What I learned about loving unconditionally from a half-naked Jessie J

I was at the gym on the cross-trainer (that’s the one with the funny arms that go back and forth at the same time as your feet are going up and down. Well weird!) when I happened to glance over at the screen of an exercise bike.

Because it wasn’t being used by anyone, it was showing the default music channel and that’s when I saw the silhouette of a scantily clad female person striking a pose.

The music started and the silhouette danced and sang. You know what the average female pop stars videos are like. We don’t dress them dowdy or in sweaters up to here. She was effectively dancing in her underwear.

It was at this point that the internal debate in my head started up. Why do they feel the need to wear so little in order to sell a record? What does this say about us as a culture that the slim, pretty, half-naked ones are the ones who make it big?

Blah, blah, blah!

And then I recognised Jessie J.

And without even consciously thinking about it, something clicked in my head. Because Jessie can sing. She has a fab voice. And yes, the song was a bit average and not one that I can remember the tune of now I’m home but, because it was her and I like and respect her, suddenly it was different.

And that was when I told myself off for being so judgemental and unloving!

Because it’s easy to love and show compassion when the other person is someone we respect or is like us in some way. Loving the people who are different is when things get messy.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

(And yes, I’m speaking to myself as much as anyone right now!) Here’s to loving, even when it’s difficult.

They laughed when I said, “Know yourself.” And then they saw me run.

Remember I told you yesterday about the whole marathon thing and how much I like to grumble? (I mean, I don’t like to grumble per se. It’s just kinda par for the course some days.)

Well this morning, a funny thing happened. I finally got all three of the kids back to school and I was pondering on how best to plan my day. There’s always a temptation to go wild and bunk off when they’re all back in school but some attempt at planning usually helps curb this, just a little.

So anyway, to save some time, I decided that, if I woke up early enough, I’d go for a run first thing while everyone else was sleeping. I didn’t set an alarm but thanks to my husband’s snoring, by 6:15, I was awake.

And you know what? It was lush out there. I didn’t grumble or complain once!

It still hurt and there were times when I really, really, really wanted to stop and just walk for a bit but it was like a totally different experience.

Ideas for these emails popped in my head. I remembered stuff I was meant to do that I hadn’t done yet. I chatted with God. It was all really fun.

And that’s when I had a bit of an aha …

I’m an early bird. Just so long as it’s light and not raining, I love being up and about first thing. Ask me to run after about 4pm and you might as well fill my shoes with lead for all the good it’d do me!

And having finally made that connection, you can be as sure as chips is chips that I’ll be out running again first thing Saturday morning instead of leaving it until later in the day.

And you know what else? The same is true with hanging out with God. As much as I love to flump on the sofa and watch a good film, I’m an active sort of a person. I’m not so great at being still and if you need me to sit quietly for too long, there’s a better than average chance that I’ll fall asleep!

I chat with God while I’m washing the dishes. I’ll grumble and complain and thank him when my feet are running. I’ll sing and ponder stuff in my head while making tea for the kids. Sure, maybe the whole ‘prayer closet’ way of the prayer warriors of old is more ‘right and proper’ but I hang out with God who loves me, just as I am.

In fact, you know what? He made you to be you, and he doesn’t need a do over.

How about today we embrace all that it means to be us and see how those shoes fit?

 

How to hang out with God while training for a marathon …

Something I haven’t talked about much, other than the occasional post on Facebook, but next April I’m running a marathon.

Some context … I’ve never run a race before. In fact, last year was the first time I ran as an adult and the farthest I ever got was a little over 3 miles (that was yesterday!)

It’s my eldest daughter’s fault. The London Marathon came on and I commented that I’d love to do it. Her reply?

“You can’t. You’re too fat!”

And of course, the rest is history!

I even have the t-shirt and she’s chuffed that she inspired it all. Yes, I’ve counselled her on the perils of being rude and cheeky but right now she’s still at the delighted ‘I did that!’ stage.

Every so often (like, almost every day!) I wonder what on earth I’ve let myself in for. Being me, I of course announced it on Facebook and Twitter (because I knew I’d want to back down by the Monday) so there really is no going back.

So last night I pulled on my running shoes and got myself out there and honestly? It was really hard going. I’m slow and unfit (but slowly getting fitter!) and when I get back, my legs ache.

But while I’m out there, the one thing that keeps me going is the ongoing commentary in my head.

Some mornings it’s delightful to be out in the beautiful fresh air, running alongside the beach, thankful for living in a pretty part of the world and all that jazz.

Other times? I’m grumble and groan almost the whole time!

But you know what I love most? The reminder that popped in my head last night that God loves hearing it all.

