HOPE OVERFLOWING

stories of grace, hope and life beyond cancer


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His eye is on the sparrow

Yesterday morning I woke up with this phrase ringing in my ears, “His eye is on the sparrow.” I knew it was the lyric of a song, but I didn’t know the song (nor that it was part of Sister Act 2!) or any of the other lyrics and I certainly didn’t know why I woke up with these words in my mind. They were so clear as if someone had spoken them out loud.

We had a slow morning yesterday and so as the boys were happily playing I decided to take the opportunity to mull this phrase over a bit more by doodling it (and by playing multiple versions of it on YouTube). img_2728

As I got up off the floor after the boys had finished playing and I had finished my doodle I glanced out the window and was taken aback to see a small sparrow hopping around in our little, rain drenched back garden (I was so taken aback I didn’t even manage to get a photo). As I watching the little bird hopping about it felt as if the Lord was saying, “my eye is on the sparrow.”

As I wrote about a few posts back, we have gone through rather a lot of change lately. In addition to the major recent upheaval we know that there is more change and another move to come in the next few months. But despite knowing this we don’t know what this move will look like, when it will happen or where we are going.

Before our move two months ago I had been quite happy to live with all the uncertainty over our future but as the weeks have passed and there doesn’t seem to be any more certainty emerging I begun to start to allow myself to become unsettled and found myself having more and more niggling ‘what if?’ thoughts – what if this next step doesn’t happen in the way we had hoped? What if Joel ends up staying in his current job for an extra year? What if… A million different ‘what ifs’.

I looked up the scripture that the song is based on (it’s found in Matthew 6) and I was so struck by it. It’s about not worrying:

Stop being worried or anxious about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, as to what you will wear. Is life not more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father keeps feeding them. Are you not worth much more than they?

I was reminded that I don’t need to be afraid. I don’t need to know the next ten steps ahead and I don’t need to make a million plans of my own. Rather I simply need to be faithful in my here and now, in my every day. I need to take each step of this adventure trusting that the one whose eye is on the sparrow is on me too. What a gift!

I thought you might enjoy a bit of Sister Act 2 so here’s a link to the clip from the film where Lauryn Hill and Tanya Blount sing this song. I hope you know the truth of this song for yourself too today.

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The October Yay Mail! Project

Yesterday on a trip into town, whilst in my favourite art supply shop I saw a book of blank watercolour card postcards on the shelf. The front of each postcard is blank ready for painty creativity to be unleashed all over it and the back is laid out like the back of a standard postcard. I couldn’t resist and so without a second thought popped them in my basket.
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As soon as I bought them I started thinking about what I could paint on them and about all the possible people I could send them to and I got excited at the prospect of sending all this lovely post. I love to receive nice post! It is always such a joy to receive a little card or postcard or note and even if the message is simple it always makes me feel loved and valued that someone was thinking of me enough to bother to post me something. I wanted these postcards to make other people feel how I feel when I get special post.

As I was thinking about this I had this thought, “What if I sent someone a little bit of nice post each day for a month?” I think it would bless others but also would be a brilliant opportunity to think of others and seek to encourage someone every day, which would be a blessing to me as well. As I thought more about this I got excited – this sounded like a fun project to me!

I decided I would send a card or a postcard or maybe a very small gift to a different person each day with a positive message of encouragement for a month and as October is starting next week, I would do this for the month of October.

As I thought about this a bit more I wondered whether anyone else might also like to send nice post every day for a month and so the idea of the “October Yay Mail!” project was born.

I told Joel about my idea and he said it sounded like fun and that he was in too. Yay! Two of us!

So Joel and I will be sending nice post every day in October. But, I thought there might be others that might like to join is so I wanted to invite any of you who fancied joining us to do so! It’s going to be a fun project and I think will be such a fun way to bless and encourage those around us.

In order to participate, here’s what you need to do:
Post (hand post is fine) something nice, like a card, postcard or letter with a kind and encouraging message to a different person each day for the month of October.

That’s it! Very simple!

You can send your post to anyone but if you’re stuck for ideas I’ve thought of a few categories of people that you might like to surprise:
–          Someone you haven’t spoken to in more than one year
–          Someone from your childhood
–          Someone who lives in another country
–          Someone with whom you have a tricky relationship
–          A member of your extended family
–          Someone who played a significant role in your life at a formative time
–          Someone that you know is going through a tough time at the moment
–          Someone that you wish you saw more often
–          A neighbour
–          An ex-colleague

Perhaps try and send one to each of these if you can and see what happens.

