. She set Zoe at ease and gave her stickers to make her smile.

On the ward, the nurses fussed over Zoe and made much of her. They let try on PPE for fun, gave her books to read and compared her hair to the blonde locks of Rapunzel. That went down pretty well, as you can imagine!

When my car wouldn’t start in the carpark, a kind gentleman came over and offered to help. We got talking and it turned out this same man had lost his beautiful wife and daughter only weeks ago, and his youngest girl had been fighting for her life in intensive care. Yet he saw a need and chose to offer his help. I was completely blown away.

I witnessed senior doctors changing nappies and nurses cuddling babies whose parents had to leave them each night to go home and look after their other children. I saw mothers lovingly carry children down corridors who were undergoing cancer treatment and were finding it difficult to walk.

Sitting on the floor outside the ward waiting for Zoe to come up from recovery, a nurse on her way out at the end of a long shift stopped, asked was I alright, brought me a chair to sit on and a cheese sandwich to eat.

Our phones didn’t stop all day with messages asking for updates and expressing offers of help and support. What an encouragement to know that so many people cared and were praying for us.

And when we got home, that’s when the knocks at the door and the deliveries began. A sling that made Zoe much more comfortable, a list of groceries bought, baked treats, homemade dinners, cards, and gifts.

I saw this quote that Links Counselling posted on Facebook yesterday, and it really does frame the last few days for me beautifully:

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realising that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.

Fred Rogers

We are blessed to know so many kind, thoughtful, loving and caring people. But this bump in the road has reminded me again that no matter how horrible, how terrible or how terrifying the situation in front of you, you can always look for the helpers.

If you do, you’ll see a different side to the story.

A side that fills you with hope and warms your heart.

A side that can make your soul sing again with gratitude, no matter how hard things get.

At this time in history, when there is so much darkness, injustice and uncertainty, it’s important not only to focus on acts of injustice, but also to appreciate simple acts of kindness. It’s crucial to remember those who are shining their lights and bringing hope to hopeless situations. It’s key that we don’t get so caught up in the dreariness that we miss the cheeriness. Because it’s in those moments that the beauty of the human spirit shines all the more. It’s during tough times that friendship shows its true strength. It’s through those tests of endurance that the bonds of family become ever tighter.

When disaster strikes, look for the helpers. And watch them light up the dark.

H x

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The anxious parent: How to stop catastrophizing under stress

Eden is such a random wee article. She’s always been one to keep us guessing.

Yesterday, I caught her red-handed with a spoon and a jar of chocolate spread. Let’s just say that wasn’t much left to go round. I wasn’t really bothered- that’s normal kid behaviour right? I told her off, then smiled to myself when her head was turned.

But a few minutes later, I heard a loud gagging noise coming from the kitchen. I rushed in, only to find her with a blue tinged powdery substance all around her mouth.

Judging by the sounds she was making and the grotesque grimace on her face, she had eaten something that definitely did not taste as good as the Nutella.

True to form, my mind instantly went down the proverbial rabbit hole. Immediately the catastrophic thought came, ‘She’s swallowed a dishwasher tablet. I’m going to have to bring her to hospital. She’s poisoned herself.’

I forced myself to take deep breath, step back from the drama unfolding in my head, and deduce what had actually happened. 

‘Eden, what did you eat?’

Between the ‘bleurrrggghhhs’ I just about managed to make out a garbled – ‘salt.’- 

‘Show me.’

She pointed sheepishly, and sure enough, on the table, a bowl of blueberries were disintegrating beneath an enormous mountain of salt. Well, that explained the blue paste.

(Sigh of relief.) 

True, salt isn’t the best, but it’s better than corrosive chemicals. No hospital trip required today.

‘Eden, will you ever eat salt again?’

‘No,mummy.’

(I didn’t think so.)

Crisis averted. Until the next time.

I think most parents would panic a little in this situation. But I have to admit; I am a person who all too easily envisages the worst possible outcome. On a good day, I’m a measured troubleshooter. On a bad day, I’m an anxious catastrophizer.

“ca·​tas·​tro·​phize | \ kə-ˈta-strə-ˌfīz”

to imagine the worst possible outcome of an action or event to think about a situation or event as being a catastrophe or having a potentially catastrophic outcome

Experts think people like me unconsciously learn to envisage the worst possible outcome because it allows for the greatest relief of anxiety when we are reassured.
And boy, did I feel a sense of relief when I realised the dishwasher tablet in my mind was in fact just plain old salt.

To be fair, considering all possibilities in a stressful scenario is not a destructive thing if you can think through them logically. But if you continually allow your mind to wander around in a warren of uncertainties, you will waste a lot of time and energy meandering within a maze of potential futures. 

Here are four strategies I’ve been practising to beat this unhelpful anxious habit!

  1. Acknowledge uncertainty

It’s often in vague, ambiguous or uncertain situations that catastrophic thinking can take hold.

  • If you get a letter from the hospital asking you to return for more tests but giving no other information, that could spark excessive worry.
  • If a friend sends you a vague text like, ‘we need to talk,’ you could begin imagining all kinds of scenarios.
  • If you are thrust into a global pandemic, and you don’t know when it will be safe for normal life will resume, that uncertainty will be a huge source of stress. 

This might seem counterintuitive, but actually one of the best things to do is acknowledge the uncertainty before you.

2. Determine the facts

The key thing here, though, is to start with the facts of the situation, rather than the feelings the situation has generated.

e.g. Fact: We are in the midst of a pandemic, and we don’t know when, or if ever, we will resume a ‘normal’ way of life.

e.g. Feeling: I feel like this situation going on and on and it will never end. Everyone I love is in danger. I feel paralysed and helpless. It’s making me so stressed out!

Stick to the facts! And refuse to go any further with it until you… 

3. Take a deep breath (or ten!)

When you concentrate fully on breathing slowly, physiologically this will stop your thoughts in their tracks, slow your heart rate down, and stimulate your body’s parasympathetic (or calming) response.

Now you’ll be able to think more logically and realistically about the situation that is in front of you.

4. Take your ‘worry energy’ and invest it somewhere else 

Have you ever noticed that anxiety and excitement feel kind of similar? Both involve nervous energy, tummy butterflies, and sweaty palms. So instead of using that energy on negative thinking, why not gather it up into something positive and throw it into something productive. In other words, turn those jitters into jazz hands.

Paint, write, walk, play sport, do DIY or gardening- whatever will help to keep you grounded, use that energy creatively, and feed your soul at the same time.

So if you’re a ‘better safe than sorry’ kind of person, I hear you!

