International day of the girl

This is me aged 15! (Or as close a photo as I had)

If I was 15 again, I would tell myself to not be so desperate to grow up.

I would tell myself that school only lasts for a short amount of time. I would encourage myself to go and find out what my passions are and to follow after then. I would tell myself to take risks.

I would tell myself to be a little kinder to myself and to speak more positively to myself. I would tell myself “believe the nice things people say about you”.

I would also tell myself to allow people to take my picture and not hide from the camera so much.

Its International Day of the Girl I’m helping to raise awareness of girls living in poverty that lack trusted sources of advice on women’s health, relationships, education or employment. @CompassionUK has launched a new project in Brazil to empower girls, giving them desperately needed #AdviceForGirls and helping them make informed choices about their futures.

Join me in supporting these girls by posting a photo of your 15 year old self along with a piece of advice you’d give yourself looking back, and then donate £4 by texting EMPOWER to 70140 and give two girls in Brazil hope that their future could be different.

#AdviceForGirls #tbt #dayofthegirl (For text to donate T&Cs visit http://www.compassionuk.org/empower)

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Not how many, but who!

A few weeks back Carl and I attended a conference on how to lead well while also taking care of your own mental health.

During that day World Mental Health day was mentioned a lot and I came away with a real sense of God saying “you need to do something on that day”.

We had 10 days to get sorted. No pressure!

I felt that something like a tea and chat would be a safe setting for people to come along to so we advertised a mental health coffee morning, the idea being that Carl and I would share from our individual experiences both as someone with poor mental health (depression and an eating disorder) and as one supporting someone with poor mental health and then we would leave the rest of the time to conversation.

A few days before our coffee morning someone said to me “I hope it is the success you need it to be”. Well I jumped on my little high and mighty horse thinking “I don’t need it to be a success, I’m doing what God has placed on my heart to do, it doesn’t matter to me how many people come along “, what a good obedient Christian I am look!

Ha, turned out I was wrong! I completely believe things to be a success or a failure on the number of people that come along not about what happens for them on a personal level. I want to boast with my trumpet “look at what I’ve done for God, aren’t I amazing, look just how many people came along”.

My worth is tied to doing not being

This coffee morning was about me striving to achieve worth from God (I know, I’m still working on it!) It’s like I think that if something like a coffee morning attracts a lot of people (if there’s weeping and wailing all the better) then God is looking down on me saying “well done my good and faithful daughter, I see what great things you’ve done for the kingdom”.

But it isn’t or it shouldn’t be about numbers!

There was a lovely small group of people who did come along this morning and who were brave and vulnerable, honest and open. Would they have been so open had the room been full? Maybe not, that’s not for me to guess at. The point is that for those who came this morning there was a space to say out loud “this is/was my story”, and it was precious.

God doesn’t love me more or less dependant on my actions or how many people I signpost to him, he loves me just because he does.

So this afternoon I looked after my own mental health, I spend time with a friend and I got outside and went for a run and I realised (again) that God loves me just because he does. I can’t earn it. It is just a beautiful fact that I am learning to accept a moment at a moment.

It is beloved not doloved

I’m a VSP and so are you!

Today Carl and I attended a conference called Lead Well from the incredible Mind and Soul foundation. The idea being how we, as leaders in the Church, can both take care of our own mental well-being but also that of those within our community.

WOW, what a conference. So much content packed into one day. The big thing I’ve come away with is that yes the mental health conversations going on are great and very important, but now is the time to move beyond just conversation into how we as the Church point people towards wellness. A bigger vision of enabling people and releasing them into a better place.

Mental health MATTERS

Emotional health MATTERS

Wellness MATTERS

As a Church we should be leading the way in educating, equipping and encouraging.

Is that what we’re doing?

As a people we can all too often believe that we can change ourselves just enough so that we will become acceptable in Gods eyes. In truth we can’t do it in our own strength, there is just no way! It can only be Jesus in us. Will Van Der Hart said Jesus became our shame so we could become his righteousness. God looks at us and sees Jesus.

The powerful reminder I received today was that we can be in the midst of struggle, we can feel hemmed in on all sides, completely surrounded by adversity BUT, and here’s the cracker, there can still be life in the midst of it all. We don’t have to believe the lie that God can’t/won’t use us because we have panic attacks, suffer with anxiety, am on medication for depression, have an eating disorder or suicidal thoughts. God can still use us despite the circumstances we believe discount us. What we think counts us out can actually give us integrity, compassion and authenticity.

How amazing is that? We can be in the greatest difficulty but also experience our greatest freedom.

