The Heavy Weight of Expectation 

I’ve been thinking lately about the burden and joy of expectation. This is just my thoughts as they come, so take them as you will. 😊 Feel free to comment. 

I said to my friend on the way to a fun event in London recently that I think I sometimes ruin things by setting my expectations too high. Like we are going to a gig, or it’s nearly my birthday, or I have a trip home of a holiday coming up and I get so excited and look forward to it and romanticise it so much that sometimes the real thing is a bit of a let down. I normally still enjoy the thing, but I have this thought in the back of my head that I imagined it better.  Or I am dreading it being over. 

Christmas is a classic example of this. Now don’t get me wrong I LOVE Christmas mostly because I have 2 whole weeks with my amazing family. But the build up is so long; shops have the decor in already and it’s only October, I feel like I should have got gifts already, tickets need to be booked and my the time it comes around I’m already getting sad it’s nearly over and I have to wait again. And if the food isn’t perfect, people don’t love my gifts or I’m too tired or full of cold to enjoy it as much then I feel sad. 
We have this running comment when I visit home – my mum says “You’re always going and never coming”. And I feel like it’s true. I get home and I’m counting down the days until I have to leave because the time is so precious. We’ve been looking forward to it for so long even at Christmas it doesn’t seem like long enough. Life goes so quickly and we are bombarded with things to do, things we should be doing, fun things others are doing and it’s so hard to live in the present, enjoy the moment and not get too caught up in expectation. 

I think media (social and otherwise) has a huge share in the blame for unrealistic expectations. I’ve seen a bunch of articles lately about how because of unrealistic portrayal of women in media, cyber bullying etc girls as young as 7 are feeling inadequate about how they look and feel more judged and stressed than ever before. I’m sure it’s true for guys too. It’s been said before, but social media shows the ‘highlight reel’ of someone’s life instead of the ‘behind the scenes’ and we try and aspire to that even though it’s impossible. Beauty and life bloggers 24hour stream their lives and it seems perfect and amazing and we forget it’s heavily edited, hugely subsidised by ads and only a fraction of their lives. And we get depressed because our lives seem messy and broken and flawed in comparison. 

But comparison is the thief of joy. And expectation that is unrealistic will cripple us. 

Expectation can kill relationships. Friends, boyfriends or girlfriends, new aquantances, family and even with God. When I’m getting to know someone (especially of the opposite gender) and I like them, it’s so hard not to expect too much too quickly. I can see all my own flaws, everything that’s wrong with me, all the ways in which my life in complex. But with them I want them to be perfect. I want them to never let me down, never hurt me, never mock me, never doubt me, never dislike me. I want them to never show they are “too perfect” as I feel rubbish in comparison. But I don’t want them to be judgemental, mean or odd or stupid or anything I don’t like, even though I can be all those things. I imagine it to be perfect like a Jane Austin novel ending and then I do something foolish or they say something harsh and I am crushed. I don’t want to do anything to ruin my expectation and I certainly don’t want to let down theirs so I try and do everything I can to be my best. Or better than my best. But it’s not always realistic. 

I’d rather have a beautifully flawed relationship than a flawed ‘beautiful’ one. 

Elizabeth Bennet had it right;

I guess the ‘world’ wants us to be perfect right away, to always get it right, look amazing, be hilarious, be skinny, be well educated, be a high achiever, be fearless, be flawless. And I am sure we all agree that that expectation is exhausting and it’s not achievable for anyone. 

I read the other day about a new club in LA that will only let “attractive people” in and my heart broke. So many people have so much more to offer than how they look. Or even how smart they are, how much they can do, how many achievements they have.  For me; how kind they are, how compassionate, how genuine and generous they are is far more important. 

God is perfect. He will never do the wrong thing, his grace is for all and his love never ends. But even of God we expect too much. We think that means will never allow us suffer (even though his disciples did duh). We think he will give us everything we desire even if it’s not best for us. We get disappointed in Him and start not to trust Him. But that’s the real test of our expectation. Do we trust God? Do we trust in His grace and mercy despite the pain and suffering we see or endure. Do we believe in his unending love? Or do choose sin instead of grace and wallow in the sadness? This is a question for myself and a challenge for myself too!! How much do I expect of God. I can expect Him to always love me, always forgive me and for mercies new each day. But that doesn’t mean I can expect life to be always be rosy. I can’t expect to do whatever I want with no consequence. I can’t expect to live in a fallen world and not see the suffering of humankind hating and hurting itself. 

I have been doing the 1,000 gifts since I read the book and currently on about 1700. It’s so great to remind myself to be thankful for the really small things because it helps to put things in perspective and thank God for even the things I don’t feel like being thankful for. It reminds me to be grateful in all circumstances, which helps keep my expectations slightly more real. It’s so hard though. 

I want to have realistic expectations of myself. I pray for that today. To see myself as God does but not as the picture perfect world expects me to be. 

I want to have realistic expectations of my day to day and life. I pray for that today. To know it can be beautiful and blessed and amazing but also can be tricky and hard and messy. 

I want to have realistic expectations of my family, friends and people I’m getting to know. I pray for that today. To know that people can be amazing, they can love me, surprise me, do wonderful things, but also they can make mistakes, let me down and be human. 

I want to have realistic expectations of God. I pray for that today. To know he is perfect, always good, always loving and gives grace and mercy. But that He is also Just, omniscient and omnipotent. That if life doesn’t go as planned or I feel let down by God its that my expectations were unrealistic and the world is fallen, not that God has let me down. 

I pray those things for you too today. I pray we are thankful for all the good things we have, all the love God and others have given us, and that we level our expectations but also allow ourselves to be surprised if they are exceeded. 

Seasons 

Ecclesiastes 3: A Time for Everything 

There is a time for everything,

    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

2 a time to be born and a time to die,

    a time to plant and a time to uproot,

3 a time to kill and a time to heal,

    a time to tear down and a time to build,

4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,

    a time to mourn and a time to dance,

5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

6 a time to search and a time to give up,

    a time to keep and a time to throw away,

7 a time to tear and a time to mend,

    a time to be silent and a time to speak,

8 a time to love and a time to hate,

    a time for war and a time for peace.

I’ve been thinking loads lately about seasons. I’ve had this blog on my heart for a while, but perhaps with today’s #Brexit it’s been more on my mind as we enter into a new season as a country.

What is your favourite season?

Personally I like elements of them all. I love the promise of Spring with new flowers. I love Summer with the longer days. I love the fall colours and Autumn days as we head towards winter. And I adore Winter for the log fires and of course Christmas. But there’s also elements of them all that are hard and unappealing. Spring is so far from the next Christmas. Summer- hayfever and bees – need I say more. Autumn can be horrible weather and long days. Winter = being cold and catching colds. 

As the verses above say there is a season for everything. But if I had to choose I’d choose winter because even though it’s full of sickness it also has Christmas, which means 2 precious weeks with family. A hard season but a sub text of love and happiness.

These verses are often read at funerals to remind us that everything including human life is seasonal. Everything comes and goes. There’s a season for everything. But is that really reassuring when you are in the hard dark seasons of life? When it’s the times we’re dying, uprooting, killing, tearing down, weeping, mourning, giving up, throwing away, in silence, hating or at war, does it really make you feel better that it’s perhaps only a season, with a new one round the corner? For me, as with the seasons this is often changing. I find comfort in knowing that better times are to come and that I’ve had much worse seasons behind me. But it’s also worrying sometimes that the hard season could be long lasting, one another harder one ahead of me.

Look at your ‘frequently used’ emojis. What are they? Do they reflect your whole life? Just the last year? Or just a few weeks or seasons? Mine are so random. Lots of smileys and animals and the queen. And the sick face. But also a Lemon and a bee because for the last 2 days I’ve had Lemonade on repeat. My ‘frequently used’ phrase today would be Brexit but that’s certainly not the word that would sum up my year so far. I use the word lol all the time in text and tweets but I’m not always actually laughing out loud- not as much as I would want anyway.