If you’re reading this and can’t identify with it at all, then so much the better.

But if at any point you find yourself feeling ‘sorry’ more often than you do ‘safe,’ it might be helpful to remember that:

  • Things often aren’t as bad as they first seem
  • We can control how we respond to stress, and
  • Most situations can be pivoted in some way towards the positive. 

When you’re hit with stress, will you choose to see the dishwasher tablet or the plain old salt first? I’m going for salt from now on!

H x

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The Goldilocks guide to parenting

Most if not all of us will have heard the tale of a little girl named Goldilocks, who boldly makes herself at home in the cottage of a family of three bears. She eats their porridge, moving from the bowl that is scalding, to the one that’s too cold, then eventually finding the one that’s ‘just right.’ As she goes through the house, she tests out each chair, and even each bed, seeking out which is perfectly tailored to her needs.

Isn’t that a bit like parenting today? It’s as if parenthood is being sold by society as some kind of a fairytale story, where the aim is to get each element ‘just right.’ But one reason (among many!) as to why this perfection is ever elusive is that we are all continually swamped with well-meaning but contradictory advice from all directions.

So I thought I’d write you a little tongue-in-cheek poem, as a little reminder not to take ourselves quite as seriously as much of the time.

Image by Marina Shatskih on Unsplash

Modern parenthood is a myth, an elusive balancing act; 

A fairytale forest filled with fiction and sold to us as fact.

For around every corner and just beyond every bend,

You’ve got judges and experts (and the many who pretend!)

They’ve all got it sussed and they advise with delight – 

Not too much, not too little – you need to get it all ‘just right.’ 

From the moment you’re expecting, you must cherish every minute,

Even if you’re sick and tired and praying for the finish.

Don’t eat too much, but don’t lose weight – You must be round and glowing; 

Remember to eat healthy now, a baby you are growing!

After birth, take time out, but don’t dare hide away –

You need to rest up, but you should ask every visitor to stay. 

Don’t feel any pressure to tidy up your house,

But we’ll talk about you if you leave too much lying around.

Feed your baby yourself, but please not for too long 

For once they are toddlers, well that’s just plain ‘wrong.’

Dummies are fine for some soothing relief,

But not once they’re two, ‘cause it’s bad for their teeth!

Cuddles are well and good, but put them down to sleep,

Or goodness only knows what bad habits they will keep!

You’ll spoil them you see, their dependence don’t end;

They’ll be going to school and still sleep in your bed (gasp!!) 

Be flexible, look out for, and meet all your baby’s needs

Except, except for at night, when it’s for ‘attention,’ or ‘greed.’

You must play with your kid, but not all the time;

They need to know how to occupy their own mind.

Structure the day, but schedule in play 

Or they’ll certainly be anxious and depressive one day.

Put boundaries in place, but don’t show too much grace

Or one day they’ll throw it all back in your face.

Don’t be too soft, but don’t be too hard 

Don’t shout or scold, or for life they’ll be scarred.

Not too much sugar, not too much salt-

If they’re fussy or hyper it’ll be all your fault. 

You must cook them veggies, but don’t forget sweets;

They shouldn’t miss out on the occasional treat!

They’ll get ipads at school, but don’t use them at home 

Always know where they are – but don’t buy them a phone.

You know, I think there’s a reason why ‘Goldilocks’ ends 

With her waking up, screaming and running away. 

Because ‘just right’ all the time just isn’t real life;

It’s time we determined no longer to strive;

For the sooner we do the sooner we’ll find 

That our kids see our flaws and they really don’t mind.

What they need is our love, our care and our best;

Let’s not get too preoccupied with the rest. 

For there’s no ‘just right’ parent or child in the world

But there’s plenty of delicious moments yet to unfurl.

H x

Image by Juliane Lieberman on Unsplash

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The day I fell out of a tree: moving on from past wounds

When I was seven, I looked a little bit like a blond version of Mowgli from the ‘Jungle Book.’ Scrawny frame, all arms and legs, and a straight bob that swung from side to side as I walked. 

And it suited me, because true to having grown up in the African bush, I was a little wild. I loved lizards and spiders and grasshoppers and frogs. At boarding school, I spent my time making mud pies, skidding across the shower room floor, and making forts out of bamboo shoots. Every year, at the first smell of rain that marked the end of the dry season, I was one of the first to dash out to the football pitches, arms raised in expectancy, dancing in celebration as the deluge that came shortly after soaked us all to the skin.  

But most of all, I loved climbing trees. One afternoon at boarding school, I was with a group of boys who were trying to outdo each other by swinging between the branches of a little grove of guava trees.

Image by Varun Gaba on Unsplash

Now if you know me at all, you’ll know I’m not one to succumb to peer pressure. It’s just pure stubbornness on my part really. But on that day, I remember the feeling as they began to taunt me, saying I was too ‘chicken’ to join in. And so began a brief moment of madness. I just had to prove my worth. It felt a little like Anne of Green Gables walking across the apex of a room to prove to Gilbert Blythe that she was ‘every bit as brave as a boy.’

But as with poor Anne, who soon came down from the roof with a bump, pride came before a fall. Guava trees have bark that peels off all too easily. As I jumped from the first branch and clung to the next, I came right off it, with the piece of bark in my hand. Before I knew it, I was lying on the ground, feeling pain that I’d never felt. 

Then followed a eight hour car drive to hospital, over roads with more pot holes than tarmac. I had been climbing since I was six months and had never once fallen until that day, but on that journey I subconsciously decided I would never climb a tree again. I had back problems for years – all stemming from the shoulder fracture I sustained that day. It wasn’t until after an X-ray in my twenties and three intense months of Chiropractic treatment that all was put to rights.

But that wasn’t the worst part – for years I missed out on what I loved best because of the fear of experiencing that awful pain again. A little of the daring and wild in me was lost that day. 

Image by Hugues de Buyer Mimeure on Unsplash

Can you look back to a time in your life when a painful event opened a wound that has never quite closed? Maybe it was a conflict at home, a disappointing church experience, a shaming experience as a child, sudden bereavement, unexpected surgery, or a moment of betrayal. Perhaps as a result you have subconsciously withdrawn from people, put up walls around your heart, or stopped doing the things that used to give you life and joy. 

Maybe now’s the time for a heart x-ray. Ask yourself what’s holding you back from going there again. Get whatever treatment you need. Face the fear, let go of the hurt, resolve the disagreement, step out of the shadow of shame, or open up your heart. Don’t let the fear of what might be stop you from experiencing what could be. Find your inner Mowgli again. Start dreaming, start climbing, start learning, start talking again. There are plenty of trees left to climb, and this time there may not be a crowd of boys teasing you.