There’s a week before October starts so maybe have a go at making a little list of who you might like to send some Yay Mail! to and start getting their addresses together.

If you want to get involved on social media I would love to hear how it’s going. If you have any stories from the project that you’d like to share please do drop me an email, comment on the blog, on the Facebook page or use the hashtag #Octoberyaymail.

I am so excited to tell 31 people how loved and valued they are, to encourage them in their every day and to give them some mail to say “Yay!” about and I hope you will join me too!


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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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On being brave and laughing in the face of logistics

You know those times in your life where almost every picture you look at, every word you read, your social media feeds and your conversations all seem to be loudly shouting the same message at you about your life and how you are living it?

I don’t get this all that often but when I do I try and sit up and take notice. I am currently in one of those times, where everywhere I turn I seem to be hearing the same message.

Be brave.

Since having Aaron three and a half months ago I have been feeling surprisingly restless. I think this may have something to do with the fact that whilst I was pregnant I didn’t make any plans for beyond his birth – seriously nothing! (Not even any holiday plans which is most unlike me as I do love a nice trip away somewhere.)

So when he arrived and we had waded through the mostly awake at night early weeks, and I had recovered from the birth and started to feel reasonably ok and not entirely exhausted all the time, I started to have this gnawing feeling of ‘now what’?

I tried to put it off telling myself that my baby was still so little and that I should focus on the boys and this all too short season with them, but still the restlessness remained. I just couldn’t shake it.

Don’t get me wrong, I love being a mum and I love being a stay-at-home mum in particular. It is a total joy and privilege to mother these two little dudes full-time and something that I wouldn’t swap for anything. But still I didn’t know what to do about this restlessness.

I was chatting to a friend about it a few weeks back and she said, “I get it. You are looking for something not to replace the season you are in now but to enhance it.”

That was a lightbulb moment for me. That was exactly what I was looking for. How could I be most authentically me and keep my dreams alive whilst embracing the precious and all too brief season of mothering little ones? How could I live the abundant life that Jesus spoke about in John 10:10 here and now.

When trying to figure out what steps I would need to take to be most me I met with two barriers.

  1. In order to do this I would need to be brave and actually articulate my dreams even just to myself (Yikes!).
  2. There was the small issue of logistics… when would this all actually happen?

Over the past week the name Annie Downs kept popping up on my social media channels. Eventually I thought I needed to look this lady up! It turns out Annie Downs is an author of several books, one of which was released this week (hence all the social media action). I had a mooch through her books on Amazon preview and the one that stood out for me was called, “Let’s all be brave. Living life with everything you have.”

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It seemed apt, so I bought it with every good intention of reading it (confession: I don’t read books nearly enough/ really at all). Within a couple of days I am half way through and I have already been so challenged about being brave, even if that bravery is only just enough to speak out my dreams.

Does anyone else find that hard or is it just me? I have always had these crazy, seemingly impossible dreams bubbling away under the surface that I find difficult to admit to myself, never mind anyone else. I guess because at some level I worry that if I admit to them then I might fail or others might laugh at me or whatever. I don’t know really. But whatever it is, it is hard to name these dreams.

So, possibly because he was tired of my restlessness or more probably just because he’s awesome, Joel organised a morning of childcare for me this week so that I could have some time to myself, a mini-retreat. I didn’t go anywhere, but I gave myself permission just to be, to have time to think and dream and pray.

And I decided to be brave and write down my dreams. I’m not ready to tell you all what they are but I wrote them in my journal and told Joel about it later. Silly as it may sound it was really liberating and I guess one way in which I can hold myself accountable in keeping my dreams alive even just in a small way.

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The second thing holding me back is logistics! Logistics in our house are complicated. I have a husband that works weird hours and a lot of evenings and the evening work in particular doesn’t have much of a discernible pattern. There are two kids to juggle, neither of whom is at school full-time yet. So logistics… Are complicated. I know I am not alone in this and that probably all of you face logistical challenges of one sort or another. But logistics can hold us back big time!