This perhaps is more a sign of living authentically via social media but it also shows that what is true or takes precedent in one season, is not necessarily defining of me or my life as a whole.

Every January I end up blogging about my resolutions or goals. The past couple of years I’ve had certain words that are key for my in this season. This year I’m speaking the word ‘Revival’ over myself as it’s a word I need to see in my life. But even half way through this year I don’t feel I’m in a season of Revival and may not be for a few years.

Life is seasonal but even within the space of a week or 2 we can see Spring Summer Autumn and Winter.

I’ve had seasons in my life (particularly earlier years) that were really really hard. Times of weeping and mourning and giving up. At the moment I’m in a season of ill health and the trials that come with that. But I’ve also had beautiful seasons of grace, abundance, love, restoration and hope. And I know that those times could be ahead.

I see seasons around me of real pain for others. Seasons of war for our nations, fighting and killing. Seasons of fear and terrorism and pain. But I’ve also witnessed in my life time seasons of change, overcoming, revolution, progress, and hope. History is a tapestry of seasons. And I also know that ultimately in the future there will be no more tears…

For me it’s much more comforting to rest in and rely on the unchanging Lord. Today a lot of my friends have been posting Bible verses reminding us of God’s security, consistency. We have built our houses on the solid rock not the sand; which in times of trial or uncertainty is something to dwell on. Perhaps instead of worrying about the seasons; focusing on the hard ones and praying for a new one, I should set my eyes on the One who created the seasons, the One who holds it all in His hands and who tells me there is a time for everything.

“I am God. I change not”. Mal 3:5

#goals Speak Life Over Me; Revival

Even if my 2015 and all the years before were terrible and full of mistakes, I am still enough. I am still loved. I am still precious. I need to do away with the lies that tell me otherwise. I need to let go of fears that are holding me back. Funnily enough these are some of my ‘resolutions’ or #goals for 2016.

 

 Old, Alone, Fat, Ugly, Loser, Failure, Hopeless, Under-achiever, Broke, Un-Sexy, Talentless

Not good enough, not pretty enough, not smart enough, not Christian enough, not fit enough, not impacting enough, not whole enough, not worth enough.  Not enough.  Not enough.  Not enough

 

The world is quick to bombard us with messages that we need to ‘do better’ ‘look better’ and ‘be better’.

#squadgoals #lifegoals #relationshipgoals #eyebrowgoals #baegoals #hairgoals #goals #goals #goals

 

Each and every January gyms, dating websites, slimming worlds and travel agents, beauticians, clothes shops, language DVDs, and book sellers all cash in on this idea that we need to improve, to do better and to be better, each new year.

This notion in itself is not terrible and one I strive for when making my ‘resolutions’ each year.  I like the challenge and accountability of having things to strive for.  There’s something really great about wanting to better ourselves and push ourselves, but I just think that it shouldn’t be at the cost of dismissing all we have done before, or trashing ourselves for what we have not (or worse cannot) be or achieve.

I can never be someone I am not.  There are some things I am not capable of or called to do.  And that’s ok!

 

Even if my 2015 and all the years before were terrible and full of mistakes, I am still enough.  I am still loved.  I am still precious.  I need to do away with the lies that tell me otherwise.  I need to let go of fears that are holding me back.  Funnily enough these are some of my ‘resolutions’ or #goals for 2016.

 

I have this amazing 2016 planner by Horacio Printing and it begins with a ‘Bucket List’ (Dream, Listen, Plan, Pray).  Mine looks something like this:

  • REVIVAL; Physical, Spiritual, Emotional, Financial. Healthy and debt free. 

Whilst the last couple of years I believe God has spoken to me about Hope and Fortitude (overcoming) this year I really believe He is speaking life over me- Revival.  And I need to speak life over myself, not letting the ‘not good enough’ in. 

  • Rely more on Him, less on me. (Perhaps you can relate?  Can I get an Amen!)
  • Seeing the gifts in everything.
  • Develop my creativity and broaden my reading and mind.
  • Step further into my calling.
  • Travel
  • Invest in relationships!
  • Ethical purchasing.
  • Pray for world issues.
  • Love more freely. Forgive more often.
  • Seek freedom from the past.
  • Commit to a local Church
  • Blog and share my voice.
  • Journal and pray.

 

This amazing planner goes further than just a bucket list however, in setting goals, but also big dreams and refocusing for 2016.  Not just setting resolutions, but asking what are my passions and focuses, and what distractions are getting in the way?  This has been a game changer for me.

2015-12-16 23.06.33-1

 

It asks what do I need to let go of, who do I need to forgive and what fears are holding me back, at the start of each season.

What would you answer?  I found it liberating.

 

Rather than just a bucket list, goals, or resolutions on a tick list; what matters to you?  What do you want to see God change in your life?  What are you making more time for and what can you leave behind?  What word are you speaking over your life? Are you putting on pressure to live up to standards, or are you stepping into amazing plans and purposes?

 

I read a blog at the New Year from one of my favourite authors and activists Jamie Tworkowski who founded TWLOHA.  It is amazing and you should read it all but here’s a snippet (emphasis in bold mine)…

If you’re reading this, if there’s air in your lungs, then you’re alive today tonight right now.
And who can know how long we have here…
And is it a gift? Was it ever a gift? Did that ever feel true or could that one day feel true?
Are there things to fight to live for?
Moments and people. Weddings and children and all your different dreams.
Love.
Is your life more than just your own?
And are there broken things you were made to fight to fix?
Broken families, broken friends… Injustice.
Will you move for things that matter?

Wouldn’t it be nice if change took just a moment?
Wouldn’t it be nice if it were that easy?
Midnight and we’re new. Midnight and the past erased. Midnight and we’re free.

 

 

Isn’t that beautiful?!  It had a # on Twitter #welcometomidnight and people shared what they were leaving behind in 2015 and hoped to find in 2016.

 

Reading the # made me weep as it was so uplifting.  ‘Midnight and we’re new’…

 

I want to leave behind fear, guilt and doubt.  I want to fight for justice and ‘move for the things that matter’.  That’s what it’s all about.

 

Now 2015 was filled with some incredible times, precious moments with family and friends, trips, amazing events, great books, milestones at work, crafts, fun.  But as with every year there was some heartbreak, some tough times, some lessons learnt, some days not to be repeated and some struggles to overcome.  But I want to leave some of those things in 2015, leave behind the lie I am not enough and let God speak life over me; revival.

#justicegoals #lovegoals #givinggoals #gratitudegoals #mercygoals #revivalgoals #Godgoals

Smile…

I don’t think I am getting my point across too well. But I saw the sticker and it frustrated me. I know today is World Mental Health Day yet I’m not sure how much that will be spoken of in churches tomorrow. I know that there are 27 million plus people trapped in modern day slavery, yet so many don’t know. I know the world is in turmoil, and we grapple for solutions. I know millions live in abject poverty, whilst I live a life of comfort. I know there are thousands in children in the UK in the care system without a family, and so many homes closed to them. I know there is darkness and despair. So I just think that ’Smile Jesus loves you’ doesn’t always cut in.

A few (quite rushed) thoughts on World Mental Health Day…

So yesterday I noticed in our offices a yellow ‘Smile, Jesus loves you’ sticker.  I was reminded that I used to have that as a pencil sharpener in 6th form.  Along with my pencils, pens, notebooks, badges and anything else I could get covered in Bible verses or Christian mottos, I thought it was the best thing and of course the best form of evangelism.  Little did I know that it wasn’t the sharpener, the pen or even the ‘Mix CD’ I made for my RE teacher of 2003’s Christian hits (I know!) that would really show Jesus’ love, but my actions and my story.  I learned over the years that the fact I was smiling; the fact that I have joy in my heart despite all I had been through, that I was so full of God’s grace and forgiveness that it spread across my face- that was the true evangelism.

