Change Hurts

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My little boy marched on independently in front of me, ‘I’m too old to hold your hand now mummy!’. I felt a stab of pain in my heart. My baby is growing up and it hurts even though that is exactly what is meant to happen. We raise children to become confident young adults. Later in the week he seemed to forget himself and unconsciously hold my hand on the way to school. Growing up is a process and change is both hard and beautiful at the same time.

 

Even when we know something must change for our good it can still be painful and difficult. Over the last few years as I have watched many women take the Peaced Together journey. I have walked beside them as they wrestle with some things they needed to see change in and sometimes shared that pain with them. While on holiday in Spain my children enjoyed ‘rock pooling’ most days. I have never seen so many hermit crabs in one place, tiny ones and large ones. It struck me that in-order-for the hermit crab to grow it must embrace vulnerability, cast of its shell and find a new shell fit for the next stage if its development. Change is a journey that is never comfortable but often necessary. When it is a journey that sparks hope and life it is worth the fight. What a joy to see people blossom in new confidence, to consider their future with a sense of hope where they had no hope before. To take steps of courage to break free from things that have held them back and to expect something more out of life than just surviving. I often hear of victims of Domestic Abuse being referred to as ‘survivors’ but my dream is that people wouldn’t merely survive the bad experiences in life but come through to a place of living and thriving again, that is where hope for the future can flourish.

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I know that as soon as my little boy falls and hurts his knee he will still come running to me but for him to become all that he is meant to be I also need to release him. It takes courage to walk beside those facing change as well as to face change ourselves but remember the butterfly, often when it looks like all hope is gone new life is working in hidden places.

 

Journey to hope and purpose

Last night was such an exciting night for us at Peaced Together as we won a gold award for ‘best replicable project’ at the Christian Funders Forum awards for 2016. This morning as I reflect on it I am taken back five years before I started this project to a time when life was looking bleak. I had been through several years of both health and personal difficulties and was at my lowest. Prompted by friends I went on a course called ‘Crossroads’ by an organisation called Day2. It was about finding your purpose. At the same time, I re-ignited my love of all things creative and began quilting and other sewing projects. Life was beginning to spark in me again. My time spent sewing gave me the opportunity to process what I was learning on Crossroads, I started to see hope through my quilting as I took rags and created something beautiful I saw the possibility of how this could also be true for people’s lives. As I completed a mosaic project the vision of hope for those who felt ‘broken’ came together as I saw that brokenness might be a chapter on your journey but that it didn’t have to be the end of the story. I knew that my purpose was about bringing hope and the only way I knew how to communicate this was through the creative arts. I felt alive when I was being creative and therefore this would be true for others, what if the creative arts that I loved could become a vehicle to bring healing to many.

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I am so grateful for the friends who have walked this journey with me. From a close friend who said that what I had was not just for me but that many women could benefit giving me the courage to write the course and begin this amazing journey. Part of my own hope and healing was getting my eyes of myself and bringing hope and healing to others. To the many family and friends who have caught the vision and got behind it. For an amazing, growing team of trainers who everyday walk the journey to hope with many women. To the Cinnamon Network for believing in this project and enabling us to expand training other Churches and charities to deliver the course in their own communities. And to an amazing God who has helped me find beauty, hope and purpose in the middle of pain. I am so thankful that hope and healing in my own life has sparked hope and healing in others and this could also be true for you.

How beauty can be a choice!

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Why is it that we women spend so much time wanting to be more beautiful? Fatter, thinner, straighter, curvier, more tanned, less tanned! We look in the mirror and are dissatisfied.

 A recent study carried out by ‘Dove’ discovered that only 4% of women around the world consider themselves beautiful and this is an increase from only 2% in 2004. On the other hand 80% of women agree that every woman has something about her that is beautiful but do not see their own beauty! (Source: Dove research: The real truth about beauty: revisited)

As the old Greek proverb says, ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ what is it we see when we see beauty in others?

As I have spent time with women exploring beauty it always interests me to hear the things they find beautiful in each other, sometimes it may be their figure, smooth skin or hairstyle but more often it is laughter, personality, ability to listen or kind words. In turn it is amazing to watch women smile and radiate more beauty when they hear the things that people appreciate about them. It shows that the things we are attracted to go beyond skin deep. I have also noticed that when we focus on things like a slimmer figure, jealousy seems to drag us down to a less beautiful state.

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Beauty is a choice….

We have a choice to notice beauty. I have struggled to see beauty living and working in London, something in me yearns to be back by the sea where I grew up and yet I have a choice. When I set myself the challenge to look for the beautiful in my local area I wasn’t disappointed. It had always been there but I hadn’t noticed it. As I made that choice my contentment grew.