I mean, I’m sure that if I were him, I’d prefer hearing the happy, joyful stuff but he just likes hanging out, sweaty and hot and tired and all.

So I got to thinking … what would today be like if we just chatted with him, told him what’s really going on, and actually be real about it all?

What would that look like?

 

What a six year old Minecraft addict can teach us about prayer …

My son is home from school today. He has a cold. Apparently man-flu starts waaay before a kid hits puberty.

And as is par for the course, by the middle of the afternoon, he got bored.

We’d done Finding Nemo and Wreck-It Ralph while he convalesced. Car tracks had been built and left rejected as they lost their charm. We’d even played frisbee and horsy rides on the trampoline.

And so it was that Minecraft called his name.

“Great!” thought I. “I can get some writing done.”

Oh no, not today. Minecraft is much more fun when you have someone to play with.

And so it came to be that, despite much protestation, I found myself being trained how to play Minecraft.

I was a dutiful student. I learned how to fly. I lit torches and built little stone walls. I even found time to die twice.

And then I suggested that it might be time for mummy to stop playing for a little bit. Truth be told, the retro, pixellated look makes me feel a bit sick!

And what do you think my six year old made of that? Did he take it lying down?

Not likely!

For the next 30 minutes he coaxed and coerced and as a result, enjoyed an extra half hour of company in his fictional world.

What if the way we chatted with God was a bit less like we just threw up the King James Bible and more like a child talking to her dad?

What would that look like?

 

A year from now?

A year from now? How about an hour from now?!? Seriously, how many times do we sit and procrastinate and check Facebook one last time before finally doing that thing that we really told ourselves we wanted to do all along? Or maybe that’s just me? 😉

That said, one really cool thing about procrastination is that it allows time for all sorts of coincidences (God-incidences I like to call them) to come out to play. This morning it started with a quote on Facebook, swiftly followed by a nudge on a blog post and before you can say, “kettle’s boiled” bam! An idea.

So anyway, I was reading said blog post and at the very end there was a challenge …

What do you really want more of in your life? Will you dare to say it loud?

And the irony is, it was that blog post and the writer’s experience of trying to be this Jesus person who looked like other women at church that further cemented my thing I want more of because you know what?

There is nothing I want more than to see you be you, to help you step into the person you were created to be and to be that glorious being totally and unwaveringly.

Because you’re fab. He made you and he doesn’t need a do over.

God’s poem. His work of art. That creation so treasured and precious that he can’t help but post photos of you on Godsbook and share it with all his friends.

“Hey, come and look what she did today. Isn’t she lovely? I just adore that child.”

You think I’m kidding or being daft? No way. You are adored. Just as you are.

And there is nothing I want more of in this life of mine than to remind you of that, inspire you to really know and feel it to the very core of your being, every single day.

More love, less shoulds.

Because when you’re being you, hanging out with a God in a way that is true to the person he created you to be, what other people do or don’t do becomes largely irrelevant.

I have a friend who likes to go with her daughter on shopping dates. They have a blast, a right old giggle. Me? Not so much. I prefer baking cakes or taking my daughter for a hot chocolate in Costa.

We’re both mothers with daughters. Whose relationship is right?

You got it (clever you, I knew you would!) Both of us are right of course. It’s not about what you do. It’s about spending time together.

And those instincts we have as parents to want to love on and be around our children, God put those there and, made in his image, it stands to reason that he has those desires too.

He doesn’t really care how, he just wants to hang out with you.

Which brings us full circle to the idea of starting, right now, today. Because there is no right or proper time to hang out with God in the same way that there is no right and correct time for me to give my children a hug (although I’m pretty sure my eldest would prefer me not to decide that in the middle of the school yard!)

 

When dreaming turns to despair and a messy, painful kind of love.

I was fast asleep, enjoying the start of what promised to be a fab dream.

I dreamed that I was getting ready for bed. My fella had snuck up behind me, kissed my neck, lovely. So I went to the bathroom, calling back to him on my way, chit-chatting, all was well with the world.

“Oooh, you’ve run yourself a bath? Very nice.”

I glanced in the bath and realised that no, this was the kid’s bath water from earlier, we just hadn’t pulled the plug out yet.

And then I saw something pink in the bottom of the bath. My son.

Suddenly the dream turned to horror. I grabbed him and shouted to my husband and I’m filled with utter despair.

And then I woke up.

And I’m at that place in between where you suddenly realise that it was just a dream so you’re flooded with relief but, at the same time, it just happened so it feels real and you’re beside yourself.

You can’t think.

Eventually though, your breathing slows down and the thoughts come crashing in.

