Moving on

We’re moving house in a week and, despite us upsizing, I’m finding myself giving more and more stuff away, decluttering and shedding old versions of our life which don’t fit anymore. I remember arriving at this house and unpacking all this stuff that I just didn’t care about, or even want. It was stressful and brought me down as I felt overwhelmed by all we owned. I just wanted to set it all on fire and start afresh!

While we will have more room in the new place for all our stuff, I’m still keen to only really take things that we love, use and need. Plus I’m aware that we will most likely fill the space we live in, no matter what size it is. That happens, doesn’t it? Just as I’m giving away books, I’m spotting new books I want to own. As I’m passing on old toys, there are other ones I think the kids would love. It often seems we declutter not to have less stuff, but to make room for new stuff.

We’re in an odd season because we’re moving into a house that I would LOVE to be a “forever home” but we’ll most likely only be in it for three years. Then we’ll move off again, probably to a different part of the country. Such is clergy training life.

So while we’re in this house that we would never be able to afford to buy, I don’t want to take it for granted! It is a huge privilege and gift to have it for however long we stay there. I have hopes and dreams for this house which I’m really excited about, and I pray God will use it and us for His glory.

It’s going to be an exciting few years with Sam working as a curate, Caleb starting school and Bethany and Lily growing into energetic, inquisitive, hilarious toddlers, then preschoolers.

My plan is to stay at home until the girls start school, at which point I may look for a job. But, as we all know, God laughs at our plans (“let’s decide to only have two children”), so these next few years will probably look like me (and all of us) discovering what life looks like in this new season; holding things loosely, trusting in God’s goodness and faithfulness.

I’m looking forward to updating you with how I manage a five bedroom house with a massive garden, with three small children running around. It might be a disaster, but we’re sure to have lots of fun on the way!

A church for all seasons

I was sat in the crèche room at church this morning, listening to the service being piped in (the crèche room is a windowed room inside the main sanctuary) and watching the kids play, thinking about the point of me being there.

Let me elaborate. Bethany had got a puzzle to the head so had demonstrated the full capacity of her lungs to the congregation, while Sam was trying to solemnly lead prayers. Caleb would just shout at us when we tried to sing along to the worship songs (he does this at home too). Lily was being her adventurous little self in a room not entirely built for that exploration.

I was half listening to the service, half worshipping, half praying, half being part of the church community. If we had left without joining others for drinks outside, you would have hardly known we were there (not accounting for the screaming).

So what is the point? What is the point in being physically present at church but mentally, even spiritually, absent? Now that so many services are streamed online, one could argue that there isn’t a point. You could join a service at a time that suits you, where the kids were absent and you could properly engage.

But I think there is something so valuable to attending a church service, no matter the season you’re in. Not only does it demonstrate to the children that we are a family that goes to church (and they better get used to it, since their dad is going to be a vicar). But it also demonstrates to everyone, including yourself, that church is not just a place for when life is good, quiet, in order. It’s not even just a place for when you’re feeling close to God, or even believing in God.

Church is for all seasons, all life stages, all of life. We join together as God’s people in times of celebration and grief. When life is peaceful and when life is chaos (and life with 3 under 4 feels like chaos). When life is all going to plan and when it’s all falling apart.

So I’m not saying that we should force ourselves to attend church when we’re feeling vulnerable or really not up to it. But church should feel like a place that we can go to when we’re vulnerable, even when we’re suffering.

So bring your chaos, bring your burdens, bring your screaming children. God’s house is the place to be, He loves and longs for you to be there.

The Journey

If you know me, you (hopefully) know that I am a Christian. I was raised as a Christian, I made the decision to follow Jesus for myself at 13 and I’ve been a believer since then.

However, there have been days/weeks/months/years where I have struggled to believe. Times when I have doubted the very existence of God and times when the Christian story of God coming to Earth to live, die and live again, has seemed absurd. My faith has sometimes been smothered by the evil in the world, by harm caused to others, by natural disasters… Reasons, I’m sure, why many people do not believe in God in the first place.

Many Christians go through these seasons. We may call it “the dark night of the soul” or “the wilderness”. Whilst you may see these topics in seminars at Christian conferences, we’re rarely brave enough to admit to our struggles and doubts to those closest to us. I’ve only very tentatively shared my occasional doubts with my husband, afraid of the shame, judgement or simple confusion I would receive from others.