I watched a Shauna Niequest video on YouTube the other day that totally rocked my world (it is at the bottom of this post. Do yourself a favour and watch it.) It was called ‘What my mother taught me’ and was essentially about all this stuff… It was about embracing the season you are in whilst all the time keeping your dreams alive and pursuing them. In the video Shauna talks about not being limited by logistics and that spoke straight to my heart.

I was so struck by the idea that I could essentially and unintentionally park the dreams that I have for ten years or more just because it was logistically difficult to find time to pursue them. That idea really scared me as I want to live my best life now, with little ones around my ankles, in amidst the chaos of it all. For me dealing with these logistical challenges is probably going to look like getting up earlier before the kids to get stuff done, but I’d say to keep my dreams alive it is worth it (although I am the least morning person you’ll probably ever meet so I might not agree it’s worth it most mornings!!)

I am so excited about a new season of being brave and being more intentional about living my best life. I can already feel the restlessness lifting and that is a good place to be.

I’d really like to encourage you to take a moment to think about what dreams have been bubbling inside you that you have been too scared to even admit to yourself. Ignore the logistical challenges, the ‘what if I fail’ and ‘what will people think of me’ thoughts, you can deal with those later. Rather take one brave step and write those things down. Acknowledge them to yourself and maybe one or two of your people and see what happens next.

Let’s all be brave. Let’s not allow ourselves to be held back by fear or by logistics. Let’s live our best story and know abundant life here and now!


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There is always room at the table

Last week was my birthday! I turned 33. Woo hoo!! The day was mostly spent at home in quarantine as my big boy had chickenpox which we had only discovered the previous afternoon via a high fever and lone spot behind his right ear (in spite of him complaining in the morning that he had a bump on his back, which I informed him was just his spine and packed him off to nursery – oops!)

One of my birthday gifts from my sister and brother-in-law was a voucher to a local art supply shop. I was so thrilled to receive it and in the afternoon of my birthday my mum looked after the boys for a few hours so Joel and I could head into Kingston to run a few errands and of course to go and spend my art shop vouchers!!

I browsed and browsed for ages and finally settled on some watercolour brush pens (with a cartridge you fill with water and then use with paints), a set of 6 fine liners and a pad of watercolour paper.

As soon as I returned home I had buyer’s remorse about the watercolour brush pens. Were they actually any good or just an expensive gimmick? Surely a paintbrush would be as good? Should I just take them back and get something else?

The next day, I decided to give them a try and boy was I wrong! They are brilliant! I absolutely love them and I have been sitting at the dining room table doodling whatever pithy (or indeed not so pithy) quotes I can think of for the past week. What a joy!

This week as I was spending some quiet time alone I was reading a Bible story about a great banquet. After I read this story the phrase “there is always room at the table” came into my mind and so I doodled it (with one of my new fine liner pens!) in my journal.

As the week has passed and I have found myself sitting at my dining table, this phrase keeps coming into my mind… ‘there is ALWAYS room at the table’ and I have doodled it with my watercolour brush pens over and over thinking about its meaning.

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Last year I bought a 12 seater dining room table on a Facebook buying site for £10. It was the bargain of the year for me and even though it was in a pretty bad way I was so pleased with it. Over a weekend I sanded it, made a stencil then painstakingly stencilled a herringbone pattern onto it, stained it and varnished it and after it was complete I was absolutely over the moon with the results.

My table has a sort of uneven patina (as a result of the damage to the wood before I started) that I absolutely love. I love the herringbone pattern and how it looks like an inlay even though it is just paint. But most of all I love the size of the table. It is big! It can comfortably seat 12 although we have squeezed 14 round it once! The size is so wonderful because I love doing life with people around the table. There is something special about sharing a meal with others and I love welcoming people into my home. The size means that there is pretty much ALWAYS room at my table.

This got me thinking that even though practically this is the case I hope that people know that there is really ALWAYS room for them at my table. I want my table and my home to always be marked by love for others no matter who they are, by an open door and a warm welcome, and real life shared around the table. And I want my table to be a symbol for how there is ALWAYS room for us at God’s table, no matter who we are, whether we think we are worthy or not, he welcomes us in just as we are. He longs to do life with us and hang out round his table and that is a truly amazing thing.

Come and visit me sometime! I’d love to show you my dining room table and do life with you round it. There is always room.


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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.