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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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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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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Love it!

I have been thinking a lot about love over the past few days and in particular, how we show one another love and how we receive the love that others show us. I have been blessed with lots of love in my life. I am actually overwhelmed by all the love that is around me and I feel I am the luckiest girl ever for it!!

I have also realised how deep some of the love that is in me runs. I love my husband and my son so much that it almost hurts. I would do anything for them and I feel so blessed that they have been entrusted to me and that they are in my life. I know that the feeling is mutual too! But this love is, I suppose, obvious. One is supposed to love one’s family!

The love that has caught me almost by surprise is the love that has been shown to me by my friends. In this difficult season I have been blown away by the many different ways that friends have shown us love… They truly cover the full spectrum of Gary Chapman’s five love languages… The hugs, word of affirmation and love (which I find particularly difficult – I so admire people who can tell others that they love them with ease), the countless prayers by the hundreds of prayer warriors, the time that friends have spent with us, time spent looking after little man whilst we’ve been in hospital, the meals that friends have made, the cards and gifts that we have received and the list goes on…

This love, I have learnt, is God’s church in action. We have experienced community in a way that we have never known before and it is a beautiful thing and one for which I am very thankful.

In this time of weakness I have also learnt to receive the love that friends show. In our Western culture it is often difficult to receive love as this requires us to acknowledge that we are not self-sufficient and that perhaps we need other to help us… For many of us, myself included, this can be hard… But from my experience, learning to receive love is a lesson definitely worth learning! It is such a blessing!!

For me the love that we have been shown has been, and continues to be, an out working of Jesus’ command to love one another as He loved us (John 13:34-35) and it has certainly inspired me to show others the same kind of love with as much joyous abandon as we have been shown it!