HOPE OVERFLOWING

stories of grace, hope and life beyond cancer


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You (yes you, reading this) are awesome!

One of the things that I find most difficult about being a stay-at-home parent is the lack of external affirmation. Let’s face it, even with two sweet and affectionate little dudes at home, kids don’t really think to say, “Thanks Mummy for doing my washing/ picking up my toys/ scraping sprayed food off the furniture. I really value you and appreciate all that you do in this home to prevent it from turning into total chaos.” They just don’t say it, like ever! I wish they did but they don’t and so often at the end of another day filled with washing and scraping food I find myself with my love tank feeling low and the house still in total chaos.

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I guess it says a lot about how I am wired that I frequently wake up and think, “Wow! I really need some encouragement today!” In fact, it is often a prayer that I pray as I am going about my daily life, “Lord, please show me something to encourage me today.”

I know that it is not just me that needs encouragement. I think that we all thrive under positive, heartfelt affirmation from others, just as we wither under harsh and unkind words.

Lately I have been quite challenged by this. I look around and see so many people just trying to knock one another down. It is amazing how much interaction there is, online in particular, and yet how little encouragement. Rather, competitiveness and one-upmanship seem to be the name of the game.

In our house we have a little joke, whereby if someone says something unkind, then the other one will usually say, “What kind of courager are you being?” It is always said with a smile and a wink, but it is a gentle correction and is a challenge to think, “Am I being an encourager or a discourager? Am I building up or am I tearing down?”

I know what type of courager (yes I know it’s not actually a word) I want to be. I want to be an intentionally encouraging person, someone that makes it their business to call out the gold in others. I think that intentionality is key in this as being encouraging can feel awkward and counter-cultural at the same time. I need to choose to move past that and encourage anyway, to look for and call out the gold in others.

Each of us has so much gold within us that we often don’t see. The knocks of life and hurtful things in our past can cloud our view of ourselves and we can stop seeing how amazing we are and who we have been made to be. Encouragement is a beautiful gift that we can offer one another and it is one that has the potential to set people free to be all that they were made to be.

So to each one of you reading this (and I don’t mean this for a blanket you, but each and every individual reading this), know that you are enough. Please hear the truth of that statement for yourself today. You have been made with amazing gifts and talents. You don’t need to strive to be anybody else. Be yourself. You are enough!

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Let’s be a people that look for the good and not the bad in others and actually tell one another what we see. It’s ok if that feels a little awkward and counter-cultural and it’s also ok if the person doesn’t accept the encouragement. Whether they want to hear positive things about themselves or not doesn’t really matter, they might have been so knocked down that they don’t know how to receive kindness.

Let’s embrace the awkward and do it anyway! Be kind anyway. Encourage anyway. What a beautiful gift!


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How pausing changed my life

Yesterday, the morning dawned bright and early with a little boy who did not want to go to school anymore and a baby who was cross for no discernible reason. My big boy had decided that he only wanted to attend school on the first and last day of each term and my little boy had just decided that he would be cross and so cross he was! The house was a total disaster area and as I woke up still tired after a full on few days the day loomed long and hot and sticky before me. Joel was due to be working late and I was only expecting him home at about 10pm and so as the day began I felt the misery levels rise at the prospect of a day filled with housework and crying children. Especially the crying children! They are hard to deal with for a whole day.

As I said goodbye to Joel I very ungraciously bemoaned to him what I expected my day to look like. I was angling for some sympathy and did receive some but not the bucket loads I felt I deserved! I begrudgingly waved him off at the tube station and trudged home muttering to myself about how lucky he was to be leaving the mess and the crying for a whole day.

As I got home from the school run I realised that I needed to make a choice about how this day was going to go down. I knew that I wouldn’t get through the day in any manner of which I would be proud without a reality check and an attitude adjustment. I seriously needed some perspective.

There is only one way that I know that consistently helps me find perspective and so I parked all the chores and stopped, sat and let my heart be still.

For me what that looks like is turning on some music (United Pursuit is my choice of the moment – I have put a link to my favourite of their songs below), reading some scripture and pouring my heart out in my journal or just sitting quietly and praying or letting the music wash over me.

So this is what I did. I sat on the floor, in amongst the baby biscuit crumbs and Happyland people with a small little guy crawling around and using my legs and a climbing frame and I paused. I rested and poured my heart out and let beautiful music wash over me and I read some truth and it began to restore my soul and melt my hardened heart. As I wrote and thought and prayed my perspective began to be realigned.

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I was able to give thanks for the mess in the house as it was mostly generated preparing for the funeral of Joel’s lovely Nan who passed away last week at the age of 95. Her funeral and celebration of her life had been the day before and as part of the celebration we all baked the food that she had been renowned for. The mess was as a result of honouring the life of a wonderful woman and I think that is a mess worth having!