Don’t get me wrong, those things or similar can be a really great conversation starter and they were for me in 6th form.  In my RE class especially there was a girl who was Jehovah Witness and sometimes witch and a guy who was atheist but also dabbled in dark things and my teacher who used to be a Christian, had clearly been damaged by fundamentalism, yet cried when he recounted the story of him and a friend finding a dead lamb beside the road and being overwhelmed by Jesus’ sacrifice.  The pens and bracelets and mottos helped start dialogue that continued into class and we often had huge clashes, particularly myself and the atheist as he claimed I was ‘burning through him’ with my eyes when I looked at him, and he once stared he would ‘kill me and chop me up’.  Clearly a spiritual battle was taking place.  I was a brand new Christian, likely overzealous, but utterly convicted by the transformation that had taken place in my life.  I really believed I should smile because I knew for the first time that Jesus loved me!  I thought it was a great thing to have on my pencil sharpener!

I even managed to get ‘thrown out’ of my History class for smiling too much.  I was asked why I was grinning, to which I responded that I wasn’t grinning just smiling because I was happy, and like to smile.  My teacher told me to stop, which of course meant I couldn’t and when he thought I was making fun of him asked me to leave the class.  This was rather awkward to later explain to the head of 6th form when I was sat in the common room enjoying a cup of tea instead of enjoying my History lesson.  My RE teacher a while later said that he often ‘debated’ with my history teacher about the things I said about faith.  I to this day don’t know why he took my side, as he certainly didn’t agree with me about Jesus, but it seems he agreed enough to defend me against the History teacher.  Again- a spiritual battle.

This was at a time when I still didn’t fully realise what a spiritual battle was.  I didn’t know that Satan had been trying to claim me from the moment I was born, and often so nearly did.  I didn’t know that so much of the darkness that had surrounded my life and those closest to me; anxiety, poverty, depression, feelings of worthlessness, pain, addiction, self-injury, hopelessness, and fear were all things that should not surround you- part of the backdrop of the ultimate battle of good vs evil, life vs death, eternity vs darkness.  I had now claimed life and light but that didn’t mean that the darkness did not still try to overcome.

When I was younger, I forget how old perhaps around 13 or 14, one of my favourite songs was ‘smile’ by Michael Jackson.  I used to hear the lyrics and tears would float down my cheeks.  I know it’s pretty melancholy and perhaps dramatic to say but I used to think the song was actually speaking to me; I used to think each word was telling the story of my life and that it really would one day get better somehow even though I didn’t know how.

Songs like this, the pink blossom tree that sat in the garden on our estate and the love for my siblings willed me to push against the darkness. To not give up with life.

Smile, though your heart is aching

Smile, even though it’s breaking

When there are clouds in the sky

You’ll get by… 

If you smile

With your fear and sorrow

Smile and maybe tomorrow

You’ll find that life is still worthwhile

If you just…

Light up your face with gladness

Hide every trace of sadness

Although a tear may be ever so near

That’s the time you must keep on trying

Smile, what’s the use of crying

You’ll find that life is still worthwhile

If you just…

Smile, though your heart is aching

Smile, even though it’s breaking

When there are clouds in the sky

You’ll get by…

If you smile

Through your fear and sorrow

Smile and maybe tomorrow

You’ll find that life is still worthwhile

If you just smile…

That’s the time you must keep on trying

Smile, what’s the use of crying

You’ll find that life is still worthwhile

If you just smile

I found hope, as I have said before, when I was 15 and my life changed.  I entered into a new phase, with a new family and new revelation.  I was told again and again that I was loved, valued, precious and forgiven.  Not just through words, but more often in the way I was treated.  I (like the pens and sharpeners said) was told ‘Jesus loves me’, but more importantly I was shown it in small acts of love, in edification, in forgiveness when I didn’t deserve it and in being cared for and respected.

I was learning that I didn’t need to be afraid of death, which I had so feared so deeply from a young age when my half-brother had taken his own life and I cried myself to sleep thinking of the void.  I was learning that I shouldn’t have thoughts of throwing myself from a high window or into traffic to escape the numbing pain.  I was learning that I should give my body all that it needs and deserves.  I was learning that I had something unique and beautiful to offer the world. I was learning that I had a voice.  I was learning that it shouldn’t be so hard.  I was learning that community and time with people and opening yourself up is important.  I was learning that self-destruction won’t solve anything.  I was learning how to smile, and finding so many reasons to do so!

I wish however that someone had told me more clearly, that when you become a Christian, when you know outstanding grace, love acceptance and forgiveness, that the darkness does not disappear.  I mean, I do know this.  My life had seen the darkness that the world can offer and I knew that even though I had God’s love and protection, that the darkness was still there.  I was still in the battle.  But I think that’s why I kind of hate those pencil sharpeners, bumper stickers and bracelets sometimes.  They over simplify things.  Of course Jesus loves me and of course I should smile, but, because Jesus loves me doesn’t mean I will always be smiling.  Life is more complex than that.  In my opinion it doesn’t give enough gravity to the darkness that is real.

I kind of like Job for his honesty…

Job 9:

27 If I say, ‘I will forget my complaint,
    I will change my expression, and smile,’
28 I still dread all my sufferings,
    for I know you will not hold me innocent.
29 Since I am already found guilty,
    why should I struggle in vain?
30 Even if I washed myself with soap
    and my hands with cleansing powder,
31 you would plunge me into a slime pit
    so that even my clothes would detest me.

In the novel ‘The Fault in our Stars’ which grapples with teenage cancer, the male teen’s parents have a house full of ‘encouragements’.  Little notes and pillows and signs.  Things like ‘in the darkest days the Lord put the best people in your life’.  Whilst these things are true and in the novel encouraging to his parents, it doesn’t change the fact he has cancer.  Part of me feels like those kind of encouragements sometimes take away from acknowledging the reality and the pain.  It’s a fine balance of course as we don’t want to give into the darkness or allow it to swallow us (which I naturally sometimes do), but little cute words don’t always cut it.  In the novel, *spoiler alert!* the boy dies.  His girlfriend delivers a heart-breaking eulogy in a ‘pre funeral’ for him, but when it comes to the actual funeral she says an ‘encouragement’- something twee about laughter or rainbows.  She says that funerals are not for the dead but those left behind.  I think sometimes these stickers, pencil sharpeners or notes are more encouraging to Christians than they are to everyone else.  As I said I know its true Jesus loves me and I should smile, but this is not necessarily the message the world needs to hear.  It’s not always even the message the church needs to hear.  We need the ‘pre- funeral eulogy’.  The words that speak of hurt but also hope.

Christians suffer unthinkable tragedy; death, miscarriage, loss, and pain.  Christians suffer from mental illness.  Christians go through divorce.  Christians are broken and hurt and torn apart.  We don’t need cute messages or to be told to cheer up.  We shouldn’t have to expect to smile all the time.  We do need the truth and the miracle of the Gospel.  We do need powerful prayers and Bible verses spoken over us.  And we do have access to a peace that can pass understanding and a joy that can remain in the midst of unspeakable pain.

I don’t think I am getting my point across too well.  But I saw the sticker and it frustrated me.  I know today is World Mental Health Day yet I’m not sure how much that will be spoken of in churches tomorrow.  I know that there are 27 million plus people trapped in modern day slavery, yet so many don’t know.  I know the world is in turmoil, and we grapple for solutions.  I know millions live in abject poverty, whilst I live a life of comfort. I know there are thousands in children in the UK in the care system without a family, and so many homes closed to them.  I know there is darkness and despair.  So I just think that ’Smile Jesus loves you’ doesn’t always cut in.