But despite my occasional lapses in faith, to steal a catchphrase from the wonderful late Rachel Held Evans, “on the days I believe…” my relationship with God is happy and intimate. For so long, He may be silent, but then I will feel, rather than hear, His whispers in the most ordinary things.

Like after feeding Bethany or Lily in the night, when I hold them for a moment, heavy with sleep, against my chest and I’m overwhelmed by a sense of love, peace, joy, of God with me.

Or when I’m daydreaming out the window and a flock of birds, black against the baby blue sky, flies together in perfect synchronisation, and I see the order and beauty that God intended for our world.

Or when I read a great book, listen to anything by Lin Manuel Miranda, or I’m moved by a piece of art, my mind is blown by the human creativity that reflects that of our Creator.

Then there is Jesus. No matter how many times I struggle with the idea of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God, I cannot break away from the person of Jesus.

His radical welcome of people of all kinds; his healing power; his heart for justice and righteousness; his compassion for the outcast and needy. The fire in his heart and the cool balm of his presence.

There is no one like the historical Jesus and, as I reflect on Him, I see God. That’s how I keep coming back, why I keep fighting for my faith, and sometimes it really does feel like a fight.

But, in God’s kindness, despite the times I’ve denied Him, questioned Him, cursed Him, He keeps meeting me. In my darkest places, He’s there, even if I can’t feel Him. It is never Him that moves, but me, and time and time again, He illuminates the path back to Himself.

God is so good, so kind, so extravagantly generous. But I know there will be times in the future when I doubt this, and doubt He’s even real. I wish that wasn’t the case, but I have been on this journey for a while, I know it well. There are peaks and troughs. Mountains and valleys. There is brightness and darkness. He is the only constant. He is endlessly faithful, even while I am faithless. How amazing is that?

Bye bye 2021

We’re coming to the end of 2021, with 2022 looming ahead of us, full of uncertainty, promise and tentative hope. I think we’ve all learnt the naivety and futility of hoping that next year will be “better”, that WE will be “better” next year. Globally, locally and personally, so much is out of our control, sometimes it feels like we are merely pawns in this game of Life.

But we must face forward with hope. We must take a minute and gather together all the scraps of knowledge, experience and wisdom we have learnt from this year. Sift through them, remind ourselves of them, smile at the ones that were joyful, cry at the ones they brought us pain and think of how to move forward with this hard earned truth.

I’ve learnt this year that we need people. Not just in the “let’s be friends because we both like TayTay” way, but in the “let me do your washing, let me bring you food, let me carry your burden, please will you help carry this burden with me” way. I’ve relied on and leaned on people in a way I would have previously been embarrassed about, but I hope that they know I am up for reciprocating any time. I’ve text people I barely know asking intimate questions about struggles peeing after a C-section, I’ve shared with total strangers on the internet the pain of leaving your babies in hospital, I’ve cried with anxiety in Zoom calls with faces of friends on a screen. And each time, the siren call of “me too, me too, me too” has reminded me that I’m not alone. I’m not alone in my anxiety, in my sense of loss, in my fear and in my darkness. We can be each others’ light in the darkest places of our lives, and haven’t we all walked through dark places, especially in the last couple of years?

Next year holds big changes for us as we move for Sam’s curacy and Caleb starts school (!) But I look at what we’ve faced this year, with Covid of course, but also with the stress, grief, wonder and exhaustion that accompanied the arrival of the twins, among other things. I am not the same person I was a year ago, and neither are you. I’ve looked on as friends home schooled their children, as they lost loved ones, as they welcomed new life, new jobs, new homes, as they walked through the valley of the shadow of death. So much lies ahead of us that we just cannot see yet. Yes that may include darkness and pain, but also such light, love and joy.

We don’t need to be afraid, as much as we don’t know what the future will bring. All we have is now, this moment, these people, these memories. And I believe in a God who sits with us in this moment, who has blessed us with these people, who draws out meaning and purpose from these memories.

Love your people, be proud of yourself and face the coming year with boldness. For you have faced “unprecedented times” for a couple of years now. I hope you know, or are starting to see, what you’re capable of. Great things, friend, great things.

