Featured

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

Featured

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

Featured

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

Featured

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

Featured

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

Featured

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

Featured

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

Featured

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
Featured

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
Featured

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
Featured

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

Featured

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

Featured

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
Featured

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

Featured

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

Featured

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]
Featured

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]

Featured

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]

Featured

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.

Featured

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

The death of George Floyd: Taking off the blindfold of privilege

The first time I ever heard the word ‘racism’ was when I was around seven years old, boarding full-time in an international school in Africa. I had an argument with a roommate who had left a wet towel on my bed, and they told me I was being mean to them because of the colour of their skin.  

I remember the feeling of utter confusion in that moment. What?! Why would anyone do that? What had skin colour got to do with anything?  

Sure, in the village I lived in we had always drawn attention because of being pale-skinned, but I always just assumed it was because we were different. Sure, we were in the minority, but we were singled out by way of curiosity, never contempt. The idea of treating someone as ‘less’ because of the colour of their skin was completely alien to me.  

My house parent had to explain what racism was to me that night. I vividly remember being genuinely horrified and tearful, and struggling to get to sleep.  

Most of us would be horrified if we were ever accused of being racist, wouldn’t we?  But in the last week or two on social media, there have been a lot of accusations flying around. I’ve seen a lot of people point out the lack of consistency in others – you’re ‘pro-life, but you’re not pro-black,’ ‘you’re not protesting about people on beaches in a pandemic but you’re enraged about street protests.’  

But what I haven’t seen much of is rage at the inconsistency in ourselves (and by ourselves, I mean me, and all those who are white).  

We say we are utterly opposed to racism, but at the same time most of us are hopelessly unaware of our own privilege. Where is our acknowledgement that most of us will never fully comprehend the predicament of victims like George Floyd because of the inherited privileges of our ‘whiteness?’ While we champion the cause of the oppressed, we remain entitled and spoiled. We do not fully appreciate how unfairly privileged we are.  

Image by Quinten de Graaf on Unsplash

We need to open our eyes.

We need to be awakened to the assumptions we make every day.  Yesterday I did just that, to a very small degree. A friend sent me a link to ‘The White Privilege Test’ on monitorracism.eu. It was a simple tick box exercise, but every tick I made was like salt poured on an open wound. Here are three that touched me deeply:  

‘I am never asked to speak for my entire racial group.’  

‘I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, the colour of my skin will not work against me.’  

‘I can choose plasters in flesh colour and have them more or less match my skin.’  

How many of these things have we never even thought about? Have we taken completely for granted?  

We need to remove the blindfold.  

When I was growing up one of my cousins was an avid Michael Jackson fan. I have this fond memory of us dancing together in his living room to the song, ‘Black or white.’ Released in 1991, the single’s combination of great music and positive anti-racist message meant three weeks after release it had topped the Billboard Hot 100.   One would have thought that by 2020 the sentiment, ‘It don’t matter if you’re black or white’, would be true. Many of us have duped ourselves into believing that it is. But actually, it seems that in our unjust world whether you’re black or white does still seem to matter. A lot.  

So I’ve been thinking, what can I do? How do I authentically express that I am incensed by the tragic murder of George Floyd? How can I productively channel my anger towards this virus of racism that still pervades our human relationships and plagues society as a whole? How do I actually demonstrate that in my heart of hearts I truly believe that every life matters? That humans are all created inherently equal in the image of their Creator?

Image by Cooper Baumgartner

Because I believe that we need to do something more long-lasting and meaningful than a temporary profile picture or an angry emoji on a Facebook post. These gestures are good, but the Martin Luther Kings and Rosa Parks of history have shown us all too clearly that meaningful action is inherently a response that actually costs us something, that ‘hurts’ us in some way – whether that be our time, our tears, our nights’ sleep, our money, our freedom, or even our lives.  

How I choose to use my inherited privileges reflects who really matters to me, deep down. Myself, or those who are marginalised? It’s that simple.

To demonstrate the fact that all lives matter profoundly to me:

I choose to take off the blindfold of privilege.

I choose to seek understanding from those who have experienced racism first-hand.

I choose not to stay silent anymore.

I choose to do something that costs me something. 

Here are some possibilities I’ve committed to exploring personally:

  • Learn

To learn more. To try to understand the challenges people all around me are facing every day. To walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.  

  • Speak out

I can write a letter, sign a petition, or march peacefully when it’s an appropriate time to do so. At the same time, I can condemn violent demonstrations and victimisation of police, because this is wrong too.

  • Give

I can give my time, resources or finance to organisations and individuals directly involved in the fight against injustice.  