We have a hope, a joy, and promises of new and better tomorrows.  We have so many reasons to smile, but that needs to come from a place of people being told the truth.  Not just to smile because you’re a Christian so you should be happy.  Not just to tell someone who doesn’t know Jesus that it will all be ok of they just follow him.  Not just to tell the world that Jesus and the Church have an answer to the suffering, but to actually live it.  We need to be the hands and feet of Jesus.  We need to give people a reason to smile.  We need to feed the poor, give homes to the orphans, set people free from slavery and do all we can to spread hope.

We need to tell people why we can still find joy and are able to smile even in the depth of suffering because of the hope we have found.  I need to tell people how I have learnt to smile rather than put it on a sticker.

I am thankful now that my story and my smile can bring hope to others.  I want people to know that God is good even when life isn’t.  I want them to see that it can get better, that life can turn around.  I want them to believe that people can be forces of good and miracles can happen.  I believe my life is a miracle.  I believe there are so many reasons to face tomorrow with a smile.  I know it can be hard and seem hopeless and hurt.  I know that having Jesus in your life doesn’t magically change that.  But salvation is, being delivered from dire situations or harm.  I know now this doesn’t mean we won’t get hurt.  I know it doesn’t mean we won’t face terrible situations and see unthinkable things.  But it does mean that we will survive them, we will get through, and we have hope and a future.  In the end of the story Jesus wins.  Love wins.  Hope wins.  That gives me reason to smile.  I hope it does you too.

“Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing'” -Mother Theresa

If you are suffering or struggling there is hope and there are places you can get help and people who can help you.  you are not alone…

I Hope We All Make It.

I hope we all thrive in a way where we remember our humanity, our connectedness; that we are all 99.9% the same DNA; that we are family, a body each with unique parts to play. That despite what someone may have done, where they live, how poor they are, what race, religion, gender or sexual orientation they are; that we are all worth loving, we all deserve hope, we all deserve life.

We all deserve to make it.

“I am not interested in competing with anyone.  I hope we all make it.”

I saw this quote a while ago and it resonated with me.  Every day I want to believe it.  Every day I struggle to put it into practice.

Life feels like one giant competition sometimes. Even in the beginning there is almost a competition for a life to begin.  In the womb we compete against many elements to survive.  We compete in school for grades or in sports- against others or our own expectations.  We compete for jobs against more or less experienced and talented people. We compete in relationships; for someone’s heart, to be loved.  Women and some religions or races compete for equality – equal pay or equal treatment.

In the very end, or at some point along the way, we compete to stay alive.  To exist.  To be.  To make it.

Yet somehow despite the strength of our own fight; the fight for acceptance, for love, to win, to accomplish, or to be the best leads to us dragging others down in the process.  Instead of relying on one another and working together, so often our instincts or our selfish nature kicks in and we are right back to Eden; it is all about ourselves, our own survival and the competition takes over.

But I hope we all make it.

We live in a society where if someone is doing well- they will be torn down.  My sisters and I often speak about Taylor Swift for example.  Of course she like anyone is flawed.  She’s dated a bit; some think she isn’t the best role model.  Some adore her.  Yet so many tear her apart.  She is shamed and slated and called out for every mistake that she makes.  People can’t seem to embrace or support others (especially women) when they do well.  Taylor for example gives away $10000 to schools and fans, she is honest and kind. She doesn’t just sing about sex (which many with very young fans may do).  Yet all people seem to talk about is her dating life or her outfits.  Even though she has had so much criticism and grown up from 15 in the public eye, she remains poised. She has lots of brilliant female friends including some from school and she is fiercely loyal. Yet, as she says “Haters gonna hate…”

We live in a world full of cyber bullying as well as face to face bullying.  And subtle, yet often public shaming.  Fat shaming, slut shaming, skinny shaming; on and on.  Women tearing each other apart.  For what? Because we don’t think they represent us as females well?  Because we are jealous?  Because they provide unrealistic expectations? Because they are all that we are not, or they are who fear we will become?


Comparison is the thief of joy.

Taylor Swift said (in this beautiful and inspiring speech she made when I saw her in Hyde Park in June) something that I know to be true but so often forget.  When we see someone else’s life, or life on social media, we are seeing a “highlight reel”.  We see our own “behind the scenes” every day.  We see our own mess, our own frustrations and failings.  We see our ‘no makeup’ selfies and our bloopers.  So how can we possibly compare that to someone else’s highlights?  We so often never see their behind the scenes.  If we did- the comparisons may not be that harsh.

Is this what makes us compete?  Because we are so often comparing our messy lives to someone else’s best bits instead of just trying to be our best?

“You are not the opinion of someone who doesn’t know you.  You are your own definition of beautiful and worthwhile.”  – Taylor Swift

Nobody gets more Grace from God than me.  Nobody deserves more love.  Nobody is entitled to more eternity than me.  Jesus died for me as much as he did anyone else.  So why all the comparisons?

I mean I get it!  It’s hard not to.  I do it all day every day.  She has the perfect (fill in the blank_) husband, body, job, face, health, family…..
But, really my only comparison should be to my best self shouldn’t it?  The best version of the person God has called me to be.  And perhaps, if anyone, to the man who walked with sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors and thieves.  The man who loved, poured out miracles, and forgave them when they spat on him, took his clothes and hung him on a tree.

Even then; even in the midst of all of his pain and rejection, Jesus hoped we would all make it.

He died so we would all make it.

I hope and pray we all make it.


The world can be so terrifying in the way people will destroy others for so many reasons, and because of so many theologies or mind-sets.  You only have to watch the news for 5 minutes to despair of human kind.  War.  Rape.  Torture.  Murder.  Slavery.  Mankind pitted against mankind.

ISIS ravaging humanity in Iraq and Syria.  A ‘theology of rape’ being promoted with girls as young as 12 being raped; bookmarked with ‘prayer’ and religious practice.

‘Black Lives Matter’ being screamed at the top of heartbroken lungs.  Whilst others profess ‘All Lives Matter’ in some ways undermining the outcry of injustice at all the ways black men and women have been robbed of their lives, their humanity.

We shouldn’t have to say ‘All Lives Matter’.  We shouldn’t have to cry ‘Black Lives Matter’.  We shouldn’t have to remind each other of our inherent value and worth.  We should all hope that we all make it.

The Nazi regime and the atrocities carried out is perhaps one of the most memorable and heart-breaking examples of some lives being deemed less important than others.  Jew.  Black.  Old.  Disabled.  Not worthy even of life.

Yet today it is still the case daily- woman, black, gay, other religion, other nationality, other caste, less intelligent, criminal; seen as less human, less worthy, less important, less worth making it.

Surely there is enough pain in the world with natural disaster and disease without us adding to it with our pain, anger, jealousy and hatred?  I know so much of this come from despair, desperation, or hopelessness.  Perhaps you call it sin?

But what if we stopped competing? Stopped seeing others as less than ourselves even in our small spheres of influence?


Somehow despite all the horror and despite all the loss I still hope.  I am not interested in comparisons or competitions.  I really do hope we all make it.

Those who have treated me badly- I hope you make it.

Those that let me down, didn’t protect me, or caused me harm- I hope you make it.

Those that I damaged, lied to, hurt or broke along my way- I hope you make it.

Those whom I’ve compared myself to, been jealous of- I hope you make it.

Those who have done unspeakable wrong- I hope you make it.

Those who scream silence, in pain or fear- I hope you make it.

Those who are totally alone- I hope you make it.

Those for whom there seems no way out- I hope you make it.

