Love is the only antidote

When I woke up yesterday morning to see one of my friends in the US had changed her Facebook profile to a union jack in the shape of a heart, I knew something bad had happened. The caption on her photo Pray for Manchester told me where and BBC news filled in the details.

Thanks to our increasingly connected world, whether it had been Manchester or Madrid, Newcastle or New York, we all know someone who knows someone who lives there. The world feels smaller, and not always in a good way.

As the stories of everyday heroes pour onto social media, the rest of us are left wondering what we can do to help. Sure, we can share the help line numbers (so that our someone who knows someone who knows someone has the information they need) or donate to the fundraising appeals. We can offer our prayers and show our support, but what can we actually do?

And yes, as the Jesus geek in the room, I should be advocating prayer as the most powerful thing we can offer and, logically at least, I know it is. But I still feel like there ought to be something we can actually do.

And it was as I was pondering on the helplessness of it all that a friend shared a post on my Facebook wall. (Thanks Richard. You’re a star and your timing was perfect! 🙂 )

And that’s when it hit me.

When there’s nothing we can actually do, we can still do love.

In a weird way, this sort of feels a little bit like the lead up to Christmas. (If you just rolled your eyes, hear me out.)

You know that feeling you get that everyone’s trying their best to be a little kinder and more loving? Of course it’s without the presents and the magic and the tinsel and with none of the excitement or music, but the love that underpins it all? Yeah, that.

Love is the only antidote to any of this.

Even as the list of confirmed dead children and teenagers grows.

Even when you see name of the daughter, whose mother was on national television appealing for any information about her child’s whereabouts, among the list of confirmed deceased.

Even as your heart feels like it can’t sink any deeper.

Even when you decide the only way you can mentally cope with this right now is to shut down the news and social media.

Even as you then feel guilty for doing so, because you know it’s off the richter scale more impossible and unthinkable for the poor parents and grandparents who’ve lost loved ones.

Even when you feel trite and silly for trying to get your head round any of this and start to wonder if you maybe shouldn’t have even tried.

Love is the only antidote.

Share the love ...

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?

Sweetness, without the calories! ;-)

What is it about the red and white stripy wrapper, set off with the obligatory twinkle lights of course, that makes those candy canes look soooo appealing?!?

Every time I see one I’m reminded of Elf (“don’t eat the yellow snow!”) and my pulse speeds up with just the thought of all that sugar. Yummy!

Of course the little darling in the photo won’t get touched until it’s time to take the tree down (unless it should ‘accidentally’ fall, all by itself, with no help from my eldest whatsoever!) but then I got to thinking about other sweet stuff that we could store up this Christmas.

Words. Smiles. Acts of random kindness.

I don’t really believe in storing up karma. The image of God sat there with some kind of a cosmic abacus, adding and subtracting based on how good or otherwise we’ve been on any given day, just doesn’t feel right. Bad stuff happens to good people and vice versa.

But I do very definitely believe in love and kindness and goodness and how fabulous the world looks and feels when we smile at a stranger in the street.

So I was wondering about the idea of storing up those good feelings, a bit like how all that sugar is stored up, extra concentrated in that candy cane on my tree, but instead of saving them all for after Christmas, what if they got so full up, they couldn’t help but come oozing out the top a bit? (Reminds me of the year my mum’s mincemeat fermented just a little too much. Oooh that batch was potent!)

And so, your mission for today, if you choose to accept it, is to look for little ways to add some sweetness to someone else’s day (and nope, adding an extra spoonful of sugar to their tea does not count!)

For bonus points … keep a record of what you did or said. That stuff is amazing to look back on later!

Go on, I dare you! 😉

What are you hoping for from Santa?

Because hope. It’s a funny old word.

Ask the kids what they’re hoping for for Christmas and they’ll reel off a list long enough to daunt a whole troop of reindeer! Do they really hope to get it all? I don’t think so.

I hope not at least! 😉

We were hoping to put our Christmas trees up yesterday. It was never a dead cert. The local garden centre could have had a sudden run on pine trees. Or the lights that we needed to get because last year’s were in a tangled ball could have been sold out. But we’d hoped and planned on it.

And until ten to eleven last night, that thing I’d hoped for had come true. Christmas tree, complete with pretty lights and shiny bits and bobs, all present and correct.

And then the whole lot came crashing down!

The gold star from the very top made it halfway across the room and I was left feeling very sorry that I’d be quite so efficient and remembered to water it just hours earlier. Let’s just say I’m thankful that we have wooden floors!

And of course in the big scheme of things it doesn’t really matter. I put down towels for all the water, rescued the tinsel and sooner or later it’ll all be back up and looking lovely. At least we get the fun of decorating it a second time eh. 😉

But I was already thinking about hope. The happenings of my tree just helped the process along a little.

Because it’s my turn to preach in church today. When I got asked if today was ok and realised that it was the first Sunday in advent, I was super excited. “Yey! I get to do Christmas!” (Now do you understand why I do a Christmas themed blog every December? I just love it!!)

I did my usual trick of thinking lots but not doing a whole heap of writing stuff down before finally pondering on the idea of hope.

Every December we go through the routine of opening 24 little windows, counting down the days, full of excitement and anticipation. We’re full of hope but it’s hope for something we’re confident is going to happen. The chance that we’re going to wake up on the 25th and find that Christmas has been cancelled is fairly remote.

And that’s the same kind of hope that’s scattered throughout the bible.

Waiting. Expectant. Believing. Not actually having seen it or got it yet but hoping all the same.

So how about you? What are you hoping for?

That thing that you haven’t yet seen or got but you’re still hoping and trusting will happen?

I’m not talking about Christmas presents here. Sure, a new iPad would be amazing and the perfume I already picked out for myself will smell just gorgeous. But as 2013 is nearly with us, I’m hoping for a whole lot more than just stuff.

And so I dare you to believe that you can hope for that thing. Think about it, what it looks like, what it would feel like, why you want it, how it will make the world a better place … and then hope. Waiting. Expectant. Believing.

Not actually having seen it yet, but hoping all the same.

Go on, I dare you. 😉

Love El x

P.S. I recorded this morning’s gig. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea of course but if you fancied hearing more thoughts on hope, click here to download the mp3 or use the audio player below. Enjoy! 🙂