So after getting up and checking on all three of the children, whispering to God in my head to please look after them, that I love them so much, please let them be ok, I laid back in bed wondering what it all meant.

Because dreams have got to mean something don’t they?

If nothing else they’re like a reflection of the party that goes on inside your head when the thinking is shut off.

But what does that say about me as a parent?!?

(Thankfully it’s only now as I’m awake and writing this that I have that realisation. If I’d have thought about that at 2am I’d probably still be crying now!)

I kept replaying the scene over in my mind and as I did so I noticed something:

My son is five years old, nearly six. And he’s a big lad. Tall. The Michael that I pulled from the bath in my dream was a baby. It was him, but it was him as a baby.

That awful ache in my heart is still there. Thinking about it makes me cry and pray and beg.

But honestly? That it was him as a baby also made me feel a whole lot better. Because he didn’t drown as a baby. I’d just checked on him in his room. He’s okay.

So what am I meant to do with this dream? Like, what was the point of it?

And that’s when I thought of you. And this place. Because at 2am I felt hugely compelled to get up immediately and write.

Writing this now some 8 hours later I’m feeling slightly uneasy.

Because I didn’t get up. Instead I lay in bed thinking stuff over. What would have been the result had I followed that nudge and got up and wrote?

Only God knows.

I know that at 2am I had thoughts enough for at least three blog posts but is there something else that I missed out on? Obviously I really hope not. All I can do now is say sorry and move on.

(Between you and I, I added a P.S. to that sorry that went something along the lines of ‘if it was something really cool and important for someone, can you pop it in my head now anyway please?’)

Us women are very good at feeling guilty, even more so than the men it seems. That’s why one of my resolves this year (and one that clearly I needed reminding of!) is to say sorry and move on. No more of the incessant beating oneself up. It doesn’t undo stuff and it doesn’t help!

But that wasn’t the thought I ended on.

The final thought I remember as I drifted off to sleep was one of God’s love. But not the nicey nice, trite sounding ‘God loves you’ kind of love that feels sickly sweet but empty.

This was a love that hurts.

The kind of hurt that you feel in your heart when life (or a dream) forces you to deal with losing someone you love.

That love isn’t neat or sweet or nice or red hearts and flowers.

It’s raw. And painful. And messy.

It bubbles up inside of you, uncontrollably.

And when it turns out to be just a dream, it changes you.

Leaves you feeling thankful for another day.

Sees you giving your son an extra kiss on the head or really looking at him, seeing him properly. And reminds you just how much you love him.

And that love, that ache, that yearning in your heart? That’s how God feels when he thinks about you.

He’s not sat on a big ol’ throne up in heaven with a big stick like some Triton, scowling at you and barking threats.

He’s there right next to you, stroking your hair, whispering your name into the sunrise.

Yearning. Aching. Loving you.

Maybe you knew that already, in your head, but just maybe you needed reminding today?

I see love notes, scattered all over the universe, especially for you.

Reminding you every day that he loves you.

 

This has been the most uncomfortable post I’ve ever written (although after that 2am compulsion I couldn’t chicken out at the last hurdle!) and now I’m lost for words. I don’t have a neat, tidy succinct ending for you.

Love is messy like that I guess.

 

This year I resolve …

To love more.

To smile at a stranger every day. To make eye contact.

I promise to be in each moment.

No more multi-tasking or sharing myself out. If I’m talking to you, that is all I will be doing. If we’re playing a game, I will not be secretly lost in thought.

And when I mess up (because hey, I’m new at this and I know it will happen) no more feeling guilty. Yes I’ll say sorry and admit my mistakes. But no more introspection, beating myself up with ‘if onlys’ and hanging onto stuff that I should have dropped years ago.

(Because come on, if I really believe in Jesus, what’s the deal?!?)

Every day is a gift and I commit to finding the treasure in each one.

(Even on those days when it seems to be hidden really, really deep!)

Smile more. Cry. Feel.

And love.

Because the greatest of these is love.

Wishing you a happy, messy, (very human!) Christmas

Two days before Christmas my nan died. Three years ago (I had to ring my mum to check and ended up making us both cry. Sorry mum x) and yet I still remember the phone call, early that morning. And, as I just found out, it still has the ability to make us cry.

She was 83. She’d been in hospital for four months. And she got to celebrate Christmas with my Grandad so we totally knew it was the best thing for her.

And yet still we cried.

I really wanted to write a Christmas post. One that wished you a happy Christmas, with echoes of all the nice stuff that surrounds the day. The fun and laughter and excitement. Because I love Christmas.