We all too often believe that if things around us are difficult we must be acting outside of God’s purpose for our lives but we can actually be exactly where God wants us and still be encircled by suffering and affliction. Do we give up and fold or do we press in? It may look like we are surrounded and have no way out but we are also surrounded by an almighty omnipresent omnipotent God, the God of the impossible and He is ready to fight on our behalf.

As Christians we live in a world where we have to balance our FAITH in God with our call to ACTION. We are not passive when it comes to our mental wellbeing. Rob Waller used the analogy of a Church roof, which is not only held up by prayer but was designed by an architect, is held up by massive supports put in place by skilled people and prayer. Rachael Newham said she takes two pills a day, one for asthma and one for depression. We are not passive, we hold a tension of faith in a God who heals and action, what we practically need to do.

I have many times wondered what the point of my blog was, was it not just self indulgent and proud? Today God gave me a glimpse of why he lead me to do it. Patrick Regan said we need to step out of the shame of our experience and own our story. Blogging is one way for me to step from the shadow of shame and say with vulnerability and honesty, This is me! My blog is not about self indulgence and blowing my trumpet check me out. It is me practising self care and self compassion. I am just like you, I don’t have this life figured out I’m still on the path, just one foot in front of the other. I’m broken and you’re broken.

The fantastic Patrick and Diane Regan from Kintsugi Hope used the Japanese illustration of repairing broken pottery with gold powder.

The thing which was broken cannot just be glued back to its original state but it can be made into something with far more beauty.

The scars of our lives are not to be hidden, for they make us who we are. There is treasure in life’s scars

I want to be part of a church which welcomes people however they walk through the door, whatever they carry with them. I want people to feel they can forget the mask of “okness” and crawl through the door on their knees saying I made it! The church needs to be ready, ready to pray with people effectively, without condemnation or judgement or trite platitudes.

So why are we VSP’s? We are VERY SPECIAL PEOPLE and God looks at us and smiles. Despite the things we see in ourselves which we believe to be unlovable. Can we own that?

I misplaced my compass

So this morning I had a little lightbulb moment. I think it was as I was congratulating myself on doing a great parenting job (haha) as Phoebe seems to be settling well into secondary school. Credit to ME!!

If she was unhappy I would be beating myself up for somehow failing her. She’s happy and content so somehow that’s down to me making the “right” choices for her. Even though I don’t actually step through the school doors. I’m not even the one walking her to the bus!

And then off went the tiniest little ping of a lightbulb switching on in my head

I think I’ve been pretty clear in how I have struggled with the changes to our family as our eldest has gone from primary to secondary school. The pain of letting her go out a big further into the world and away from us. These past couple of weeks have felt a bit like being in a storm. (and I get seasick). This morning God gently pointed out that during this storm I had put down my compass and tried to take hold of the navigation map for the lives of me and my family.

Only problem is, I don’t know how to read the map!! (Spoiler alert…I’m not meant to!)

I could suddenly see that I had desperately been trying to keep control, so much so that my knuckles were turning white and I was making myself feel ill.

If the kids are happy in school, if Phoebe loves secondary school and never has a bad day, if they never get told off or have someone be mean or spiteful to them, if they never feel pain or rejection or their hearts hurting through humiliation then I will be ok, because I have protected them and kept them safe from a cruel world. I will have fulfilled my roll as the perfect parent.

But how wrong is this?!

If I have not given each of my children the foundations they need to go out bravely into this world, with their identities firmly rooted, knowing that difficult times will most likely come their way then when the storm comes they will be blown off course. If they do not know and rely on their true north compass then they will believe they are going in the right direction only to find out there been slowly going off course for a long time without even realising it. And you can go a long way off course before you notice the mistake!

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

I wasn’t doing this, I wasn’t trusting God and I wasn’t submitting. I was fighting for control, thinking I knew best and believing I could navigate an easier smoother path. Trusting myself rather than God, relying on myself rather than God, leaning on my own understanding and not Gods. But as I was reminded by Jennifer Dukes Lee, the goal is obedience not wisdom! And it’s a daily choice.

The path isn’t always going to be bump free is it. And it’s my job as a parent to give my children the tools to call on when the weather gets a bit stormy. Because I won’t, I CAN’T always be there. I will fail them, make the wrong choices and let them down – I am a human, but God is God and he is with them all the time.

I can trust in the truth that God loves my children more than I ever could. And when the hard times come I can deeply know that they have a God who is always with them, always for them and who can bring good from any situation.

Gods got this!

I just wasn’t prepared

Here we are at the beginning of week 2 and I still feel like the hot mess I was last week, despite the fact that Phoebe has (so far) enjoyed her first few days of secondary school.