More than that- I hope you don’t just make it.  I hope you don’t just survive.  I hope and pray we all thrive.

I hope we all thrive in a way that doesn’t mean stepping on another to get where we want to be.  I hope we all thrive in a way that builds others up with us as we go along.  I hope we all thrive in a way that we don’t have to put someone down, in order to go up.  I hope we all thrive in a way that we will stop and cry out when we see others’ not making it.

I hope we all thrive by stepping out and helping, rescuing, carrying, petitioning and advocating for all those around us who are not making it.

I hope we all thrive in a way where we remember our humanity, our connectedness; that we are all 99.9% the same DNA; that we are family, a body each with unique parts to play. That despite what someone may have done, where they live, how poor they are, what race, religion, gender or sexual orientation they are; that we are all worth loving, we all deserve hope, we all deserve life.

We all deserve to make it. 

I am not interested in competing.  I hope we all make it.  I must keep reminding myself of this and live it out in my life today even in the smallest ways.

“When life gives you dirt- grow flowers”.

Those times, events or even years that were so filthy you couldn’t see beyond it. Perhaps you felt like you were being buried alive; unable to breathe as soil filled your lungs. I certainly know that feeling. Moments where you don’t think you can take another breath because the utter filth of the world, the circumstance, the person, the sin or the pain is crushing your chest cavity.

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Sometimes Often, life gives us dirt; a little pot of stinky mud, or a huge clump of soil thrown in your face.  A missed opportunity.  A crushing blow.  A devastating loss.  A life changing event.  A huge disappointment.  Pain, sickness, fear, debt, loneliness, loss, or death.

I feel like (without trying to engage in self-pity) that parts of my life have been full to the brim of dirt.  I’m certain that every single person reading this is thinking of their ‘dirt season’.

Those times, events or even years that were so filthy you couldn’t see beyond it.  Perhaps you felt like you were being buried alive; unable to breathe as soil filled your lungs.  I certainly know that feeling.  Moments where you don’t think you can take another breath because the utter filth of the world, the circumstance, the person, the sin or the pain is crushing your chest cavity.

Maybe for you it’s more just a thin layer of grime?  Something that has always, as long as you can remember just blurred your view and you have never been able to wash clean?

I can think of a lot of those moments.  Some from when I was very young, some more recent.  Times when I couldn’t seem to grasp the beauty of the world or see any good, grace, light or truth because all I could see was the dirt.  Times when people hurt me deeply, or life just let me down.  Times when death came calling; fear was overwhelming.  Times when loneliness was crippling.  More recently, times when sickness and weakness would not subside.

BUT, I adore the title quote.  I’m not sure who first said it, but I often cling to it, and hope you can too.  It’s a difficult and costly concept, but one that surely will bring joy?  When life gives you dirt- grow some flowers.

It’s a task that in some cases is far easier than others.  It’s one that in the past few months I’ve really been trying to put into practice.  Sickness has stripped me of some opportunities, and caused me to feel lacking.  So what do I do?  Do I drown in it?  Roll around in the dirt and know I can’t become clean again?  Or do I take that dirt and try and grow something beautiful in it?  I try to find seedlings to put in the dirt; more time to spend with God, more chances to take delight in much smaller joys, more time to relax and look to the future.  Of course some days I just wallow in it.  I can’t see how the dirt can possibly ever be anything other than darkness.  But occasionally, I really invest in trying to turn things around; I plant my seeds and in time I see buds, then flowers beginning to bloom.

Over the years I have seen flowers grown from what I could only before see as pure filth.  Life events that I once thought would be the end of me, particularly losses and a huge upheaval age 15, have blossomed into beautiful things.  My mess has become my message.  My tests have become my testimony.  I now can describe things that once brought me immediately to tears, with a real conviction that good has actually eventually come from it.

But what about the times you are deep in it.  What about ‘those things’ that you think could never be redeemed? …

… Grace

… Grace upon Grace


“To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for his own glory.” Isaiah 61:3

We can’t do this.  We can’t cause the seedlings in the dirt to flower.  We can’t pluck the seeds from thin air.  But with God’s grace things can be restored, renewed and re born.

I’m currently reading Ann Voskamp’s ‘One Thousand Gifts’.  It is full of life affirming truth.  She asks the questions I ask myself daily “What in a world of certain loss, is grace?”

“God is always good and I am always loved. All is grace only because all can transfigure.”

-Everything is grace because everything has the potential to be transformed.  Isn’t that amazing?

You may still not believe that any flowers can come from your dirt.  That the shame, loss, grief, or agony is just too much.  That if people really knew how bad it was they could never see flowers in it.  I know many times I’ve felt that way.  I don’t believe for one second that God gives us these things as a test of our faith, or that the darkness comes from Him.  But I do believe in beauty from ashes, in flowers from dirt.  I do believe in grace.  That He can take anything and turn it to a thing that can bring hope and redemption.

When you’re still stuck in the mud and you see no way out, I recommend 2 things from my reading and own experience.  When you’ve planted your seeds but there isn’t a flower in sight:

Gratitude and Worship

Being grateful for even the rubbish things or the tiny insignificant things, or the things that pass us by can open us up to so much joy.  I’ve blogged about this before, how simply the attitude of gratitude can change your heart.  If nothing else we can be grateful that we have been allowed to live another day!

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Worshipping God for who He is, and for all He has done in the past, and for nothing else than the assurance of your salvation, that one day there will be no more tears; in the midst of your darkest times, is an extremely powerful thing.

As Ann Voskamp says “…isn’t my internal circuitry wired to seek out something worthy of worship?  Every moment that I live, I live bowed to something.  And if I don’t see God, I’ll bow down before something else.”

Don’t bow to the dirt.

Any beauty, good, love, truth, and joy in the world is all a mere reflection of God.  When we cannot see that through the dirt, still it strengthens our hearts to worship and praise Him for it until we do.  Until the miracle comes.

“Even when it makes no sense to sing; louder then I’ll sing Your praise” (Even when it Hurts Hillsong United, Empires)

“That’s” What Makes You Beautiful

What is beauty? What is “that thing” that makes someone beautiful? Is beauty really in the eye of the beholder? Does a beautiful heart make a beautiful person?

For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.
– Audrey Hepburn

 

Something that’s been on my mind lately, as well as all the other random thoughts whizzing around my head, is what makes someone ‘beautiful’?  I love the above quote, and in theory try and think of beauty as far beyond skin deep.  Yet in an often superficial and shallow world, beauty as defined by the ‘perfect face’ or ‘perfect body’ can be rammed down our throats.  It’s a subject that women especially have approached again and again, and for Christian women it can be a cause of real conflict- the battle between knowing that God looks at our heart, and that ‘beauty soon fades’ but living in a society where surface beauty is all too glorified, and that God has made us in His image, just as we are.

I’m going to try and be real, and this is more a collection of thoughts than a defined stance.  I would love your thoughts, feedback and conversation on this.  What is beauty? What is “that thing” that makes someone beautiful?  Is beauty really in the eye of the beholder?  Does a beautiful heart make a beautiful person?

The UK beauty industry is worth over £17 billion.  ‘Zoella’ a British beauty blogger has 7,611,899 subscribed to her YouTube channel.  Bethany Mota her US counterpart has 8,414,326.  Now whilst both do admittedly talk about lots of subjects and tackle anxiety, bullying and many issues young women value advice on, the main focus of both vlogs are beauty and lifestyle.

What is it about outward beauty that causes millions to follow these girls for tips?  Is it more about them being approachable and relatable and the insight into their lives than the beauty tips they offer?  I don’t know? I do know that women often love fashion, beauty and magazines and especially things that give you practical advice on ‘how to look and feel great’.  I know I am drawn to beautiful things, beautiful people, have boards on Pinterest solely of lovely faces, manicures, clothing and accessories.  Yet isn’t beauty so much more than that?