H x 

Image by Lane Smith on Unsplash
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Where the lost things go: walking the graveyard of grief

I took my girls on a sunny walk through Hillsborough village today. We had just completed a circuit around the beautiful old church in the village centre, when they suddenly ducked out of view. I darted after them through a quaint little archway that opened into the adjoining cemetery.

My two had never been in a graveyard before, so as you can imagine, they were full of questions. Zoe marvelled at every bouquet of flowers and at each engraved message glinting in the sun, while Eden chased after squirrels and studiously examined snails. Alongside their wonder and curiosity, I felt waves of solemnity and sadness wash over me, as I read the brief details of each life lived and lost.

As I wondered about the families each headstone represented, the awful moment when I watched my friend say goodbye to her precious dad came back to me in full force; the day my heart had felt like a pincushion and my knees had buckled with the force of her pain.

But I also remembered one of the most precious things someone said to me as I grieved our first baby lost through an ectopic pregnancy. ‘Your little one is not lost,’ they had assured me. ‘You are and always will be a mother. Just as God now holds your child safe in His capable hands, you will hold them safe in your memory until you meet again.’

Memory. A powerful thing, isn’t it? Sure, it can be a dark cave of smouldering secrets. But it is also a treasure trove of golden moments and shining faces.

One of my favourite children’s stories is ‘Paper Dolls’ by Julia Donaldson. It’s an enchanting tale of the adventures of a little girl’s homemade paper dolls. One day, a boy snips them into tiny pieces, convinced they are ‘gone forever.’ But instead they float into the little girl’s memory, along with other items she has ‘lost’ – including a butterfly hair slide and a ‘kind granny.’

I still remember beautiful little details about three of my grandparents who are now in heaven. Soft-hearted Nan, with her gentle nature and fine collection of silver spoons; fastidious Grandad Saunders, who taught me how to paint woodwork and plait hair, and generous Grandad Best who made the best kites and sang hearty hymns with us around the piano.

Image by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

There’s a profound scene in the latest Mary Poppins film, where Mary Poppins sings this lullaby over the Banks children, who are missing their late mum.

‘Memories you’ve shed
Gone for good you feared
They’re all around you still
Though they’ve disappeared
Nothing’s really left
Or lost without a trace
Nothing’s gone forever
Only out of place.’

Why not take a moment today to reminisce? As you walk the graveyard of grief, it will bring up sadness and sorrow. But it will also uncover new joy and wonder, as you study the memories all around you, explore old photographs and letters, marvel at the good times and chase fading recollections of family occasions.

The walk of grief is laughter and tears, comfort and pain, past, present and future all rolled into one. But that does not change the fact that the legacy of our loved ones is all around us. Their memory is always present in our hearts and minds.

Loss is never ‘gone for good’

or ‘left without a trace.’

There are footprints on our hearts and lives

and memories with a face.

H. x

Image by Johnny Cohen on Unsplash
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Tomato on toast and other marital tales

My hubby has a few idiosyncrasies (Let’s face it, don’t we all!)

For someone who is extremely adaptable and loves to learn new skills, Let’s just say he likes certain things done a particular way. 

Take his favourite supper – tomato on toast – for example.

Every one I know cuts tomatoes like this.

Image by Wilfred Wong on Unsplash

But in his world, everyone should cut tomatoes like this (and those who don’t obviously just don’t know the right way yet.)

Then there’s the toast itself. It has to be buttered right away. And I mean immediately. If the toaster pops and you run to the drawer to grab a knife, you’ve missed the window. 

Im proud to say I’ve finally mastered the technique. At the first whisper of the pop, you pounce on the toast like it’s your prey and lather it with butter before it has the chance to lie thick on top. Soaked in my friends, it must be soaked in.

And here’s the ultimate toast test. Once buttered, Does that bread bend? If not, and it breaks in half, you’re doomed to witness a crestfallen expression and a drawn breath of disappointment. If it pleases his majesty, there’s a beaming smile and a sigh of satisfaction. 

Every time Bill asks me to make him tomato on toast, I have a wee chuckle to myself. I used to get exasperated; I’d take toast whatever way it comes. But ten years of marriage has changed that. We all have the little things that mean a lot when people do them for us. The things that make us feel cherished, valued and important. 

Image by Elly Johnson on Unsplash

Maybe you’re like me and an unexpected home-made meal or an extra hour in bed means the world. 

Perhaps it’s a bowl of steaming hot porridge made with love each morning. 

It could be someone offering to pay for your lunch. 

Or a friend thoughtfully remembering about that job interview and asking how it went. 

A word of encouragement and support when you do something out of your comfort zone might be your greatest gift. 

Why not ask your family, your friends and your spouse what little things make them feel the most loved? And when you find out, commit to doing those things for a week? You might just see that person come all the more alive when they feel cherished by you. 

I know I’ll be making tomato on toast Bill’s way for many more years to come. Just because sometimes the little things really are the big things.

To love and to cherish, from this day forward. 

H x

Image by Jamie Street on Unsplash
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She was gone before I knew it

Many of you parents will be familiar with those groggy mornings after a rough night with the kids. Some days go like a blur don’t they? Days when the fog of sheer exhaustion wraps itself around you like a thick duvet.

One such morning not long ago, Bill and I were lying there slowly coming out of our night’s stupor when – 

‘Sound the Eden alarm!!’

Daddy sat bolt upright.

‘She’s escaped! She went after a bird. I told her not to!’

Daddy was off like a rocket. Somehow Eden had managed to find the front door keys and was down the street when he caught her. Only that Zoë, the ever responsible sister, reported for duty, who knows how far she would have got. 

She was gone before we knew it. 

Image by Tom Parsons on Unsplash

Time is a bit like that, isn’t it?

Who could have imagined we would now be in our 8th week of lockdown? 

It’s hard to take in that our little escapee will be three in a couple of weeks. 

Many parents can’t believe it when they are getting their children ready to go to P1. Or sending them off to their first formal. Or walking their daughter down the aisle.

One thing my girls love to do is dance. The other day they dressed up as princesses and we pranced about to ‘Cinderella’ by Steven Curtis Chapman. The chorus goes like this:

“So I will dance with Cinderella, while she is here in my arms. ‘Cause I know something the prince never knew. Oh, I will dance with Cinderella, I don’t wanna miss even one song. ‘Cause all too soon the clock will strike midnight… and she’ll be gone.”