And I still want to do that, wish you a happy Christmas I mean, but I couldn’t sit here and ignore the people who are hurting, pretend like it isn’t happening. It just felt wrong.

But neither do I want to pretend like I know how they’re feeling.

My nan was 83. Yes it was sad and yes, it came as a shock (despite having said goodbye to her multiple times) but she was an old lady. An old lady with no real quality of life left. She missed her husband desperately and she was ready to leave us.

I don’t want to even try to imagine how those families in Newtown are feeling because it makes me cry. Or April Jones’s mum and dad. Or any one of the other thousands of parents who have lost children.

Because three years after my nan died, we’re doing great. Sure, my mum and I got choked up just now but that’s just what we do. I can’t honestly say I think about my nan on a daily basis. It’s probably different for my mum because she was her mum but even so, I’m pretty confident in saying she has days when she doesn’t think about her mum at all.

But when a child dies it’s different. It’s just wrong. It’s not how it’s meant to be.

And yes, the shootings in Newtown have made us all a little more aware and sensitive to the hurt this year, even those of us who, thankfully, are in no way connected with events.

But every year, any year, even when there’s nothing horrendous enough to grab the media’s attention, there are thousands of people who have an awful time at Christmas. They can’t wait for it to be over and they would gladly hibernate for the whole of December.

Even people who aren’t missing loved ones can have a pretty crappy time of it.

If you can guarantee one thing it’s that keeping the whole family cooped up together for a couple of days is going to lead to at least one bust up! And that’s not to mention all the stress and last minute panic buying, spending money we don’t have on stuff they don’t need.

Talk about depressing!

So why do we bother? With less and less people being interested in the Christ part of Christmas, why haven’t we knocked it on the head yet?

Of course that would never happen. I don’t know who would shout loudest … the Christian community or the retail industry! Christmas is an institution. It’s just what we do.

And yet underneath it all, when you strip away the consumerism and the over-eating, what are you left with?

Ultimately it’s about people.

God and people. And people and people.

God loves people and so Jesus came along and, well you know how the rest of that goes. Christmas is like an extra chance for God to break through the busy and remind you that he loves you.

And, despite all the noise and the chaos and the quarrels over who said what to whom and why, Christmas is about spending time with people we love, and who love us. It’s a shared moment. A chance to step out from the regular day-to-day busyness of life and just be, together.

And of course that’s why it’s also a really tough time of year for a lot of people.

Because life is messy and those idyllic scenes portrayed in too many adverts on the telly, showing us how it should be, when our real life stuff doesn’t match up, it can leave us feeling cheated or wondering what’s so wrong with us that we can’t do the perfect Christmas gig that everyone else is doing.

But here’s the thing … life isn’t a TV commercial. Life is messy.

There is no one out there having the perfect family Christmas (no matter how much your friends on Facebook with their charming photos of their happy smiling kids will tell you) because such a thing does not exist.

Even two thousand odd years ago, it was probably less a case of ‘Silent night, Holy night’ and more a case of ‘argh, Joe, I’ve got to push and there is no way I’m gonna do that outside!!” And those shepherds that rolled up to offer their congratulations? Back in the day, they were considered the lowest of the low. Really dirty and noisy.

It actually makes me feel a whole let better about my noisy, messy family to know that God chose to have his son stroll into the world via a poor, unmarried teenage mum. I mean, it’s not like there weren’t any palaces nearby. But no, that wasn’t God’s way.

Shepherds. Unmarried mums. Born in a shed. And later, fishermen, prostitutes and thieves.

If there is one thing that I believe about God, it’s that he does messy.

So if you’re reading this and you’re hurting, please know that I’m sending you the biggest (messiest!) hug I possibly can. I’m very aware that that is in danger of sounding trite because I don’t know how you’re feeling. I don’t understand. I’m not where you are right now, dealing with all that you are dealing with.

But God needs someone to tell you that he loves you, that he’s holding you, even as you’re stood there in the shit. Correction: he’s holding you because you’re stood there in the shit. And it might as well be me.

And for the rest of us, as we look forward to our very human, messy Christmas, if we’re fortunate enough to be one of those families who aren’t nursing hurt and sadness this year, let’s take at least one moment to stop and breathe, to hug the people we love and to say thank you.

Because yes, life is messy, but it all starts to look a lot better through smile-tinted glasses.

And so I wish you the happiest and messiest of Christmases. May your laughter be louder than the telly and your heart fuller than your wine glass. Here’s to a happy Christmas and I can’t wait to share the next twelve months with you!

What if we stopped consuming and just started, right now?