So, the honest part…  For many years I really struggled with my body and really who I was.  My birth mother had anorexia for a lot of my life, and without really knowing it I think her relationship with food caused me to have issues myself.  When I was fostered age 15 it took a while to not only get out of bad habits of just being ‘fussy’ with food, but to also recognise the value in it, and really enjoy it.  The consequence being I put on quite a bit of weight, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

I remember vividly in the very early days before we were about to go on a holiday to Wales, my mum knew I needed some new clothes including more summer appropriate outfits.  She took me to a shop, convincing me to try on a knee length denim skirt.  And I cried…

I cried not because I was a ‘prude’ offended by showing skin, or that I didn’t like it, but more that I was so confused and angered with my own body, that the sight of parts normally kept covered caused me distress.  I eventually got the skirt as well as 2 tops the same style one in blue and one pink, because again knowing the joy or pleasure in clothing beyond practicality was something alien to me.  For years I had slicked back my curly hair, having no clue how to tame it; now encouraged to let it fall free.  For years I had been embarrassed by my milk white skin; now showing it a little more.  For years I had hated my ski slope nose and the moles above my mouth; now a little more at ease with them.

Every woman and man I’m sure knows that feeling.  Each of us have parts of our body that are not our friends, which we sometimes even hate.  For me; my teeth, my chin, my thighs and tummy that bear stretch marks from sudden weight gain, and my old nemesis cellulite.  Oh and body hair in general.   Sometimes our discomfort makes sense, sometimes it’s totally illogical.

 

“Is ‘fat’ really the worst thing a human being can be? Is ‘fat’ worse than ‘vindictive’, ‘jealous’, ‘shallow’, ‘vain’, ‘boring’ or ‘cruel’? Not to me.”

-J.K Rowling

I know women who have young babies, for whom being clean and clothed is important, but little beyond that.  Are they not radiant?  Yet sometimes the media shoves images in our face of pregnant women in 6 inch heels, mum’s who’ve immediately lost all the ‘baby weight’, or women stepping out with their babies with the perfect outfit, perfect manicure, and perfect blow dried hair.

I know women who are battling physical and mental health problems who do well to be up and dressed, all the while bombarded with these images of ‘regular’ women strutting around like catwalk models.  Is beauty not so much more than that?

In recent years most of the time I don’t have the energy or the money to look or feel my best.  I often struggle just to get out of my pj’s and out the house, so ‘looking great’ isn’t top priority.  Yet it’s always in the back of my mind; if I could just do this, if I just changed that.

I am at my worst before social gatherings.  I recently spent hours before a friend’s wedding freaking out about my hair, makeup and clothing because I knew photos would be taken and many people would be there.  My absolute worst often comes before Church.  Hours are spent fixing my hair, applying makeup when most ‘work days’ I don’t bother, and changing several times to find the right outfit.  Why?  If I’m honest with myself the presence of guys is always a factor, but also other beautiful, confident, preened and ‘perfect’ women can be a bigger battle to face.  I find it so sad that in Church, in the company of friends or before some of my most exciting outings is when I feel most unhappy, most fat, and most ugly.  That isn’t right.

Isn’t beauty just being the best possible version of yourself?  The one who makes their world more beautiful?  The one who loves and gives, is kind and generous?  Am I not beautiful enough ‘as I am’ because of my soul, my spirit, my heart?

Now don’t get me wrong- I think we all want to look and feel our best.  It’s great if we want to live healthier, be cleanly and groomed.  But it can often spiral so far beyond this can’t it?  When does wanting to look good turn into a soul shredding obsession with ‘fixing’ all our flaws?

“Perfection is the disease of a nation, it’s the soul that needs the surgery” – Beyonce, Pretty Hurts

 

You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you. – Song of Songs 4:7

 

 

The Bible is full of amazing truth as to the true value of a person.  The ‘woman of noble character’ in Proverbs 31 is not talked about in terms of her appearance and beauty, but her character, work, wisdom and compassion for the poor.  And above all her love for God.

30: Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

1 Peter 3 (MSG)

What matters is not your outer appearance—the styling of your hair, the jewellery you wear, the cut of your clothes—but your inner disposition.

4-6 Cultivate inner beauty, the gentle, gracious kind that God delights in. The holy women of old were beautiful before God that way

This is such a hard lesson to really live.  As I said earlier, I think there is a war waging amongst Christian women especially between the truth we are told from our loving Father; that he loves us just as we are and that he looks to our heart, our character and our love, and between what the world and sometimes even the Church perpetuates that we are loved based on our beauty, our brains or our skills.  How can we be our best, love our bodies, have confidence in ourselves and everything physical God has given us, yet not get swept into a frenzy of idolising beauty, sexy, fashion, clothing, makeup, and appearance.  It is a lesson I think we learn again new each day, and one that we may never perfect, but I for one want to strive for it.

I want to celebrate beauty and brains, smart and sexy, confidence and success but also celebrate love and compassion, generosity and kindness, introverts and hard workers, people with physical or mental disabilities being their best, innovation and change, fortitude and favour.

I want to celebrate and shine a light on those whose beauty comes from overcoming, from struggles and falling down but managing to get back up.  Those whose beauty comes from strength in times of terrible adversity, from healing scars, and pushing through.  Those whose beauty comes from their fighting for freedom, for justice, for love and equality.  Those whose beauty comes from living through the daily grind and being the best they can be.  Those whose beauty comes from putting others before themselves and using their life to help others.

I know and see so many BEAUTIFUL men and women.  You are unlikely to see their faces plastered across magazines or on TV, and you won’t see them walking the catwalks.  But their legacies will live on, their words will be passed down generations and the effects of their beautiful lives will live on long after those magazine images have faded.

Why not comment or share with someone today who is truly beautiful.

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

-Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

This is Living Now

What are you passionate about? What can you invest more of your life in today? Let’s try and do away with the irrelevant, the worry, the time wasting, and the mundane and invest our love and time in the things that matter most.

There’s this lovely little elderly lady who I see almost every day getting on and off my bus.  She looks so sweet; in a pale pink coat down to her knees.  Soft grey-blonde hair perfectly pinned up.  A typical sweet old lady you may think.  Yet her shoulders are so completely hunched so that she literally faces down to the floor.

I watch her and think.  I wonder about the kind of life she used to lead.  Perhaps long ago she was a dancer or athlete.  Maybe an artist, a mother, a teacher, who knows? Perhaps on the inside she is still bubbling with life and vitality, but restricted now by her earthly body.  And I wonder some more.  How does she pin her hair so perfectly each day?  Does she have family or people who care for her?

And then I wonder further.  Am I really living now?  Me, sat on this bus, listening to music or trying to put on my mascara without jabbing myself in the eye.  Am I making the most of every breath, of every moment, of every day that I have in my currently rather strong and healthy body?  Am I grateful enough that I can walk upright and see life in all its beauty?

Now, I do struggle with my health, and with my body.  Sometimes I could scream with frustration as my desire to do all that God has called me to do and my heart and passion for life has a full on, out right battle with my body, just wanting to lie down and rest.

And I wonder is this how people feel as they get older and their body starts to fail them?  Do they still feel like a child or teen trapped in the body of an older lady or man? Now please don’t get me wrong; I know that elderly people can be living life to the full.  I know an 83 year old lady who when it snowed over Christmas jumped right on to a sledge.

But there is just so much isn’t there that can stop us ‘living now’!?  Debt, worry, age, infirmity, business, work, travel, kids, cleaning, admin, life, life, life.  Sometimes life itself and the daily grind can limit the way we truly live.