‘Cinderella’ was written about Steven’s daughters, to remind him to appreciate each moment he had with his girls before they grew up.

And have to admit, it breaks me every time I hear it. Most especially because Maria, one of his precious little girls, is now in heaven. He’s now looking forward to the day he’ll dance with her again. 

How many of us could have known that right now we wouldn’t be allow to hug our parents for three months? Or have dinner with our friends? Or visit our loved ones in care homes?

Image by Alexander Popov on Unsplash

Time goes so fast sometimes it takes our breath away. But it doesn’t have to pass by unnoticed or unsavored. 

  • Slow down today
  • Take a deep breath 
  • Take time to dance (even if you’re bad at it like me!) 
  • Hold your kids a little tighter
  • Soak in every beaming smile and ripple of laughter
  • Give your husband or wife a lingering hug in the hall 
  • Ask your friend how they are doing
  • Post a letter to your loved one

This isn’t some cheesy plea to cherish every minute. We all know that is totally unrealistic. 

It’s more of a reminder to myself to slow it down on those dark, grey, foggy days and capture those memories in full colour rather than blurred motion. 

Intercept the escaping toddler of time. Treasure the important moments in a place where they won’t ever be lost. Because all too soon, this time will be over.

H x

Image of Groomsport, Northern Ireland by Suzanne Hanna

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The moment when there wasn’t room

We’ve all heard the expression, ‘too many cooks spoil the broth,’ right?

Zoë broke my heart one afternoon. Two of her wee friends had decided that she wasn’t worth including that day.

‘Lucy and Emily* said I was boring,’ she told me, in a defiant tone, but with eyes that searched for reassurance, and her upper lip still quivering with rejection.

It felt like someone was stabbing my heart (I’m sure all you parents have been there!), but I tried to keep my response lighthearted.

‘Well, what do you think? Were they right? 
‘No, because I’m not boring.’
‘Ah. Well that’s that sorted then! It didn’t feel nice, but you know it’s not true, right? So you don’t need to worry about it anymore.’

That seemed to satisfy her, and off she bounded, her happy self again. But she still relives that moment every so often, with the same sadness filling her expression as she remembers. 

The moment when there wasn’t room.

Image by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Have you ever felt or been told there wasn’t room for you? That people didn’t know what to do with you? That no one noticed you? That no one thought you were worth inviting?

Zoë’s wonderful teacher has a great rule for her class that I think we could all do with living by. 

‘We are all friends here. We don’t have to play together, but there’s space for everyone to play.’

There’s space for everyone to play. 

What a great rule for all of life’s classrooms: our families, our communities, our churches, our organisations and our workplaces. 

What if there was always room?

  • Room to develop
  • Room to grow
  • Room to celebrate each other’s strengths
  • Room to allow for mistakes and weaknesses
  • Room to be real without being judged

I often dream of a world where there’s always room. Where there’s always space to play. 

Image by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

A world where another person’s beauty and talent does not mean an absence or lessening of your own. 

A world where no one feels threatened, belittled, compared, left out, or rejected. 

A world where everyone is friends; not in a claustrophobic, possessive way, but in the sense of a willingness to welcome others into the space we inhabit.

That world we will see someday in full colour. Jesus said, ‘In my father’s house, there are many rooms.’ There’ll be room in heaven for all of us to live, laugh, love, worship and serve. 

But for now, let’s look around. 

  • Who can we give space to grow?
  • Who can we encourage?
  • Who can we invite in?
  • Who can we include?
  • Who can we celebrate?

I know I’m an idealist. But maybe it’s realistic to hope to witness fewer moments in this life where there isn’t room. 

H x

*The names used above are substitutes for the real ones.

Image by Luke Porter on Unsplash

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The dinosaur in my freezer: dealing with panic in a pandemic

Today I found a dinosaur in my freezer.

We’d left the freezer to defrost (for the first time in about two years – no joke!)

When I opened the door there it was, staring back at me.

It looked totally out of place.

Well, in a toddler’s mind, a freezer was the perfect world for it to live in. But I knew it didn’t belong there. Not that I’m a palaeontologist or anything, but you’d never logically associate dinosaurs with thriving in icy conditions, would you?

Some people think the ice age killed off the dinosaurs, some say it was Noah’s flood, and others think that they just died out over time. Whatever option you choose, it was an environmental change that made living conditions impossible.

I don’t know about you, but at the moment I feel a bit like that dinosaur in my freezer.

Suddenly people are telling us that the environment we’ve always lived in, laughed in and loved in is now hostile and threatening. Everything feels a bit surreal at the moment; it’s as if we’ve been been plunged into the pages of some apocalyptic novel.

The truth is, if I hadn’t rescued that poor little guy from the cold and ice, he would have been frozen solid. And it got me thinking, what positive actions are needed in the midst of this pandemic? What steps can we take to stop the surrounding panic from paralysing us?

If you’ve ever had a panic attack, or been with someone who’s having one, you’ll know of a technique called ‘grounding.’ Put simply, it’s focusing on what is right in front of you – on what you can see, hear, taste, smell and touch – to draw back from multiple potential futures and experience more deeply what’s happening in the present.

Image by D. Tsellobenok on Unsplash

So here’s some useful questions to ask yourself when you begin to feel fear frosting you over at this time:

#1 What can I see?

If you’re anything like me, you’re spending a lot of your time these days worrying about the safety of those you love.

When I find myself worrying about others, instead of allowing myself to catastrophize or go down a rabbit hole of anxious thoughts, I’ve found it really helpful to connect with them in some way. Whether it be in conversation or in writing, I tell them how much I love them and are thankful for them. Either that, or I say a prayer of thanks for the warmth and richness they bring to my life.

This has a double benefit; not only does it bless the person you encourage, but it brings you back into the present and allows you to experience the joy of knowing them in that moment.

The same goes for nature. Its beauty is all around us. It hasn’t gone away, and it won’t anytime soon. Stop and take a look at what you can see and experience the wonder again. Be thankful for what you see.

#2 What do I know?

There’s a lot of uncertainty as to what’s ahead. What will happen with schools? How will businesses survive? How will we worship together again? When can I hug my mum?

Let me say that projections and predictions will not help you any, they will just feed your fears. Limit how many news reports you watch or read, and focus each day on what you do know!

  • As a Christian, I do know God is always close and that He has promised never to leave me.
  • I know I have friends and family who love me.
  • I know that right now I have breath in my lungs and my heart is beating.
  • I know I have a new day to fill with love, life, learning and laughter.