This morning we changed it up for her and we had her get the bus to school, this small thing left me feeling like such a horrible mummy. Phoebe has never got on a bus on her own before, what if there are mean girls who pick on her everyday? what if she gets lost? (she can’t, the bus stops right outside school) what if, what if, what if!

I see my friend at school and have a little cry because this letting your children go, even if it’s just this little bit, is so flipping hard and it hurts so much. When you have a baby everyone tells you how it’s like this love you’ve never experienced, this love for this tiny human. What people don’t tell you is that as these precious human beings go out into the world and step away from you it’s like they take a chunk of your heart with them.

I can’t even think what I’ll be like if/when they go to university.

I go food shopping with Abigail all the while worrying about Phoebe, is she going to spend the whole day worry about getting the right bus at the end of the day? will she keep hold of her ticket? what if she ends up on the wrong bus headed to who knows where, will anybody help her out?

So I worry. I worry about it more than I pray about it. I try to send little arrow prayers up to God

Please be with her

Send her a friend

Don’t let her be anxious

Hold on to her for me

Keep her safe

I know this is all part of life, having children and guiding them as they grow up and head out into the world, I just feel that we could have prepared her (and me) slightly better for this stage.

She is still my baby, she’s my first born and I desperately want to hold her hand (while she’ll still let me) and walk with her. But I can’t, (I mean I could get the bus with her but that would be embarrassing) I can’t step in every time someone says something hurtful, I can’t go to every class and meet her for lunch just to check she’s ok, I have to trust that there is a God who loves her more than I do, who is with her every moment of every hour, who is there when the teacher is cross or the classmate says something hurtful or when she gets lost or doesn’t understand what’s being asked of her. I can’t be there for all those things, and it hurts so much that I can’t be. But God is, God is with her just as he is with me as I wobble and get teary about letting go, even if it’s just a little, of my beautiful young daughter.

Today it all feels a bit much

Here we are, back in the first week of kids being back at school. The holidays are over and routine is the word for the week days.

And it already feels too much, it’s overwhelming, I feel like I’m panicking and I’m tearful. You know how swans and ducks glide across the water but underneath their feet (are they called feet??) are going like crazy? That’s me, I feel like I’m paddling too hard and at some point my heads going to go beneath the water.

I’m sat in Costa (there are other great coffee shops) and I’m welling up with tears because I feel engulfed by it all…already and it’s only day 3. I think the barista knew I needed a little self care so he popped a heart on my coffee. (I’m sure everyone gets a heart but today I needed to see this one).

We have 4 children in 3 separate education settings. I haven’t worked the logistics of that out yet! I work for the Church and need to fit those hours into my week. I haven’t worked that out yet either! At some point I need to take care of our home but until I see cobwebs I’m not too bothered about cleaning (although mess makes me agitated), I need to food shop and make healthy meals for my family, I need to spend time with my husband (who I’ve hardly seen since the beginning of the summer and have been snappy, moody and short tempered with) meeting up with friends makes me feel guilty because “I should/could be doing…”, and now the kids are back in school I want quality time with each of them, I miss them all already despite the bickering, squabbling, shouting, fighting, angry works and mess. Oh no, more eye welling!!

Finding time to exercise is a joke, where can I find time for that? I know it makes me feel better and more energised but I can’t/don’t want to/am too tired to get up before the kids and when they’re in bed I’m too tired/lazy to.

I have that knot in my stomach I get when it all feels like there is just too much in my hands and I’m going to drop something. So instead of being at home and getting on top of things while all the kids are out, or talking to my husband about the blinding fear in my head, I’m hiding in Costa and am about to numb myself by wandering around some charity shops (my calm happy place).

Its Costa and charity shops or home and the biscuit tin. Because that’s still my ‘go to’ my ‘quick fix’ to calm myself and bring myself back down from that feeling of being out of control. Because life does feel out of my control right now, my children feel like they’re taking that one step further away from me and while I do want to encourage their independence (of course I do) I also want them to need me still (and I know they do still need me it’s just different) I want to know every detail of their day just to hold onto them for that little bit longer. It’s letting go and grieving that my babies and not my babies anymore and that hurts. It’s frightening and overwhelming and full of panic because I don’t get to be so involved anymore.a d now I’m crying. I’m in Costa and I’m crying! Thankfully I don’t think anyone has noticed, or they have and they are just being British and avoiding eye contact.

So I go back to the thing I think I can control, food and it’s comforting presence, it takes my mind away from the fears and stress and guilt just for a few moments.