Looking after #1

I have been hugely inspired by Anna Mathur recently (@annamathur, go follow her!) She has written a couple of books: Mind Over Mother, which I’ve read, and Know Your Worth, which I’ve not read but I’m looking forward to reading.

How have I been inspired by her? By her radical, trail-blaizing, world-changing concept of… Looking after yourself. Particularly as a mum. Paying attention to your needs and how those needs are/aren’t being met. How does this look? For me, it’s looked like booking the eye test I got a reminder for instead of putting it off because it meant being away from the girls for all of half an hour. It looked like admitting to my mum that I was feeling overwhelmed and explicitly asking her to take a huge load of washing to a launderette so it could be cleaned and dried that day. At the moment, it’s looking like doing #onetinything (a hashtag started by Mathur), choosing a tiny way to show yourself care every day for a week then adding a new way every week (importantly you don’t stop doing the first thing!) For me this week, it’s setting myself 30 minute limits on my social media apps and NOT overriding them… I also love writing and find it so energising to have a creative output so I’m hopefully going to squeeze in more writing.

All this is done with the expectation that I will then have more energy and more resources to give out to my family, of course. But it’s also done because I deserve to not be scraping from the bottom of the barrel. I deserve help, I deserve to enjoy being a mum. And so do you! You deserve having your needs met because you are worthy of love and care JUST AS MUCH AS YOUR KIDS ARE.

The end. How are you going to look after yourself this week?

Choosing to stay at home

In my late teens or early twenties, my mum told me that she could really see me as a stay-at-home mum. For some reason, I found this incredibly insulting and said “don’t you want more for me than that?!” I’m not sure what the “more” I was referring to was and I do not fail to see the irony that now I’m a stay-at-home mum to three glorious children who I grew myself in my own body and who are, and probably will always be, my greatest achievements.
I’ve been thinking about this in between putting a wash on, hanging a wash up, putting another wash on, then settling a baby. Past me may look at present me and wonder where I’ve gone, where my dreams have gone in the laundry pile which is never ending and the changing and feeding two small babies; where my biggest adventure is when my toddler tries to escape the play park. But it is in this chaos, in this simple ordinariness, that I think I’ve found myself. Of course I still have dreams, most of which I’ve now realised will never actually happen. But I’m ok with that, and, hey, I might still get to write that novel. I might still get to be in that Broadway show and I still might be a popstar and go on tour with Britney Spears, who knows? But this place God has brought me to, with all its noise and mess, is a place where I find joy and meaning in my life.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t always love being a stay-at-home mum. Sometimes the endless vomit and toddler emotional rollercoasters are draining, and housework will never be my friend. Once the kids are in school and my husband is a vicar, I may want to look at doing something else. Or not. Right now I can’t think of a job I’d want to do more than staying at home with the kids. Not even a job in an international charity, which was the dream when I was at university. But that’s an insane privilege to have and it might not always be that way.
Where am I going with this? It’s ok to be content with where you are. It’s ideal, actually. Life has seasons and the season you’re in may not be the most productive or fruitful (but if you’re raising kids, what could be more fruitful than that?) Life is surprising and the next season may be one of great activity and output. Just try resting in the season you’re in.

Eleventy billion muslins are never enough


I started this blog post because I thought “I really should be writing about this time”. I should be writing about the loneliness and sadness I felt when Sam went to sleep in the spare room last night and I went to sleep in ours. I should be writing about hearing the sounds of Caleb’s laughter and shrieks and being able to picture his face when he makes them. I should be writing about the pride and gratitude I feel when I hear Sam reading, singing and speaking to Caleb. I should write about how I miss having Caleb sat on my lap with his long bare limbs, requesting the same book again and again. I should be writing about the fear that grips me when I’m trying to fall asleep, of Caleb becoming ill, of me not being able to breathe and having to be taken to hospital, leaving my loves at home.

Since I don’t quite have the energy at the moment, that’s all I feel like I can manage but I wanted to capture this moment and remember these feelings so that when I can return to life as normal within these walls (only a couple of days away), I can fully appreciate the gifts of my life.

There are so many things I am grateful for and so many people who have astounded me with their kindness and generosity, some of whom we haven’t even known for a year yet. God is showing me glimpses of His Kingdom that I haven’t yet seen and I know that there is so much more to come.