Yes, I might not know what tomorrow will bring. But I do have today. I have people who love me, and I have a God who walks with me this very moment, in every moment.

Image by Derek Sears on Unsplash

#3 What can I do?

There’s a lot of things about this situation that we can’t control.

We have no way of knowing how the virus will spread and who will be affected by it. We can’t prevent widespread loss of jobs, relationships or life. We can’t go wherever we want or see who we normally see.

But why not focus on the things we can do?

  • We can follow the government guidelines
  • We can eat as much nutritional food as possible to boost immunity
  • We can do exercise to help our mood
  • We can limit our screen time
  • We can finish that little project we’ve been meaning to do for ages
  • We can connect with family and friends
  • We can talk to our neighbours
  • We can collect for our local food bank
  • We can reach out to those who are isolated and let them know we care.

We have the gift of time. Let’s focus on what we can do with it.

Focus on what you can see, right now

Focus on what you do know, each day

Focus on what you can do, in this time.

Don’t let fear freeze you solid. Instead, let the gifts you have right in front of you thaw your heart and open the door of your life to thankfulness and gratitude.

H x

Image by Markus Lederer on Unsplash
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Three chimps and a turtle: What’s your stress animal?

Three chimps and a turtle live in our house. 

Not literally, of course [though wouldn’t that be fun!]

I’m talking about my family and our stress styles.

Eden is our adorable wee turtle. Today, she was upset by an altercation she’d had with Zoë. She ran off to the playroom, hid under a blanket and point blank refused to come out. When I finally persuaded her to emerge, she just cuddled me in silence for what seemed like a VERY long time. When she was ready, she hopped down and off she went. Not a word said. 

You see, if you’re a turtle and you’re put under stress … your first instinct is to hide. When you’re threatened, your natural impulse is to withdraw from the situation altogether. Faced with confrontation, you bury your head in your shell for a while until you’re ready to come out. If you’re a turtle, instead of talking about how you feel, you’ll have a tendency to internalise emotions in your body. For you, stress might manifest in physical, rather than emotional symptoms; headaches, digestive issues, palpitations and so on. 

The other three members of our household, on the other hand, are always a little too ready to vocalise our opinion in an animated fashion. 

The first day Bill and I met, we had an argument.

You could say it was love at first fight. 

I strongly disagreed with a theological viewpoint he held. And clearly that passion had a major wooing effect, because he just had to get my number to apologise. We’ve been arguing ever since, but we are more in love than we’ve ever been. 

When Zoë came along, though, it seems we met our match. Two strong-willed adults versus one of her, and yet somehow the four year old often still seems to win. She could ‘buy and sell ye,’ as they say here in Northern Ireland. Her determination is fiery, her passion is impressive, and her negotiation skills are something else altogether. 

You see, if you’re a chimp, stress or conflict brings out the inner monkey in you

You gesticulate 

You give off

You have extreme emotions

You can become a bit defensive and moody

You might even screech when something annoys you! 

The reality is that during this time of lockdown, all of us are under prolonged stress. It’s having a major impact on all of us, whether we want to recognise it or not. Work pressures, financial uncertainties, missing loved ones and constraints on our freedoms will at times feel like too much to bear. 

How are you responding to the stress?

Some of us will internalise it, process it inwardly, and get uncomfortably quiet. Others need to vent, complain and moan dramatically every now again.

Both are completely normal. 

But here’s the deal. 

Those of us who are chimps need to take a leaf out of the turtle’s book every now and then. When I feel ready to snap at whoever is unfortunate enough to come my direction next, maybe I should try hiding under a blanket for a while instead. It might just calm me down. 

Same goes for the turtles. Believe it or not, sometimes it is actually good to talk about how you feel. Why not emerge from the safety of your shell every now and then and share that heavy load you’ve been carrying around? ‘Cause sometimes your shell can also become your burden. 

What’s your stress animal? And how can you tame it to serve you better during this time?

H. x

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Strong Girls Club: Becoming your own kind of Brave

I love the Pixar movie ‘Brave’, and most especially its main character. ‘Merida,’ a Scottish highland royal, is a spunky princess with a fiery spirit. She questions everything and she resists restrictions of every kind. Yet as the plot unfolds, Merida discovers what real bravery is, and owns it in a way that’s true to her story. Along the way, she realises that – contrary to what she first thought – courage is not escaping the realities of her life but rather facing them head on – learning compromise and contentment on the journey. 

The women I see all around me are all kinds of brave. All kinds of strong. All kinds of courageous.

  • Bravely longing 

Im thinking first of those who quietly carry the weighty burden of unfulfilled longings. 

… a soul mate to live life with 

… a child of your own

… a friend to open your heart to

… a body free of pain

For now, it seems like all around you people are celebrating their attainment of what seems so far out of your reach. 

Some of you sob silently in the car, in the shower, after every wedding, social occasion, a dedication service you attend. Longing yawns at your soul like an ever widening chasm that you can’t escape. 

You want to hide away. But the majority of the time you don’t. You attend that engagement party, wedding, baby shower, choosing to shower your friends with gifts, meals and love.

Even in the depths of deep longing, you continue to cultivate contentment and grow in gratitude. 

You are your own gracious and generous kind of brave, even when you don’t feel it. 

  • Bravely Misunderstood  

I’m thinking here of those of you who are ambitious, gifted in leadership, and career-minded. You have been painted as hard-nosed, cold, detached, or as having a hidden agenda. You’re the threat in the boardroom, the butt of chauvinistic jokes, the brunt-bearer of laddish humour. You laugh it off as you smart inside. You hold it together there and then and cry your tears later. 

It hurts, but it won’t stop you striving for excellence, growing in your gifts and getting those promotions. 

You are your own delightfully determined kind of brave, even when you don’t feel it. 

  • Bravely Battling 

We’ve all heard the phrase, ‘Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.’ The fact is, some of you are fighting private battles we will never ever know about. 

Whether it’s hormonal issues, digestive problems, anxiety, depression, abuse, or traumatic childhood memories … you drag yourself up and out, go to work, smile, serve others or tend to little ones’ needs. You do your best work. Every single day. Even on the days when your best is simply lying in bed, crippled with pain.

Even those days.

You are your own tenaciously tender kind of brave, even when you don’t feel it. 

  • Bravely exhausted 

Some of you caregivers are living bravely in the midst of your exhaustion. Whether it’s looking after multiple babies and toddlers, partners with depression, parents with dementia, or children with complex needs; you pour yourself out day on day, year on year, for the dignity and flourishing of others – often with very little support or respite.