And what is ‘living now’.  Is it travelling around the world, bungee jumping, perfecting our studies, marital bliss, earning millions, finding the perfect job, being the perfect person, fame, power, or more? How do we know when we are truly ‘living now’?

My friend showed me a video yesterday that is really powerful.

It got me thinking once again about the rapidity and fragility of life.

“How much time have you spent worrying instead of doing what you love? What if you only had one more day? What are you going to do today?”

From when I was young and my half-brother committed suicide, I felt like I understood the delicacy of life as well as most people.  I had times, when life was certainly fragile, certainly on a thread.  When I was in a serious car accident a few years ago I thought of nothing but death for days (morbid but honest).

Until I became a Christian and felt safe in eternity (and even sometimes afterwards) the thought of death used to terrify me.  Only the other night I lay awake thinking of the forever nothing, the darkness, the ‘no more’ and had to remind myself of the eternity, the light, the Lord, the forever worship.

Yet even with an eternal future secured, surely we must be living now.  Today.

John 10:10 Amplified Bible says:

10 The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows).

The Message Bible describes it as “real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.

What does this real, full, overflowing, life of yours that you dream of look like?

I know as well as anyone that life isn’t all you always hope or dream it will be.  But our lives are intended for His glory.

Yesterday I attended a vision day for an amazing online community of people striving for Jesus (dltcommunity.com/).  My friend Luke spoke about Ephesians 1 and highlighted v11-12 (emphasis mine):

11-12 It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.  
Luke spoke of how society calls us to be popular, rich, have as many followers as possible, the ‘perfect life’.  But Ephesians tells us that it is in Christ alone that we find out who we are, and what we are living for so we can be living now.  So we can have glorious living.

What are you living for?  What defines you currently?  This very day what do you get out of bed for? What are you putting your time, energy, money, heart and life into? What are you living now for?

There is an amazing ‘Mumford and Sons song lyric’ – “Where you invest your love, you invest your life”.

Where do you invest your love?

The busier I get, when I’ve been feeling really unwell and lay in bed all day watching Netflix, and as I get older I find I am challenged by this more and more.  Where am I investing my precious time and love and life?

I would say I have a few main passions.

-I am passionate about justice.  I long to see the slaves of today set free, the hungry fed, the captives in every sense of the word released, the vulnerable protected and cared for, lives saved, equality for all, and a better world (quite a big ask).

-I am passionate about family.  I am passionate about my family but also the church and beyond embracing loving fellowship.  And above all, those without family; orphans, widows, those in the care system, the lonely or the lost, set in families.

Psalm 68:6 NLT- God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.

– I am passionate about seeing broken shattered hearts and lives fully and completely restored by Jesus.

-I am passionate about Jesus and seeing more people saved by his unending grace and love.  I believe in a God who can see my passions fulfilled because my heart breaks for what breaks His.

What are you passionate about?  What can you invest more of your life in today?  Let’s try and do away with the irrelevant, the worry, the time wasting, and the mundane and invest our love and time in the things that matter most.

You lead the way, God You’re right beside me
In Your love I’m complete
There’s nothing like living with You
This life You created I choose
See the sun now bursting through the clouds
Black and white turn to colour all around
All is new, in the Saviour I am found
This is living now

‘This is Living Now’ Hillsong Young and Free

Every Day is a Blessing

“Happy moments – those moments when you feel fully alive – certainly exist.  They swim by us every day like shining silver fish waiting to be caught”.  – Alice Steinback

So, it’s 2015 already which I find a little terrifying.  I haven’t posted a blog for well over a year for many reasons, but the New Year seems a good day to check in and reflect on all that’s been happening.

As always, a little naively perhaps I enter into the New Year with a new sense of optimism and gratitude for all that has happened.

I love sharing the highlights of the year gone by, sharing my ‘Resolutions’ and goals for 2015, and as always hope that this year I will blog a little more.

So here are some of the highlights from 2014.  Whilst in some ways it has been a difficult year health, finance wise or sometimes personally, I yet again still find I have so so much to be thankful for!!!

  • Continuing to manage my health and work situation. I’m so blessed to have a job I really love.
  • This year I have read lots more than I have for a few years. I’ve also been practicing my Ukulele.
  • I kept a journal all 2014, which was really rewarding and a discipline.
  • My family life continues to grow and amaze me and I am so thankful to have such an incredible and loving family.
  • Things with ‘Restored for such a time as this’ continue to develop and I am excited for what the future holds with it. http://www.restoredfor.org.uk/
  • I am so thankful for every day small blessings. Those lovely ‘silver fish’.
  • My small involvement in the ‘Home for Good’ campaign especially at the beginning of the year in admin/ social media was a real blessing to me and it’s amazing to see it become a charity and watch God working through them.
  • Feb 9th– Seeing Taylor Swift at the O2 with my bestie was awesome.
  • My 27th Birthday celebrations were really fun with friends and games at home.
  • 18th March- My trip home to see my amazing family was brilliant including seeing my family grow and celebrating a birthday.
  • Doing the ‘100 Happy Days’ challenge on Instagram even when I wasn’t having the best day really helped me to focus on the good.
  • 12th April- A trip to Chester to see some incredible friends and their amazing babies was so awesome!
  • 14th April was another amazing time at home with tons of fun including baby Ducks!
  • 1st-3rd May Getting to go to Colour Conference after being blessed with a ticket and train fair was incredible! I had the best time and really learnt lots and grew close to God.
  • 23-25th may ‘Glamping’ at Big Church Weekend was amazing. We experienced worship, sunshine, rain, and fellowship.
  • Starting my Pilates class was fab and a great way to help with a former ‘resolution’ of trying to get more fit.
  • My holiday home in June was brilliant especially seeing my family’s business grow.
  • Giving away my ‘Giving Key’ and all that it involved including seeing it passed on to someone at IJM was really amazing!  http://www.thegivingkeys.com/blogs/news/15666580-fuel-others-faith
  • Quality time with amazing friends.
  • Watching Hillsong Conference online and the preach at G-Live ❤
  • Watching lots of brilliant TV.
  • My lovely friends Hen Party and their incredible wedding which was such a joy.
  • A trip home in August which involved games, an ice cream parlour, a new baby donkey, shopping and lots of fun.
  • Sept 6th a lovely 3 course meal and entertainment at a hotel with my bestie.
  • Reading loads of amazing books including ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ The Hunger Games series again and more.
  • In October winning tickets to a pre-release fan screening of the new Nicholas Sparks film. We got goodies and James Marsden showed up which was cool.
  • Sharing about Restored at the A21 A-Teams gathering was a real blessing in October.
  • Celebrating Compassion UK’s 15 year anniversary, seeing us reach 95,000 children sponsored, our ‘Vision Day’ and the work Christmas party were all highlights.
  • Taking part on the A21 Campaign ‘Walk for Freedom’ across London was amazing!!
  • Another trip home in November was great!
  • 4th December collecting 6 bags full of toiletries for A21 girls and UK shelters, praying and writing Christmas cards was a special day for me.
  • Christmas at home 2014, with parties, food, games, church, family, friends, animals, snow, mince pies and an amazing NYE Tudor Mystery party was an incredible time!!

 

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder” -G.K Chesterton.

 

2015-01-04 17.52.13

 

I have always many ‘Resolutions’ for the New Year.  So many of them I don’t come close to achieving, but I like to set the goals anyway and see how far I’ve come.  These are some of my hopes for 2015:

  • To love my body and help it heal and be healthy.  (I am starting a new Pilates class closer to home which may help).
  • To read even more including all of the Jane Austin novels and the Bible in a year.
  • To be grateful and try and cherish every moment, even the hard ones and they make me thankful for the good.
  • To try and be more creative, practice my Ukulele more and develop my creativity.
  • To work hard and dedicate myself to my calling at my workplace.
  • To manage my finances better.
  • To invest more in my relationships including giving more time, more of myself, and visiting friends more.
  • To be more ethical in my purchases and lifestyle where possible. Continue to expand Fair Trade purchases.
  • To be more aware in current affairs and world issues and more active in praying/ helping.
  • To focus on a develop my passions and callings.
  • Learn more.
  • Love more!