As I paused I had some really special time with my little guy, playing next to me on the floor. And I was more able to enjoy his clinginess as it meant extra cuddles (which I don’t get as many of anymore now that he can crawl).

As I rested and stilled my heart I was able to give thanks for our lovely home and that it is filled with love and laughter.  

My perspective was truly realigned. What a sweet gift!

These times of pause are always sweet but it they are never perfect and are frequently interrupted. Most often, at this point in my life, these times happen on the floor. Sometimes they are cut short with a knock at the door or a baby that cries. Sometimes they are very short and sometimes I get the luxury of a longer pause.

But in spite of their imperfections these times are sweet and sacred and vital and they are without a doubt a completely key part of my day

I have learnt to embrace the mess and the imperfection of these times and not to worry about them. In the past I would only have “quiet time” if I felt that I had enough time, could go somewhere quiet, had the correct pens for my journal etc etc. The list of restrictions I put on myself were extensive and as a result the times I had were limited and I felt frustrated if they weren’t quite right.

These days if I imposed any of these sorts of restrictions it would mean that these times would literally never happen. I now snatch them on my own or with my little ones at my feet. The housework can wait 10 minutes. It will still be there, believe me!!!

Yesterday, more than ever I was reminded of the huge value of coming away from the frenetic pace of life and pausing for a few minutes with God. It is a beautiful, humbling and perspective altering choice and it can truly transform the shape and trajectory of each day.

What a beautiful thing to begin the day with a thankful heart and a peaceful soul and it is my prayer that even in the chaos and mess of life that we all make moments to be still, to allow our souls to be restored and to rest with Him each day.

 

 


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Why we have moved house AGAIN: choosing to participate in the adventure!

Recently I have been working through a course called Storyline with a group of friends and together we’ve been looking at the story of our lives so far, the ups and downs, the themes as well as looking for the redemptive perspective – the gold that comes as a result of the bad stuff in our lives.

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(Storyline ladies on a recent night out)

It has been really interesting to reflect on what has happened but also to think about how do I live a great story going forward? How are the choices that I make building into this story or am I always choosing the safe option, the easy way out? Would my choices and my life make the most boring book known to mankind or would there be some good stuff in there; some adventure, some conflict that was overcome, some struggle, some fantastic relationships?

 This slight shift in the way I think about my own life and decision making has really helped me to deal with some of the huge change and upheaval that have come in the past few months and as I have sought to live a great story courage has risen within me in a surprising way. 

When I wrote my last blog post 5 months ago (I really don’t know how it has been five months already!!) I wrote about feeling a call to be brave. It was such a strong sense at the time and the message was everywhere I looked. But when I wrote that blog post I honestly had no idea what that would look like at that point in my life. What would being brave at home with two little people actually mean as my life didn’t contain anything that required much bravery at all?

A week or two after I wrote the post, an opportunity came up for Joel workwise which would mean a new everything… New job for him, new house, new school for Jonty, new community. Not only this but this opportunity also meant that all of this would be temporary and that we would most likely be moving again next summer (which we were always due to be doing anyway). So it meant an additional house move, an additional new community, an additional mountain of hassle and admin tasks for me! It was quite honestly not that appealing a prospect!

This was not what I had in mind when I was feeling that I needed to be brave! I was thinking something a lot more low key and involving a lot less paperwork and time spent on hold sorting out bills and direct debits (and I now seriously wish the council would get something other than Vivaldi’s Four Seasons as their hold music!!) 

But this was an amazing opportunity and very quickly we realised we had a choice to make: Do we participate in the adventure or don’t we? Do we move with where we feel God calling us, embracing all the upheaval that it entails or do we stay put where it is safe and comfortable? 

At the end of the day, I don’t think that it was really all that much of a difficult decision because I don’t want to miss it. I don’t want to miss out on the adventure or the blessing or the calling because I was afraid or because I couldn’t be bothered with the hassle.  

I want to be part of the adventure. I want to live a great story with God!  

So, I put my big girl pants, got out my book of lists on and we just got on with it!

We moved just over a month ago, from the suburbs of London back in towards the city, which seems to surprise everyone we meet. We always get the same response, “Oh! Why have you done that? Everyone at your stage of life always moves out, not in!” But we have moved in because it felt like the right thing to do, because it was all part of the adventure!

We have been blessed with a wonderful house in a great spot (and I discovered recently that it is five doors down from the house where my great-great grandparents lived over 100 years ago! How strange!). Last week Jonty got into an amazing local school and he started Reception there on Friday. Joel began his new job on Monday and so the new season has well and truly begun.

(First day of school fun)

So, the story continues. The adventure continues and I am excited to be part of it!

It is my prayer for myself and for us all that we never get stuck, that we never pass the adventure over because we are afraid or we think it will be too hard or we can’t be bothered with the hassle of change.