Beauty brings life…

Snowdrops always amaze me, they fight their way through the hard soil after a long cold winter, they look so delicate and yet they are strong and speak of life and hope as spring is just around the corner. It amazes me that beauty can be found and fight through such conditions. When I hear stories of courage in the midst of difficulty, I see beauty and am reminded that spring is just around the corner!

Beauty multiplies beauty…

Real beauty multiplies. When I watch courageous women discover a beauty within and listen as they share their stories with others, I can see the ripple effect and beauty reflected on the faces of others as it sparks hope for them. What the media pumps out as ‘beautiful’ often makes us feel inadequate, how can I ever match up to that? You can’t, it is a lie and you are so much more! As you find true beauty from within it will inspire others to do the same. True beauty does not need to knock others down because it finds connection and multiplies!

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Love Wins

 

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I first wrote this blog earlier this year after the attacks on Paris and Beirut but with recent events like the shooting in Orlando and closer to home the brutal murder of MP Jo Cox I find myself drawn back to this Blog that I didn’t share before.

 It causes me to reflect again on growing up in Northern Ireland and the hate that caused two communities to keep destroying each other. My parents showed me another way, a response that would bring hope and healing rather than the continuation of destruction. What was this response? Love! Off course it is easy to express love to those we like, those important to us and those we hold dear but to love those who hurt us is more than most of us can bare. Yet it is a love like this that can become our weapon of hope and transform lives.

Hate breeds hate, and I have seen this replayed so many times throughout my life but what about the unsung heroes every day showing love in small acts of kindness even when it costs. I remember the story of a Presbyterian minister that crossed the road in the Northern Irish town of Limavady to shake hands with the Catholic Priest one Christmas morning, it might not seem like a big deal but that Christmas morning that simple act spoke of hope for a nation that was tearing itself apart. In my youth I witnessed ex-paramilitaries from both sides of the community showing forgiveness and worshipping together and it taught me that ‘Love wins’, it is our strongest weapon.

 Stories of hope of a man called Richard Cole from Sierra Leone who took the very child soldiers into his home that killed members of family and loved them like his own children proved to me that love was a weapon stronger than fear. He started the Nehemiah Project a home for boy soldiers (still continued today by his son PJ Cole, one of the Queen’s Leaders).These are the acts of people who change nations. The acts of people who fight hate with love.

My parents took a stand of hope, although from a Protestant background they sent me to a Catholic Grammar school. I became part of a seven school project for peace that took representatives from schools across both sides in the community, the possibility of peace in our nation was birthed in the minds of those young people.

I was struck by a friend’s post on Facebook as she confessed she heard her three-year-old repeat some of the hateful remarks she had made in response to the attacks in Paris, she suddenly realized what she communicated to her child has such huge implications, she did not want to fight hate with hate and replicate the very heart that had committed these horrific crimes.

 So how can we respond, what weapons do we have in our hands. Is this kind of love possible? As I work with women from all faiths and none, some who have been through very traumatic experiences, on a project called Peaced Together , I see how love bridges every difference, be it religious, cultural or political and enables people to begin to experience their own healing as well as reach out the hand of hope to others. To begin to discover common ground on which relationships can be built. The other thing I have learnt is that love is stronger than fear and death. Love is also an action and a choice not just a feeling, it is when we choose to show love despite our feelings that we start to see how powerful this weapon is! In the midst of these dark days it is the stories of hope, courage and love in unlikely places that we are drawn to. Let these be the stories we share with our children, let these be the heroes we celebrate so that they may always know Love wins.

What gets me to the point of losing control?

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“No!!!” I screamed, as my terrified five-year-old looked up with tears forming in his eyes. Slowly the milk spread across the floor, seeping under the cupboards. I’d lost control, at that moment nothing could be worse than four pints of milk spreading over my kitchen floor!

So many times since I’ve regretted the reaction I had in that moment, especially when my son would panic about a small drop of milk on the table while having his breakfast. Had I really scarred him for life? It wasn’t about the milk, there was so much more that had lead me to that point and no amount of chanting “don’t cry over spilt milk” would have saved that moment.

Heavily pregnant with a condition called SPD which left me struggling to walk and in excruciating pain, a string of events that left me feeling hurt and exposed. I was at my most vulnerable and the milk was the final straw, panic had taken over. How on earth could I manage to get down on the floor, mop up and clean behind the skirting? Would it smell all summer? I can’t remember what all went through my head but it certainly wasn’t logical. The milk was the trigger for the outpouring of emotion, frustration and pain I had been holding inside, it needed to come out I just regret that my little boy had to witness it.