I think it’s so easy to feel like we are never doing enough or being the best that we can be.  I certainly feel that daily.  But I am so grateful for all that I have, the opportunities and spheres of influence, the passions and talents I have, and above all the amazing God I love and serve who has given me a heart for justice.

I aim to make 2015 count.  To be thankful.  To be loving.  To fight for justice.  Or if nothing else to fail trying to make the world a better place for 2016.

An Attitude of Gratitude…

“Write your sad times in sand; Write your good times in stone.”  – George Bernard Shaw

So first of all I have to massively apologise for not having blogged in so long (Since October 2012!!)  EPIC FAIL.  Blogging more was on my ‘New Years’ resolutions, but as with many of them I have failed miserably.  I also haven’t done so well at reading my Bible, or many other things.

But as the above quote so beautifully says, today I am going to focus on the positives.  My key desire is to love God, know Him more and live justly for Him.  Whilst I may feel like I’m failing day to day at many of the things I want to do, I feel comforted at least that I am still striving for this.

2012 was a year of massive highs and lows for me.  I had goals to get more involved in Church; I ended up starting serving on kids team then stopped, and hardly make it to small group.  I wanted to ‘get fit’: I ended up finally being diagnosed with CFS/ ME and slowly have been coming to terms with that.  I wanted to spend more time with my friends doing fun things; I ended up spending more alone time than ever and bailing on a lot of events I was longing to go to, but also spending some incredible quality time with amazing friends.  I wanted to blog more and read my Bible in a year; I ended up blogging quite a lot in 2012 and through it finding release for some of the things going on in my head.  The Bible reading however I struggled with, partly due to tiredness, mostly I think due to frustration with life.  I wanted to develop in my work and glorify God more in it; I ended up changing my contract to a lower role and less days due to my health.  I wanted to gain financial stability; I ended up worse off than ever due to less work.

I wanted to know the plans God has for me; I am currently more confused than ever about what my future holds.

I wanted to know God more… To rely on Him more… A risky prayer if ever there was one.

Yet as I said- this is about the positives.  In 2012 I opened my life up to God in ways I hadn’t before.  I shared my story and life with people in ways I didn’t think I ever would, because I’ve come so far.  I had a real revelation of who God is to me and all He has brought me from and in to.

https://ariannewinslow.wordpress.com/2012/04/

I had some incredible experiences with ‘Stop the Traffik’  (https://ariannewinslow.wordpress.com/2012/09/) and the beginning of ‘Restored for such a time as this’ (www.restoredfor.org.uk) and I really believe God showed me clearly His heart for compassion, for the vulnerable, the lowest and the least, like never before in my life.

2013-05-08 14.45.29

I began 2013 with a fair amount of disappointment from the year before, and needing a new revelation of God’s grace.  I wasn’t where I wanted to be in life in so many ways, yet perhaps exactly where God needed me to be.  Again this year I have committed to drawing closer to God, whatever the cost.  I am seeking healing and the ability to forgive myself when I feel I’ve let myself down.

“Those who look to Him for help will be radiant with joy.  Their faces will never be covered with shame” Psalm 34:5.

This is my prayer for 2013.  Perhaps not as last year, that like the Proverbs 31 woman ‘I will laugh without fear of the future’, but more so that even in my sad times I will let them wash away, cling to the good, and look to Him for help so rather than just happiness I will experience true JOY!

“The Lord is close to the broken hearted” Ps 34:18.  “He rescues those whose spirits are crushed” Ill, downtrodden, disappointed, low… “The righteous person faces many troubles, but the Lord comes to the rescue each time” v 19.

I have also decided rather that bashing myself all the time about where God wants to take me, and what I’m supposed to be doing, as so many people my age do (quarter life crisis much) to try more to simply focus on my passions; to help the broken, lost, and most vulnerable.

 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”  Luke 4:18-19

If I focus on this I don’t think I can go too far wrong.  God has already opened up so many doors with Restored and my heart against human trafficking, and with my own story and heart for children, more of which I will share soon.

Some of my ‘resolutions’ for this year have been fairly easy so far.  I decided after reading so much about the coco industry and the effects of child labour that this year I would buy only Fair Trade chocolate.  I am loving eating chocolate with no guilt (except perhaps for my waist line). Here are a couple of articles to encourage you too…

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-15681986

http://stopthetraffik.wordpress.com/2013/03/21/1-the-argument-for-ethical-consumption/

Chocolate
Chocolate

I also have one ‘resolution’ which has really impacted me and the way I view things.  During Advent I saw a challenge from my home Church to find 2 things each day to be grateful for.  1 ‘spiritual’ 1 more ‘natural’.  Some days this was incredibly easy, others much harder.  I know I have so much to be thankful for, but remembering those things, sometimes on bad day was quite hard.  I posted these things each day on my Facebook and Twitter to encourage those in my life, and was surprised at how much I encouraged myself.  During the Christmas holidays (a time I had a lot to be thankful for) I then saw on ‘Pinterest’ the ‘Gratitude Jar’.  Again a similar concept.  Start in the New Year, fill the jar with notes of things you are thankful for, and read them at the end of the year to remember all the awesome things.  I loved this idea, and decided as well as social media, this is a great way to ‘write my good times on stone’.

Gratitude Jar
Gratitude Jar

It has been so great, especially in the very small and sometimes insignificant things, to remember to be thankful for all I have!!

grateful

shoes

mum

Here are a few examples of things I’m grateful for from the year so far…

  • The official launch of ‘Restored for such a time as this’. Jan 18th
  • A really encouraging conversation with the ME specialist.  May 1st
  • Meeting my lovely friends Alex and Claire in London for the day. March 16th
  • A birthday surprise to see ‘Wicked’ with my girls.  March 5th
  • Getting our heating fixed after a week broken, during a snowy week!  Jan
  • Grateful for my incredible Church ‘Hillsong Surrey’ March 10th
  • My laptop and ‘Love Film’.
  • My mum, Granny and sisters came to stay & day trip into London. Jan 2nd-5th
  • An awesome service at G-Live where I got a free ticket to Colour conference 2014. April 28th
  • My birthday pj chill out day.  March 2nd
  • One Direction concert with Shauna.  April 2nd
  • A day shopping, seeing Les Mis & a haircut.  February 27th
  • The launch of ‘Home for Good’ (www.homeforgood.org.uk) March 7th
  • My amazing friend Hayley came for the weekend & we went to the London Eye.  February 23rd
  • An awesome time at the Rend Collective Campfire gig where over 50 Compassion kids were sponsored.  May 9th
  • 25-29th May a lovely trip to Chester to see friends.  Then a trip home.
  • 12th June- Ben Howard gig with Jude.
  • June 29th Afternoon Tea Fundraiser for A21.
  • July 19th – A lovely trip home with family. Then Claire’s baby shower.
  • 10th August- #27for 27 raising awareness for A21.
  • August 24th- Velocity Weekend.
  • Friends having beautiful babies!!!
  • Sept- Baby Shower for Giulia.
  • 16th Sept- A voicemail from the cutest little girl on the planet!
  • Sept 20th- An incredibly special trip home to see family  ❤  T
  • 10th October – New housemate ❤
  • Oct 23rd – Mum’s 50th and an amazing time at home  ❤

 

Speaking of being thankful for all we have.  Here is a powerful video to end from Compassion with some staggering statistics:

I hope you’ve been encouraged.
Love as ever  xxx