Rainy day activity

I will stress, I did not come up with this activity, but I can’t remember where I got it from!

I’ve found this a great activity which kept Caleb engaged for about twenty minutes. All it took was to poke a pen through a shoebox/cardboard box to make holes. I then demonstrated to Caleb how to put pieces of penne pasta (say that 5 times quickly) through the holes.

Such a simple activity but he really enjoyed it! Plus once he was bored with that, he used the box as a toy. Endless fun!

All change

A passing comment I made on Facebook has sparked a thought in me and it’s to do with being postpartum (after having a baby) in particular but change in general.

It is inevitable and inescapable that you change profoundly once you have a child. The change probably begins from the moment you decide to start trying to become pregnant. With every cycle that passes, every period that comes when you were sure this month was the month. With the positive pregnancy test and then, I’m sure, again when the pregnancy heartbreakingly does not last. With each month as symptoms come and go and change and you grow and grow and grow. Then the life-shattering, awe-inspiring, defining hours/days spent giving birth. Then there are the first few weeks of having a baby. Those weeks changed me personally and irrevocably. They brought me to the lowest pit, made me question who I was, what I wanted, what we were doing. I will forever look back on those weeks as the breaking, remoulding and making of me. Then with each month as baby grows and they need you less but more in different ways and they smile and they move and they stand and they’re off. Then when you actually have to parent instead of just keep them alive. That’s all I have right now because that’s where I feel I am.

Of course every experience in your life is going to change you. For good or for bad. This experience in lockdown is irreversibly going to change us and our world. In what ways is up to us but there is no escaping it.

Change can be hard, especially when it comes when we don’t expect it. Even when we do expect it, it doesn’t always look how we thought it would.

But I am glad to be changing. I feel that, especially since becoming a mother and the few years it took to get to that, I am becoming me more. I am turning into who I actually am. The experience of becoming a mother has stripped me back to my barest, simplest, actual self. I do not feel some of the pressures I used to feel. I no longer seek to please people as much as I used to. I’m sure you can think of an experience in your life that brought you to a similar place. Maybe this time is it! Maybe you don’t think you’ve had it yet.

Let’s not be afraid of change. Let’s embrace it, let’s seek it, let’s pray for it. Let’s ask God to make us more like He intended us to be, more like Jesus. Let’s strip off all the expectations, all the pressures, all the insecurities and find who’s underneath. I’m looking forward to meeting whoever they are. 

New Decade’s Eve

I’m sure, like mine, your newsfeed is full of the decade challenge, photos from the beginning and end of the decade.

What’s your decade been like?

Mine has been, and probably will be, the most eventful of my life. The 2010s were the decade I fell in love with Sam, finished university, got married, became a mum and moved to Bristol for Sam to start his training to be a vicar. It was also the decade I was unemployed for several seasons, was made redundant, struggled to fall pregnant, struggled with anxiety and was diagnosed with postnatal depression. The most wonderful times (like becoming a mum, fulfilling a life long dream) were also some of the most difficult.

My faith has gone on a journey of its own, from the highs at university to several years in the “wilderness”, which, if I’m honest, I’m not totally out of.

I’ve gained some amazing, lifelong friends and drifted from friends I was really close to.

I’ve lost my grandmum and grandad but gained a father in law, sister in law, brother in law and numerous aunts, uncles and cousins. And a husband and son!

The next decade will also encompass a lot of change with college, a curacy and a vicar job! We will move again, at least once, and we have no idea where that will be. We hope to expand our family more, but we don’t know if that’s in God’s plan.

We also face the frightening reality of the effects of climate change affecting more and more people, as it has already begun to with the most vulnerable.

I have many hopes and quite a few fears about the coming decade. I’m sure you do too. In the last few hours of this one, why don’t you have a think of what they are? Dream about your hopes and face your fears.

I am grateful that I have faith in the God of the universe who loves me with an unending love and has all the days of my life in His hands. May I encourage you that He loves you as well and you can trust Him with your future. If your life just feels really dark right now, He is the light of the world and even darkness is light to Him.

As we enter this new decade, I hope it brings health, happiness, laughter, fun and joy for you. In the times of sadness and darkness (and they will come), I pray for hope, comfort and community. May you love deeper, play more, read more, wonder more, walk more and dream more.

These are my hopes and I have them for you too.