You are bravely exhausted. But you’re effervescently courageous, even when you don’t feel it. 

The women I see all around me are all kinds of brave. 

Courage comes in all shapes and sizes. It looks different for every person. But it always involves facing facts, summoning strength to persevere, having the humility to make changes, and cultivating a sweet spirit along the way. 

Let’s remember, though, that bravery is not something that needs to happen alone. 

If you are experiencing complex challenges in life, you may feel invisible to the world. But you are not. You are seen by God. And you are cared for by so many. 

Reach out. 

Join a ‘strong girls club’ near you today. Reach out to other courageous women you see around you. Because when you are your own kind of brave before others, they will catch your courage, and they will pass it on.

Be your own kind of brave, but don’t be brave alone. 

 H x

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When Good Enough is Perfectly Good Enough

The first twenty months of my firstborn’s life lulled the self-confessed perfectionist in me into a false sense of security.

After a relatively textbook labour (still grim, mind you – what birth isn’t?) I was so grateful to meet my little Zoë – a little rainbow baby after the loss of our first child through ectopic pregnancy. Zoë’s name means ‘the life God gives,’ and I felt so privileged to have been given this little gift that I determined I would work as hard as I possibly could to give her the best start in life.

Many of those early days and long nights were spent lounged on the sofa feeding, watching Netflix series as my selfless hubby brought me countless glasses of water and plates of food. I cuddled my baby as often as I could; sang nursery rhymes to her every every morning; taught her colours, words and letters with great enthusiasm; took endless photographs; and tenaciously noted down every milestone reached.

Don’t get me wrong, it definitely wasn’t some kind of Mother Earth Eutopia. I had lip-curling moments of pain, months of sleep deprivation and plenty of times when I felt down or overwhelmed. But all in all, I really enjoyed those first months of being a mum, and I thought, ‘maybe I really am up to this challenge.’

[Image by Melissa Askew on Unsplash]

Then our precious little Eden came along, and instead of the peaceful paradise her name would suggest, all too soon my life descended into the chaos of motherhood I had heard about from others.

An unfortunate chain of events began when I became ill with a chest infection after labour, followed by a full year of sickness within the family. There were hospital stays, collapses from physical exhaustion, and weeks of isolation – all undergirded by a horrible sense of guilt that I just didn’t have the energy to lavish the same one-on-one attention upon Eden that I had been able to give first time around.

Feeding on demand alongside an equally demanding toddler pushed my already struggling body to its absolute limit. Then came several months of high anxiety; fears of what would happen when the next illness came along, horrible premonitions of tragedy, topped off by a real loss of confidence.

For the first time ever, I felt completely incapable of holding all my responsibilities together. I struggled when things didn’t go to plan and I had to rearrange and cancel appointments. It had been a long time since I felt I was truly doing a great job.

Over the period of a few months – with lots of prayer and encouragement from loving family, friends and mentors – I came to realise something totally life-changing: ‘good enough’ is actually perfectly good enough. Because while I was constantly worrying about how I was ‘doing’ at parenthood, I was missing the moments right in front of me to be savoured, treasured and enjoyed.

[Image by Drew Coffman on Unsplash]

Now, I am so thankful that things are different. Not perfect at all, mind you, but rather perfectly good enough.

Yes, I may be a mum who is frequently late to the school gate, muttering muted threats under her breath of ‘… if you don’t … I will …’

Yes, I may often be seen frantically chasing my eldest, pulling her frizzy golden locks into a half-hearted ponytail, with the little one clinging onto my coat tails to avoid being left behind.

Yes, I may often be seen returning, red-faced from a mixture of exertion and embarrassment, as I buzz the door (again) because I’ve forgotten to bring a coat or permission slip in.

Yes – pretending not to notice the smirks of surrounding eyewitnesses – I do wrestle a protesting daughter number 2 back into her car seat, flop into the driver’s position, take a few breaths, let out a dramatic sigh, and trundle off pathetically to a friend’s house for a coffee – to ‘recover’ from the whole debacle.

And yet, I have the absolute privilege to be around everyday for my children, to take them for play dates, and to soak up their shining smiles when they catch sight of me at pick-ups. Understanding that for both of them, just being present and loving consistently is more than ‘good enough’ and so it should, in turn, be ‘perfect’ for me, has changed everything.

And do you know what the most encouraging thing is? This recovering perfectionist is now increasingly able to laugh at herself when things go wrong, embrace the beauty of the moment for what it is, and be thankful in the midst of it.

Can you?

Maybe, just maybe, today you need to hear that you are ‘good enough’, and that – all things considered – you are quite simply ‘perfect’ for the family and friends God has gifted you with.

[Image by John-Mark Smith on Unsplash]
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Hemmed in or spaced out? Could lockdown cure our FOMO?

My husband and I often joke that our two girls have had a serious case of FOMO (the fear of missing out) ever since the moment they entered this world. 

Such is their level of dread about being excluded from any kind of action, that for a very long time in our house sleep featured only as an optional extra. 

Up until the age of two and a half, if they did go to sleep, they didn’t stay asleep for long. And even when they did sleep, they still didn’t let you off the hook. Number one sneaked into our bed, only to twitch, flip and kick continually, while number two felt compelled to hold on to my hair and stroke my face. ALL NIGHT. (Always mine, by the way – daddy’s face was too scratchy. That’s why daddy didn’t shave.)

Image by Simon Ratzinger [Unsplash]


All this meant little rest for them, no rest for us. Until four months ago. 

Four glorious months. 

Finally – after five relentless years of broken nights – we are all sleeping! And they are playing so well together. We have some healthy space from one another during the day and overnight.

Space

That’s what’s quarantine has gifted some of us with, hasn’t it? Yes, we’ve had the frustration of confined living. Yes, we are missing family, friends and church dreadfully. Yes, we are worrying about the welfare and safety of our communities and loved ones. Yes, we are grieving for lost livelihoods and mourning over excruciating loss of life.

But while lockdown has hemmed us in, in many ways it has paradoxically also offered us space.

  • Wiggle room in our timetables. 
  • Rest from the rat race
  • Time off the hamster wheel
  • Time to think
  • Time to create
  • Time to dream.

Experts suggest that children now have 12 hours less free time a week than they did only two decades ago. And adults are as bad; we are constantly looking for ways to squeeze more efficiency out of ourselves. 

People are saying the time is going faster year on year. Maybe it’s not. Maybe because of our fear of empty space in our lives, we are constantly plugged in, living life on fast-forward and in the process missing half of it. 