  • Teach

I can teach my children, who will one day enter every segment and stratum of society, that they can – and should – be a force for change. I can buy them story books that reflect and celebrate diversity. I can teach them about the injustices of history. I can model inclusivity.

  • Be consistent

I can stand against injustice of all kinds. I can consistently call out oppression when I see it, and I can check myself for any prejudice that might be lurking in my own heart.  

Choose to take off the blindfold

Choose to see.

Choose to respond.

Choose to act.

The problem of racism matters. The question is, how much does it matter to you?

H x

P.S Here’s some resource ideas if you want to explore this topic further :

  • The White Privilege Test (www.monitorracism.edu)
  • White Awake by Daniel Hill (book)
  • Scene on Radio – Season 2 “Seeing White” (podcast)
  • http://www.diversekidsbook.org.uk
Image by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

Save up for a rainy day: the power of encouragement.

We all have those days, don’t we? You wake up on the wrong side of the bed, it’s pouring with rain outside, and before you know it you’re in tears over a comment that wasn’t badly meant but just hit you in the wrong place. Days when you feel unappreciated or taken for granted. Days when you are swamped by a loss of enthusiasm and courage. Days when you find it hard to distance yourself from negativity. 

But then there are the moments that make you realise your perspective is all wrong and your focus needs to shift. And have you noticed that words are often pivotal for turning things around? It’s incredible the impact kind thoughts expressed verbally can have; they can make all the difference to a weary heart.

I’m forever trying to get my two girls to tidy up after themselves (if you’ve achieved this in your family, please share your secrets with me!) With some exhortation, Eden is usually pretty happy to help, but Zoë can be fairly obstreperous about it. 

Yesterday was one of those rainy days. After I had tidied up the living room for the tenth time, Zoë must have tangibly felt my dejection. She took my hands in hers, looked me right in the eyes, and said genuinely and empathetically – ‘Mummy, I think I finally understand. You always clean up for us, and it’s a really hard job to do all on your own. You just want someone to do it with you.’

I couldn’t stop the tears welling up in that moment. 

‘Yes!’ I thought. ‘You actually get it! You may not care at all by tomorrow, but you do understand today.’

Somehow things didn’t seem quite so gloomy after that. 

My dad emailed me a lovely note a while back. He’d watched a talk I did online, and he took the time to write me a few lines on how great he thought it was. 

And you know what words struck home the most? ‘I. Am. Proud. Of. You.’

Why did they touch me so deeply? Not just because my primary love language is words of affirmation – because they came from someone whose opinion really matters to me.

Another day last week, Bill and I were chatting about how he’s constantly trying to improve things and he suddenly came out with this: ‘You know, I couldn’t improve you, even if I tried. I wouldn’t ever want to change you.’

That was the ultimate compliment. The crème de la crème of encouragements. I’ll treasure it forever. Why? Because although Bill is constantly drawn to improve things, and he knows me better than anyone, he appreciates me just as I am.

Intentionally gathering up these moments in the same place and saving them for a stormy time is a powerful way to defeat discouragement. My Dad used to say when he got a nice letter or sentiment on a card, ‘I’ll put that in my encouragement file.’ And he did – a literal file that every so often, on the hard days, he’d open and read through to lift his spirits.

So I have an encouragement file now too. It helps to remind me that there’s always a silver lining in a depressing black cloud. Recent research suggests that because our brains are hardwired to focus in on the negative, we need five positive comments per one criticism to perform at our best. 

But the good news is that we can re-new our minds by fixing our thoughts on what is ‘true, and honourable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable’ – by thinking about ‘things that are excellent and worthy of praise’ (Philippians 4:8). Sometimes we need to train ourselves how to focus on the good in order to grow gratitude and beat despondency in our hearts. 

My manager at work is brilliant at this. She’s got such a positive outlook on life and people, and quite often she will end her work emails with, ‘appreciate you.’ What a difference that simple phrase makes! 

So when you find yourself feeling down in the doldrums, open your encouragement file. Whether it’s a journal, a ringbinder, a desktop folder, notes on your iPhone, a designated email account, or a collection of recorded voice memos – relive those golden moments, thank yous and affirming words in a place where they can’t be washed away by rainy weather.

The reality is, everyone needs support and help to stay positive. But it’s true also that encouragement is contagious. Those who give out the most affirmation often receive the most support in return. 

My encouragement file not only lifts my spirits, it reminds me to stop and acknowledge those who otherwise I could easily take for granted. It prompts me to appreciate those in my life who are with me through thick and thin. 

Let today be the day you speak only the good you know of other people and motivate others to do the same. We all have the power to lift a loved one up when they’re having a bad day. Use it!

H x