But in my heart I know it doesn’t really work, it’s just a nice little lie I tell myself. I don’t take the advice I give others I instead try to self soothe and pretend some overeating will make me feel better. IT WONT!!

So I’m going to stop my downward spiral and blow my nose (before I raid the wilko pick and mix), I’m going to enjoy my coffee and practise some self care by settling into a good book

Because yes, while this is overwhelming and a new chapter for me and my family thankfully I’m not having to do it alone. I have my husband who loves me and does an incredible amount for our family. I just don’t always appreciate it or tell him how amazing he is and how thankful I am for him. I take him for granted and if I’m not careful one day he might just not be there anymore.

So thank you C, thank you that you are there everyday. Thank you for being the constant in our home. Thank you for your love and commitment to me and our children.

I also have a God who is before me, beside me and behind me. An ever present father who loves me and my family more than I can fathom. Who knows and sees it all. Who is always ready to listen to the cries of my heart if only I would turn to him instead of the food but who doesn’t condemn me for doing that instead, who just gently reminds me that he is still here when I’m ready to put down the chocolate.

All because of a swimsuit!!

I think it’s been about four months since my critical other side was given the elbow out of my ear.

Four months of not listening to me abuse myself, criticise myself, put myself down, berate myself, rebuke myself.

And oh those months have been peaceful! To not constantly question what I look like or what I think people might be thinking about what I look like. To not use every window as a mirror to see how big and wobbly my bum is. Not to be disgusted when I look in the mirror or take my clothes off, not to admonish myself when I get on the scales and a lb or 2 has crept on, not to allow that to dictate my mood for the rest of the day or week.

But then today came along.

I spent the day trying to find a swimsuit for our holiday, and oh the JOY of actually having to try it on IN the shops to make sure my post baby body could fit in it. Oh the mirrors and the lights and oh the amount of flesh to behold!!

And it was as quick as that that the voices of self loathing returned to me.

Your so disgusting, squeezing yourself into THAT, do you actually think your even that size? Who are you kidding?? Everyone thinks your a fat gross pig that eats too much and can’t be bothered to get your fat lazy backside off the sofa to actually do something about it!! Go get some chocolate to make yourself feel better, we all know that’s what you do best! You could even pop off and pick up some laxatives, that’ll get the lbs off quickly!

And so I did, I got the chocolate, ate it in the car, got rid of the rubbish so I wouldn’t have to confess to Carl.

And why?? WHY??

All because I got dupped by the lies that are trying to worm their way back in, the lies trying to convince me that they are actually true?

Well from this place of feeling rubbish (which is where they have tried to drag me) I’m going to say no! I’m not having those lies and self criticism creep back in. I sent those hurtful voices away (with some kickass prayer thrown in!) and I’m not going to give them back the power and control they had in my life for so long!

So I’m going to own up to Mr S about the chocolate bars I inhaled on the way home and I’m going to leave these crappy feelings here today and not bring them into tomorrow with me!

Well done spite-filled voices, you may have taken a few hours from me but now I cut you off! You can go back to where you belong and I will continue to move forward because I am beloved!!

Faith, hope and love

Today I went on a training morning entitled ‘Depression – how can we help’ Nice and light for a Wednesday morning. I figured, being the super vicars wife that I am, and our churches family outreach worker it would give me some super sparkly skills in supporting those both in my church and community walking through depression.

What I did not anticipate was it also touching the apparently still raw nerve of my own experience.

I think we all too quickly believe or hope that when we have come through something, whether that be depression, anxiety whatever it may be, that we magically come out the other side and it no longer impacts us. “I am free from… it doesn’t have power over me any longer”.

And while that may be true for some, for me it would appear that my experience with depression and an eating disorder are things which remain with me. Maybe not on a daily basis but they quietly linger in the background waiting to trip me up if I’ll let them.

For me, today it was the mention of using food as a method of control when it feels like life going on around us is out of control, slam, boy that took me back to those feelings! Those feelings of 6 years ago, those feelings of shame and isolation. Those feelings I thought were long gone.

But…I am not the same person as 7 years ago! That shame and guilt and isolation does not have the power it once did! I am more self aware than I was then, I am better at practising self care and asking for help, support, advice when I need it, I hold onto the truths God has spoken even though I may not always feel like they are true.

There have been times I have prayed for complete freedom but today I realised that I actually value that thorn in my side, it reminds me of who I am and who God is. It reminds me that God knows the plan and he asks me to trust him in it. I do not want that thorn removed because it gives me great empathy and a heart for those walking a similar journey and it gives me hope, a hope for my future and for yours.