Let’s embrace the adventure and may our lives always tell a great story! 


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What I learnt from a chain of paper people

Earlier today as I was looking for some felt tip pens in our craft cupboard a chain of cardboard people that had been shoved in the cupboard fell out and landed on the carpet. This little group of folks had been in a party bag that my son Jonty had been given some time ago and they came with loads of stickers to make their faces and clothes. They are so sweet and have been very useful in keeping him entertained more than once in hospital waiting rooms!

I am fond of these little people, which is why I think I couldn’t bring myself to put them in the recycling after Jonty finished decorating them. I like their funny little faces, how they are all different and how they are all holding hands. I think there is something lovely about them. They belong together. I think that is what makes them beautiful.

This evening a friend shared an article on Facebook. It was a writer’s reflection on the insular lives we lead in the Western world and her longing to do life together with others: to share cooking, caring for each other’s families, to laugh together, carry one another’s burdens and to be truly known. Reading this article I was reminded of the paper people on my carpet, all different but all joined together, made beautiful by their connectedness.

Last week I had the opportunity to go and speak to a group of women in another city. After the session I was chatting to one of the ladies and she expressed a sadness that she didn’t feel truly known by anyone who lived close by to her. She was longing for deeper relationships, to have people to laugh with, to cry with and just to do life with, to have people just understand what she was about. She was longing for a village.

And I know that her story is not an uncommon one. It is one that I can identify with too. We all crave a village, to be known, to be understood and loved for who we are.

But why is it that these villages, these deep yet easy relationships seem to be so rare? Why do we struggle to do life in a full-on, messy, joyful way with others and to let them in to see us with a sink full of dishes and dust on the mantle?

I often think back on our time in Cambridge with fondness. It’s a funny thing really as it was in many ways the most difficult time in our lives. But in other ways it was so beautiful. I think it was the time in my life when I really felt most deeply connected to a community. I felt like I was known and that I was part of a village that loved me.

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Are those things linked? My own vulnerability and brokenness coupled with feeling connected? I think they probably are in some ways. For me, it was probably when I realised that I couldn’t manage alone that I sought out others to help me to manage. They loved me with open hands and I loved them in return. Children were cared for, meals were shared and prayers were offered up for one another. Sometimes there were frustrations, but we got through them together. It was simple and without pretence and even in the midst of so much pain it was a beautiful thing.

I think that so often we are held back from reaching out and building this village by fear: fear of judgement, fear of not being perfect, fear of being vulnerable and opening ourselves up to be hurt, fear of rejection, fear that others will be too needy or we will be too needy, fear that connection will just take too much time.

But we can be so afraid that we end up lonely and isolated and this is no way to live.

I long to live in this beautiful village with its deep relationships built on love and kindness and I am realising that if we are to build this beautiful village we need to move past our fears. We need to be brave and stretch out a hand to the little paper person next to us not currently in our chain.

There is so much brokenness and pain in the world. There has never been more of a need for a village, for connectedness, for love, for carrying one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). It is what Jesus modelled with his disciples, they ate together and did life together and were truly known by one another.

What good is one little paper person alone? But in a group all holding hands – what a joy.

We belong to each other. Let’s be the ones to make the village – it can truly change the world.


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Humbled by extravagant love

Since baby Aaron arrived 8 weeks ago I have been totally overwhelmed by the kindness and outpouring of love that we have experienced. This kindness has taken many forms: well wishes on Facebook, cards and gifts in the post, two weeks of delicious meals made and given with love by friends from church, my mom who has cleaned our house every week (you’re amazing Mom!!), and friends who’ve had Jonty for playdates so I could rest.

In this new season I have been particularly humbled by the kindness and love shown to us by those who for whom it has cost something, and for whom showing that kindness and that love has been a sacrifice – the sleep-deprived new mums that lovingly cooked for us, the well wishes from cancer friends for whom a new baby is not currently, and may never be, an option, the amazingly generous gifts we have received (one of which was so extraordinary that I was totally overwhelmed and almost burst into tears in the middle of John Lewis on receiving it). The list goes on…

These kindnesses have been humbling and have meant so much.

The generosity of spirit that we have witnessed has been particularly touching as I know that sometimes celebrating with others can be hard. When we don’t get a job we want and a friend does, when another friend gets married and we remain single, when we are still unwell and others are off having adventures we could only dream of, celebrating others’ joy costs us something. In those times rejoicing with another means that we put our pain aside and turn our eyes away from ourselves to focus on and celebrate with our friends and that can hurt. A lot.

We can know in our head that joining in the celebration is a wonderful gift to give our friends but it can also absolutely feel like the hardest thing in the world to do.