I spent some of my early years at boarding school in the west African jungle. 

Sounds exciting, right? Not really. 

Well, it depends on your definition. 

Did I go to ballet, or speech and drama, or hockey club, or zoo trips? No, I didn’t. 

But did I spend hours playing in a treehouse, nestled high up in a beautiful flame tree that blossomed a fiery red in the dry season? Yes, I did. 

Flame tree at my boarding school in Ivory Coast

Did I curl up in a hammock in the shade of the baking noonday sun and devour one Nancy Drew mystery and Babysitters club novel after another? Yes, I did.

Did I cuddle chickens and make worm soup and chase pigs out of my garden with a broom held high over my head? Yes, I did.

I remember the power of the empty space. Because when you don’t have endless entertainment options, you make your own. When you have nothing to miss out on, you don’t feel the need to fill your calendar to bursting. You realise that what you have right in front of you is as magical as anything else. 

Me, 3 years old, in our back garden


Some of us will be struggling with the lack of structure to our lives during lockdown.But what if this empty space could in one offer us an opportunity to take a long, leisurely look at what’s right in front of us? What if with a slow down in pace comes a vision of grace and an attitude of thankfulness? 

What will quarantine teach us here in the Western world? 

It might teach us that margin in our lives is not evidence of missing out but rather a worthy path to chilling out. It might show us that there is creative power to be found in an empty space. It might teach us that quality time and contentment can be found there too. 

It should teach us to respect and cherish those who work tirelessly on the front line, sacrificing their quality of life on a daily basis so that we might keep ours. Their calendar isn’t empty in these times, but fuller than ever. 

Are you feeling hemmed in today? It might help to think of yourself as ‘spaced out’ instead. Because it might sound Irish, but sometimes there’s no gift like an empty present. 

H x

Image by Lina Trochez [Unsplash]

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You are not an Octopus

Some of you parents, grandparents or carers might recognise the following scenario:

You sit down with a freshly percolated, steaming hot cup of coffee… and breathe in the delicious scent with satisfaction. You’ve earned this! Do your first delectable dip of chocolate chip cookie, then –

‘Mummmmmyyyyyy! I’m done!’

You fly [almost literally] to the aid of a potty-training two year old who is prone to slide off the toilet prematurely…

CRASH.

Deposit the toddler somewhere ‘safe,’ then dash to the next room, only to find the next sheepish culprit, who looks like she’s just finished a colour run.

‘I’m so sorry mummy, it was an excellent’ [she means accident.]

Accident of excellent proportions, more like.

Image by Senjuti Kundu [Unsplash]

As you begin scrubbing a rainbow of colour from your kitchen chairs, the four year old who spilt the paint suddenly decides she is as thirsty as a camel.

‘Mummy, I’m absolutely parched. I need a drink. I need a drink of water NOW. I’ll die without a drink. I can’t wait for a drink. I just CAN’T. Waiting is so hard.’

Operation clean up suspended. You pour said glass of water with a smi – no, let’s be honest – you do it with gritted teeth.

‘Mummmmyyyyyy. I’m stuck!’

Now it seems the toddler has got herself firmly wedged behind the sofa. Emerge from Operation Rescue red-faced but triumphant: you found Skye from Paw Patrol while you were in there!

Four year old: ‘Mummy, can we make a castle out of toilet rolls, paint it pink and cover it with glitter like -‘

‘ I AM NOT AN OCTOPUS!!!!!!!!!’

Stunned silence. The first there has been all day.

It’s bittersweet, of course. You shouldn’t have raised your voice. But it’s strangely beautiful all the same. You bask in it for the five seconds before the mummy guilt inevitably kicks in.

Then you remember your coffee.

Ah. Stone cold.

Do you ever feel like shouting this at the top of your lungs?

I am not an octopus!

… I am one person

… with one pair of hands.

… I have a limited attention span

… and a finite capacity for interaction.

… My patience is running thin

… and my creativity is running out!’

I simply cannot be enthusiastic teacher, patient parent, happy housecleaner, caring counsellor, faithful friend, fitness fanatic, bonafide baker and insta-influencer ALL IN ONE DAY.’

Life can feel like that sometimes, can’t it? Some moments in ‘lockdown’ have certainly felt like that for me.

Sometimes we need to remind ourselves, and others, that we have limits.

You are not an octopus! You are human. You just have one pair of hands. And sometimes those hands just need to hold a warm cup of coffee in peace and quiet.

Stick on some soothing music and have that cuppa today, if you can – even if it means putting your headphones on and escaping outside for two minutes, while the kids stare wide-eyed through the window at you.

You might just emerge refreshed enough to complete your next mission.

H x

Image by Chad Madden [Unsplash]

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A letter to my ten year old self

My parents did a major clear out recently. They called by the other day with a file full of my primary school work, which up until this point had been gathering dust in their attic. It made for interesting reading – for me, at least! These are what my grand life goals were at the tender age of ten:

‘I’m going to get 10 A*s in my GCSES, have four children and a dog, and live in a big house.’

Wow. Short and to the point, but very revealing all the same.

My tenth birthday

So far, I haven’t achieved any of these lofty goals. But here’s ten little pieces of advice I would offer that wee girl now, over twenty years later:

  • Grades on a sheet are no reflection of the grade of character formation in your life.’ Do your best in everything, but most importantly, do your best to be kind. Kindness trumps achievement, always.
  • ‘Doing something you love imperfectly, but passionately, is much more admirable than doing something you hate to perfection.’ Do what makes your heart sing, not just what others expect you to do, because it might just be what you were created for.
  • Getting something wrong is not a disaster.’ Really, it isn’t. You might believe that lie right now, but you will learn that the real catastrophe in those moments is punishing yourself and talking yourself out of another attempt. How much you will miss out on if you do that! Put your best foot forward and try again. Learn to fail forward. 
  • Being right isn’t the most important thing in life.‘ Eating a slice of humble pie now and again will make you all the sweeter, and you’ll be a much nicer person to be around.
  • Sure, a big house and a fancy car would be nice‘ (no kidding!) But there is far more significance in taking whatever resources you have, and filling them to bursting with love, life, laughter and guests.
  • At times it is useful to be independent and self-sufficient, but it’s equally good to know what is like to receive love and care in times of need.’ Learning to receive others’ generosity requires you to let down your guard and acknowledge that you need support. Not only does this grow you as a person, but it allows others to be blessed as they give to you. Don’t rob them of that blessing by being too proud to accept help.
  • ‘Comparison is the thief of joy.’ I wish I could repeat this a thousand times over! Learn to celebrate the beauty and achievement in others: out loud and on purpose. Make a decision that their joy will be your joy.
  • Think of your life like the perfect recipe, put together by the Master Chef himself.’ God has given you the list of ingredients; He has chosen talents and abilities in specific measures on purpose – all to create something exquisite. Throughout the cooking process, don’t doubt he will rustle up something gorgeous. He’s the expert, after all.
  • There’s a time for everything.‘ A time for tears to fall, and a time for laughter to bubble up from deep places. A time to say goodbye to friendships, and a time to build new ones. A time to lose those you love, and a time to hold them tight. Don’t run from the hard times. They may sting unbearably, but they will also shape you for the better – if you let them.
  • Don’t let your words and actions be governed by how other people will perceive them.‘ Instead of the question, ‘What will they think about me?’ ask yourself, ‘Is this the right thing to do?’ And if in doubt, always do the right thing.