I’m reminded of my new tattoo faith, hope and love.

Because of my faith I can have a hope in my future and from that place of faith and hope I can love others as Christ loves me.

In the words of Bob Goff…Love DOES, it doesn’t watch!

I have always thought there are situations I would never want to be in because I would have no idea what to do or say. Where you wish someone more knowledgeable, wiser, better equipped, more this, more that, would come along and step in.

Today, one of those things happened.

Driving home on the M23 from my weekly food shop the traffic in front of me came to a abrupt stop. Trying to look the couple of cars ahead of me to see what the hold up way (I had ice cream in the boot) I saw a woman in the road with another woman trying to get her to the side of the carriage way and out of the line of cars and lorry which had swerved to avoid hitting her.

I saw her at the side of the carriage way highly emotional with a couple stood in front of her looking completely overwhelmed and in shock.

How easy would it have been for me to just carry on driving. I mean there were other people with her. Plus, what could I possibly do to help, if just get in the way. But something prompted me to pull over, let’s call the prompting what it was…The Holy Spirit. I managed to cut across the three lanes of traffic, pulled over and headed towards them.

“Can I do anything to help?” (Oh dear God, please give me what I need to help)

I have just finished reading Bob Goff’s books Love Does and Everybody Always. And the overriding message I’ve taken on board is that we are to show God’s love by loving people and to do that Always. Love everybody always. Simple!

Its not rocket science, it is simple, love your neighbour, that person you see at school, work, that person who gives you the creeps who who you find a bit weird, no matter how difficult or different, love them, 30 seconds at a time. That’s what I did today, I didn’t think how poorly equipped I was to help this suffering woman in front of me, I didn’t make excuses as to why I couldn’t help (i mentioned my I ice cream didn’t I?!) I didn’t wish someone else would come along but I showed her Jesus’ love for her. I didn’t preach that message at her or bash her with my Bible but I told her who she was as a child of God. I told her she was loved, that she was precious, that she had worth and that she was worth more than walking out in front of a motorway full of traffic. Because that is was Jesus would have done, he wouldn’t have chastised her, he wouldn’t have made her feel shame or unworthy, he wouldn’t have criticised her or berated her, he wouldn’t have called her selfish but he would have held her and looked into her eyes and told her that he knew her name and that she mattered to him.

It’s not hard to do that for another human being. It’s what I would want someone to do for me. We are all to often in a rush to get on with our busy lives that we don’t see or have the time to help those around us who are in need. It doesn’t take much to ask someone how they are and not accept “I’m fine” as an answer.

I don’t want to be know by people as the Vicars wife who preaches Jesus at people, I want to be known by people because they have felt I have given them my time and by ears. I want to be known because I value other people and through those actions of loving people point them towards Jesus who loves them far more that I could.

Love everybody…always.

Simple!

I am no gardener

While the sun was shining yesterday afternoon, and the kids were playing happily out the front of our home, I took the opportunity to have a little go at some gardening.

Now I am rubbish at gardening, I have no clue! Is it a weed is it a ‘wild’ flower, should I cut it/prune it now or wait? Don’t ask me because I don’t know.

But I know what a bramble looks like and out the front of our house (and back for that matter) they are getting out of control. So on went my nice new gardening gloves, which promised me they would protect me from brambles (big fat lie), out came the gardening sack and I got to work.

Now the thing I discovered about brambles is that they are not just the bit you see sticking out from your flowers or winding prettily around your fence. Those sneaky little brambles have whopper roots the snake and weave all over your garden. They go all through your pretty, tidy flower bed and you can’t even see them.

Remind you of anything?

The analogy of brambles certainly resonated with me and my life. How many times have I thought I’ve cut something off but in reality I’ve only cut off the bit I can see, I haven’t hacked out the root. How many lies have come my way that I have simply pruned back rather taking out the root completely.

And what happens if you just prune a bramble? Like any weed it just keeps growing back.

It’s hard work removing a root. Carl had to do it last year with a actual bush/tree thing in our garden, it took him weeks but he hacked and sawed at it and when he needed the help from others (who knew more about gardening than he did, he asked for it!). Together they made sure that root was dealt with properly.

Sometimes we think we know what we’re doing and so we go it alone, why would we need to ‘bother’ God with something we can sort out ourselves? But think of the time and pain we could save ourselves if we just asked for help and guidance!

Luckily for me, I know the best gardener and he is patient and gentle and he loves us to much to leave us with our overgrown brambles. If I give him the room to do so he gets right to the root and he removes it for me. Can I give you his card?