I remember well the years after Jonty was born when the deepest desire of my heart was for another baby but it was categorically not a possibility for us. It was easy to celebrate friends’ new arrivals when Jonty was little but as he grew and a new baby remained impossibility for us, each new pregnancy announcement was a little more challenging to celebrate. It cost me something and sometimes it was easier than others. Sometimes I was better at joining in than others.

A few days ago I saw this quote on Instagram from author Bob Goff and it really struck me.

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In this season so many of the kindnesses given through sacrifice have felt like real acts of extravagant love and for so many of the givers I know that, even at a subconscious level, these acts have been their faith in action. They have been declarations of the goodness and kindness of God.

Romans 12:15 says rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those that mourn. These last few weeks and months have been such a wonderful season of rejoicing for us as we have seen a dream fulfilled and I am so grateful to have been joined in my rejoicing by so many others. But our season of rejoicing was preceded by a season of mourning, and I am equally thankful for those who joined us in that season and who didn’t shy away from it, but who were present with us through it.

Sometimes we feel like we don’t know how to rejoice with those who rejoice or to mourn with those who mourn, and so we don’t. We feel awkward, or sad about our own pain or guilty about our own happiness and so we steer clear. But, even though it can be hard, I encourage you to give it a go anyway. Even if it is messy or you feel awkward or you are sure you’ve said the wrong thing, offer extravagant love in the best way you know how.

When we choose to offer extravagant love to one another in either a time of rejoicing or a time of mourning, it is a powerful thing. It is a declaration of faith and in offering this love we make earth a little more like heaven. In offering extravagant love we have the opportunity reflect Jesus and the goodness and kindness of our Father God and his extravagant love for us.

That is powerful. Even if it is messy and awkward, it is important and it is something that I want to be part of!

Thank you to all of you who have shown us this extravagant love in both our seasons of rejoicing and of mourning. I am so humbled and so grateful.

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(A snap from today. I hope it makes you smile.)

 

 


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Hey baby!

Five weeks ago our lives once again changed forever as we welcomed another precious little boy into our family. Little Aaron Gabriel, our Christmas miracle baby arrived on 21st December! What an amazing gift he is to us!

To be honest, that he was a boy came as something of a surprise as I was absolutely convinced we were having a girl. I was so convinced that we were having a girl that I wasn’t the least bit fussed that we didn’t have any boys names picked out before going into hospital… seriously not even one. We didn’t even have a shortlist! After he was born we set ourselves a deadline to name him before his big brother arrived the following day as we thought it would be confusing to introduce 3-year old Jonty to a nameless brother! It’s amazing how a deadline focusses the mind and despite months of name debate we settled on Aaron Gabriel quite quickly.

Last week a friend told me that there was a Michael McIntyre sketch about the name Aaron so of course I had to look it up… In the clip he says that Aaron is the worst name as it is the name given to children of really lazy parents. They open the baby name book, see Aaron as the first name and say, “Yip, that will do!” close the baby name book and get on with their lives! Despite not having a name before he arrived I promise we gave it a bit more thought than that and didn’t just pick the first name we found!! 😉

Although I will spare you all the details of the birth, it was lovely (well as lovely as childbirth can be!!!) and a really redemptive experience following the trauma of Jonty’s arrival. There were so many answers to prayer, but most specifically, for me it was an experience free from fear which was a total gift.

Little Aaron arrived one day early, which was another answer to prayer as I was really hoping that he wouldn’t arrive on Christmas day… Being due on 22nd December people kept saying to me throughout my pregnancy, “Ooh, I bet the baby will come on Christmas day”, which to be honest I stopped finding amusing after perhaps the 10th time it was said to me (although I think I always managed to smile politely). When your Dad is a vicar as Joel is and always has to work on Christmas I thought sharing your birthday with Jesus might be a bit difficult growing up so was desperate for this little one to have his own day.

The last five weeks have gone by in a blur or Christmas and New Year, and all the busyness that goes with that season, late night/early morning feeds, moments of feeling total euphoria and moments feeling totally overwhelmed, Joel’s return to work, and now starting to figure out what normal looks like for us in this new chapter.

For me re-entering the realm of babies has been mostly lovely. We are so much more relaxed about everything this time around and I no longer sit holding a thermometer in the bath to check that it is the optimum temperature before popping him in (to be honest I can’t even remember what the optimum bath temperature is for a baby although I definitely knew last time around).

Already, having the opportunity to parent this little chap feels like a redemptive experience for me and so much of the trauma and the memories of pain and anxiety that I associate with the early days of Jonty’s life are beginning to be healed. In this I am reminded of the truth of Philippians 1:6 which says that he who begun a good work in you will carry it on to completion. For this, and the many other gifts that God has so graciously given us, I am so thankful and I know that this is all part of God is putting me back together one piece at a time.

Here’s a picture of our newest little guy taken yesterday. Happy (belated) new year to you all!

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