Dear ten year old self, you are much stronger than you could ever know, and more blessed than you could ever appreciate. Seize life with all you’ve got, never stop dreaming, and always be unapologetically yourself.

H x

P.s What advice would you give your younger self today? It might just change the way you think about your life.

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Looking for Eden, Finding Home

Finding paradise right where you are

A ubiquitous phrase in our family’s vocabulary is, “Where’s Eden?” My second-born has a habit of rapidly disappearing just out of sight; just out of earshot and just out of view. Her life is a perpetual game of hide-and-seek. I spend a large part of my day just looking for her.

Isn’t it so often the case that as women, parents, partners, relatives, employees or homemakers, we expend huge amounts of our time and energy searching for how we might make:

  • Our image more presentable?
  • Our home more beautiful?
  • Our finances more comfortable?
  • Our family life more peaceful?
  • Our relationships more secure?
  • Our work more fulfilling?

… And yet why does that perfect life always seem just out of our grasp, just beyond our reach?

Here’s the thing: often I’ve chased Eden the whole way around the house, only to find her right back where I began the search.

I think there’s something in that.

Maybe a little piece of paradise is to be found right where you are – in the beautifully imperfect, messy reality of image imperfections, family squabbles, cluttered living spaces and work frustrations.

Whatever it looks like for you, on your search for Eden, try standing still for a moment. You might just find your little piece of heaven right where you are.

H xx

How to get through a pandemic: Just do the next right thing

‘Just do the next right thing

Take a step, step again

It is all that I can do,

to do the next right thing’

Anna, Frozen

This pandemic has had a way of making us take things day by day, hour by hour, even moment by moment. With the restrictions changing all the time, it’s become so difficult to plan – or even think about – things too far ahead.

I don’t know how you’ve found it, but that aspect has been pretty tough for me personally; I like having things to look forward to! Having kids forced me to become more spontaneous and flexible in general, but the last few months have felt like a step too far. The prospect of being cooped up at home for the next few months quite frankly fill me with dread.

But there’s one particular piece of advice that is really resonating with me at the moment, and is keeping me going, for now at least.

Do the next right thing.

1.DO the

2.NEXT

3.RIGHT thing

Whether we are talking about facing a big challenge like navigating another day of grief, or contemplating a small gesture like mowing our neighbour’s lawn, every moment presents us with a new opportunity to make a good, healthy, just, loving, kind, impactful – right choice.

Just DO the next right thing

Yes, no matter what’s outside our control, we always have the power to do something positive. In Theodore Roosevelt’s words, ‘the best thing you can do is the right thing… but the worst thing you can do is nothing.’ And the worst thing for all of us right now is to allow ourselves to become paralysed by uncertainty.

You don’t have to handle the rest of this year, or sort out the rest of your future, all at once. You’re not required to have the day figured out, the week planned out, or every problem solved and settled. But no matter how long the days or how dark the nights, as long as you and I can see the next small thing in front of us to do, and act on it, then dawn will come eventually. One step at a time.

There will be many things we can’t do over these next few months. But when there’s restrictions on what we can’t do, we can start by doing what we still can.

Here’s some things we’ve been getting up to:

Reading more with the kids 📚

Starting and writing a blog 😁

Doing DIY jobs that we’d been putting off 🔨

Baking for our neighbours 🍰

Writing and recording songs 🎶

Writing to elderly relatives and friends 🖊

Doing online marriage and pastoral care courses 🏫

Having garden breakfasts and take-away afternoon teas ☕️

There may be lots we can’t do, but there’s still loads we can do. In the words of Nike, ‘just do it!’

Just do the NEXT right thing

How many hours do we waste worrying about what is ahead? Don’t get ahead of yourself. You have today! You can’t change the past, and you can’t control the future. But life is available in the present moment.

I had this term all neatly planned out. The kids would be at school every morning, I would work while they were at school, and I would be free to do other things in the evenings. Let me tell you, I hadn’t planned for COVID. But then again, no one did. Between sickness, isolating, and half time schedules, there has not been one week where my utopian vision has been realised.

I have felt a bit frustrated about this, if I’m honest, but I know there are others facing much bigger challenges, and I need to make the positive choice to be present, enjoy the extra cuddles and quality time with the kids during the day, work as and when I can, and make the decision to be flexible.

‘The foreseeable future’ isn’t very far right now. Let’s stick to the now, and the next right thing that’s in front of us to do.

Just do the next RIGHT thing

Someone once said that if you do the next right thing, the next right thing will happen. It doesn’t mean that the consequences of doing what’s right will be easy, but it does mean that we can be confident we are living a life that’s true to the values we hold. The way we make decisions is just as important as the decisions we make. I want to live a life led by values rather than circumstances. But sometimes doing the right thing can feel pretty hard.

A value of humility prompts us to say “I’m sorry” to someone we’ve hurt. 💔 It might not feel good at the time, but it’s for our good.

A value of good stewardship motivates us to be generous to someone in need. 💵 It might mean sacrificing something we wanted to buy ourselves, which might not feel good at the time, but it’s for others’ good.

A value of selflessness allows you to let your partner take a nap while you watch the kids. 💤 If you’re tired too, it might not feel good at the time, but it’s for the good of your relationship.

How we respond to the ever changing regulations needs to be guided by values, not wants. Our behaviour needs to be motivated by the good, not what feels good to us. How can we best protect? How can we best love? How can we best serve?

By doing the next thing that is right.

So the next time all this uncertainty threatens to overwhelm you,

… Start by doing something, when you feel you can do nothing

… Do what’s in front of you, rather than worrying about what’s ahead of you

… Do the right thing, and the next right thing will happen.

H xx