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We laugh about it now and I’m generally much calmer about dealing with spillages. My husband believes that I am more bothered about things like spilt milk than I am about the more significant events that sometimes happen, but, I now recognise that I have a tendency to bottle things up and a spillage or a stubbed toe can end up being my ‘trigger’.

When we look at self-control it is important to identify our triggers as well as the reaction or habit we want to change. I find the acronym ‘HALT’ helpful. It stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. These are some of the frequent triggers that result in a reaction or a chocolate fix or spending money you don’t have! Identifying our triggers can be the first step towards beginning to deal with those areas of self-control we find difficult. Sometimes this may be preventative (I have been known to sit myself in ‘timeout’ to give myself a minute to calm down before reacting) but also for me, if I find myself reacting to ‘triggers’ I know it is time to re-evaluate what things have been building up inside me and seek a more constructive outlet. I find it helpful to talk through with someone I trust and decide beforehand what some of my safety guards will be. For me this is an ongoing journey, the journey of being ‘Peaced Together’.

Lessons from a shattered dream.

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There was once a little girl who loved to visit her Granny’s house. Maybe it was the familiarity of a place that was safe and where she was loved, maybe it was her Grandpa’s strawberries growing in the garden or the tree house where she and her brother liked to leave messages for their cousins! The trips for ice-cream by the coast or being slipped a pound for sweets. Perhaps it was Granny letting her wear some of her perfume or the way Grandpa’s head tipped right back when he roared with laughter! In truth I’m sure it was all these things, but every time she visited she was drawn to the display cabinet in Granny’s sitting room. Pretty trinkets lovingly collected over the years. Of course she was only ever allowed to look and never touch but the cabinet fascinated her and she loved to look at the sparkly treasures inside.

It was a tiny blue and white china elephant that fascinated her the most and as she stared at it she dreamt of adventures in far off exotic places. I don’t know why she loved it so much, perhaps the elephant watched and recorded the memories of those happy days at Granny’s house.

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The little girl grew up and embarked on her own adventures, her love of elephants continued and she even encountered some real ones on her journeys but she always loved to return and pay a visit to Granny’s house. But Granny grew old until one-day Granny took the final journey we all must take. The little girl, who was now a woman with children of her own, was asked did she want anything from Granny’s house? Well, you know already what she chose, the little elephant that held all her precious memories.

The china elephant had pride of place on her mantelpiece alongside other elephants she had collected on her own travels, they whispered the secrets of love, life and adventure for those who knew how to listen.

However not everyone knew the secrets that were held in the china elephant, to most it was just an ornament, a little unusual and pretty but nothing particularly special. For a friend helping to clean perhaps it was just another annoying thing to dust, or perhaps she just didn’t notice it, but the elephant got knocked…shattered on the hearth below. She rushed to sweep it up and discard it, but I stopped her as she apologised…don’t worry, I would like to keep it. Yes, that little girl was me and I held back the tears for I knew it was an accident and there was no way she could know the secrets that it held. Carefully I wrapped the pieces in tissue and put them safely in a small trinket box.

Since that day I discovered something, by still treasuring the broken pieces I released the stories held within it, the little elephant found a new purpose. It became a vehicle to talk about the memories we treasure and how we can embrace thankfulness even through pain. It spoke of how ‘brokenness’ may be a chapter in your journey but it’s not the end of the story, there can be hope and beauty reflected even in the broken fragments. It has enabled me to share, reflect and treasure the memories with thankfulness that were a part of my story in a way I never had before it was broken.

Perhaps you feel that life has chipped away at you or perhaps, like the elephant, one day everything shattered leaving you feeling hopeless. I can tell you that brokenness is not the end, there is hope in the pieces. As you make choices that lead you to hope and peace you can discover a new beauty that wasn’t possible without the brokenness or pain. Peaced Together

My personal manifesto (a work in progress)

Peaced Together

Everywhere I look I see such brokenness! Broken relationships, broken people! Pain and despair! It can be overwhelming, when was the last time you heard an encouraging, uplifting story being reported on the news?

We are surrounded by images of a broken, hurting world. So often we try to drown out the screams and numb the pain by crowding our life with gadgets and hobbies, or we just become immune to it. It has been brought home to me lately as my 12-year-old son has become more aware of the world around him and is interested in current affairs. He wrestles with the question…’why does God allow suffering?’ and I find myself struggling to answer and wanting to shelter him from having to see the world we truly live in and protect him from experiencing pain.

But then I make a choice to look again, to look for beauty and…

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