OK, so this isn’t exactly a traditional Christmas post. But it’s something that bugs me from time to time (probably because I’m massively guilty of this myself and need the reminder!!) and it feels really apt as we get ready for that big ‘end of one year, beginning of the new’ milestone that is New Year.

I love New Year. Fresh starts. Clean slates. All that jazz. (I get a similar (albeit smaller) feeling on a Monday morning. The sense of expectation. That yes, this is going to be amazing and totally rock!

Until it doesn’t!

But here’s the thing … January 1st … it’s just a day. Yes, we usually enjoy a nice family meal (although this year I’m going to have to cook it in my own house – what’s that about mum?!? ;)) and yes, traditionally at least, lots of people have a lie in after staying up late to yell in each other’s faces “Happy New Year!” and sing that Scottish song that no-one knows all the words to.

But aside from all that stuff, it’s still just a day.

It’s like that idea that you must start your new diet on a Monday. Why?!? Why can’t it just start? Unless of course you want the days leading up to Monday as a chance to eat all the stuff you’ll be refusing yourself once you start the aforementioned diet. “This is it, no more chocolate, so I might as well eat two pounds of the stuff in the next 53 hours while I can!”

And yes, you’re right, I’m not a massive fan of diets. They make you fat. But that’s a whole other blog post!

But what if there was no one best day for stuff?

What if every day was just a day and on that day we just did our thing?

No tomorrow. No fresh starts. No ‘I’ll just read up on this thing so I know how to do it best and then I’ll think about starting for a little bit before finally realising that it’s late now so I might as well leave it.”

What if we stopped reading, stopped learning, stopped consuming, and just started, right now?

(And yes, I do totally see the irony in my asking that question in a blog post that you are probably reading instead of doing!)

I see (and am guilty of) this from a couple of different perspectives.

With business stuff, there is just so much out there to learn. I could spend a whole lifetime learning how best to plan, market and sell in my business. Courses to attend. Homework from said courses. Planning. Introspection.

And don’t get me wrong, those things are great. I’ve worked with some wonderful people this year and built amazing relationships as a result of doing courses.

But if all I do is learn more and more and never actually put any of it into action, how well do you think my business will do in 2013?

But even more tragically, I see it in life too.

I have book shelves heaving with content. I could literally lose the next two years of my life to going back and reading that stuff.

Personal development books. Parenting how-tos. Whole forests worth of spiritual books. And yes, there is some great advice in each and every one of them (well, maybe not every single one. My official guide to Doctor Who is pure fun!) but the idea that keeps rattling around in my brain is that of knowledge versus experience.

I love learning and knowledge is fascinating to me. But there is nothing quite like the experience of biting into that juicy fresh peach on a warm sunny afternoon and feeling the juice squirt out the sides!

I want every day to be full of ‘juice squirting out the sides’ moments.

And that doesn’t come from learning more. It comes from living more.

I don’t want to learn more about Jesus from those books on my shelf. If I read a book, I want to read it because it will help me to share a juicy peach moment with him.

I don’t need more knowledge about how to best raise my children to be the loving, well-rounded, fun-loving individuals they are. If I read a parenting book, I expect it to help me giggle with them.

I’m done with reading blog posts because I’m procrastinating and putting off living life. Instead, I want to just live it. So if I read a blog post, it will be because it has something in there that will inspire, motivate or give me the kick up the arse I need to actually get out there and start doing.

And that starts today. With this post that you’re reading right now.

I will never again write something just because I’ve said I will. No more filler text or meaningless words.

Instead, I write because I have something that will inspire you to action. That is my promise to you. Starting right now.

So now it’s your move. It’s time to stop learning and start living.

Make your move gorgeous.

Go on … I dare you! 😉

Goodwill is for life … not just for Christmas? What if?

I was thinking about how nice this time of year is (parking and over-spending aside!) What with the twinkly lights, the music, oh and the Bailey’s coffee. Very nice. 😉

And yes, it gets stupidly busy and yes, it’s a bit stressful.

But people seem, I dunno, a little bit extra kind and tolerant? It’s fab!

So then I got to thinking (oooh, just a little bit more.) You know that song … I wish it could be Christmas every day? Well I don’t actually wish it could be Christmas, like, every single day, not in the way the song means … presents, fairy lights, excess food … but you know what would be really cool?

What if the extra kindness and tolerance lasted longer than the next month or so?

(And yes, I’m well aware that I won’t be the first person to wish such lofty ideals out loud. But hey, a girl’s gotta dream eh?)

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi.

So yes, it’s a lofty big dream but if I keep being extra sweet and kind and lovely and tolerant, and you do the same, and it rubs off on someone else.

And then … before we know it, it could be infectious!

What do you think? You game?