Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Strength for the weary...

The LORD gives his people strength. 
The LORD blesses them with peace.”
Psalms 29:11 NLT

This last week has been exhausting. 

In fact, the last two weeks have been exhausting. 

Ok - so realistically - my whole year has been exhausting!!! 

But the last two weeks more so. And I'm not only talking about physical exhaustion, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually exhausting too. 

Let me explain. Last week, my husband was away on a trip to Ukraine when my Nanna got really sick. She was 91 and has had a fantastic life (more about that later) but she took a turn for the worst and went downhill really quickly. She lives about 2 hours from us, so Mum and I headed down to see her and effectively say goodbye, half way through the week. It was devastating to see her get so frail and weak and although I wouldn't have missed it for the world, it broke my heart. I got to read to her (Psalm 46) and talk to her and tell her how much I loved her, while holding back big gulping tears - you know the really ugly sobbing ones. After saying goodbye we cried our way home.

There is something very surreal about saying goodbye to someone knowing that you'll probably never see them again. It's not pleasant. In fact it hurts like hell. 

On Sunday morning she passed away in her sleep - the way she wanted to go - peaceful and not in any pain. 

Our goodbye on Wednesday really had been goodbye. I'd never get to talk to her again, never get to call down, play cards or scrabble, or take her out for another lunch date again.

I'd never get to hear her voice telling me she loved me again. Or hear her delight when we walked through the door for a visit. 

On Tuesday we all congregated at Nanna's church to pay our respects, mourn her and show our love. It was one of the nicest funeral services I've ever been to (again more later in the week) but it was still one of the saddest. 

And then for the rest of the week I've been trying to get back to 'normal' - whatever that is. 

So I'm not only exhausted physically - from the inevitable running around and car journeys - I'm also mentally, emotionally and spiritually wrecked. Mentally I tend to overthink everything - from whether I should have gone back down and taken time off work before she died, to whether I should have been there with our family more after the fact, instead of just on Tuesday. Emotionally I have just lost my last and most loved grandparent - and I know I am blessed to have had her for so long, but in reality that just makes it so much harder. 

But it's spiritually that I am totally done in.  You see I did what I have done so many times before - I tried to go through the last two weeks on my own - in my own strength. And guess what - it didn't work. 

At a time when I was rejoicing in Nanna's faith, I let my own falter. I relied only on me and not on the One who made me. But God is so much better than me. 

Even when I fail, He still holds me close and gives me His strength and His peace.
Can I hear a great big AMEN?! 

I have many reasons to rejoice this week, and God is helping me to spot them and see the beauty in a fortnight that was hard. He really does give us His strength and He really does bless us with His peace. And there's no other I'd rather rely on.

I'm hoping to share more about Nanna later in the week :) 
Thanks for reading. 
Keep shining xx 

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

G is for...

Yeah we're talking about gratitude today!! So... why gratitude and why today? Well we've reached the 'G' in our alphabet (surprise surprise!!) but it's the perfect time because I've got the perfect challenge for you all. 

Having a heart of gratitude really does change everything. There is a reason why so many people do "Gratitude Challenges" - like my #100daysofgratitude Instagram challenge - or why Ann Voscamp's "1000 blessings" is so popular - we have finally figured out that when we are grateful and thankful life gets a little brighter, a little more rewarding and a little nicer! Being thankful takes the mundane and turns into something to rejoice in. Like this picture I found - I'm afraid I don't know who write it but it's so very true... 

This week marks the return to school for most of us. All my boys start back this week, while we as a staff started back last week to prepare for the new school term. Teachers are an amazing group of people and as a parent I've adopted a simple task each September to share my thoughts with them. 

In Northern Ireland were not really into 'teacher questionnaires' or things like that, but I wanted to let the teachers know that I'm there to help if they need me. And so I started writing little letters to them. 

Now there's nothing exciting about my letters - I'm sure lots of people write letters to the teachers, especially if your child has a few issues that you want them to be aware of, or if there's certain family situations going on, but my notes are different. 

I want the teachers my boys have this year to know that I am there to help if they need things for their classrooms or if they need buns etc, and I want them to know that I'm on their team as they teach and spend 30 hours a week with my child. I want them to know that I trust them, and that I'll back them up if they think my child needs disciplined for something, and that I'll always ask for their side of a situation before I overreact! I want them to know that I care and that I commit to doing my bit of this process at home as well as I can.

But most of all I want them to know that I'm praying for them, that I've been praying for them all summer and that I will continue to pray for them all year. I want to let them know that I'm ever so thankful for everything they do, for the effort they put into their lessons and for choosing to do something that I couldn't do. I want them to feel appreciated, loved and prayed for. 

So I write them a note! 

As a classroom assistant I get a first hand look at everything that goes on in school to make it happen for our children, so my challenge to all of you is to take a moment this year and reach out with a heart of gratitude to any teachers in your life. They truly appreciate it. And they'll treasure your thoughts. I'd much rather be remembered as 'that weird wee woman who wrote us notes' than someone who either isn't interested or who only chats to the teacher to complain! 

So get out your notecards and put down a few cheerful and prayful thoughts down for your child's teachers. It makes a big difference in your year. 

I'd love to see your notes so please share!!! 
Keep shining xx 

Monday, 29 August 2016

Once I was seven years old...

You may or may not have heard the Lukas Graham hit with today's title's name, but my boys love it so I've listened to it A LOT!!! And as I did I thought about my life and all the weird and wonderful things that have happened to me at certain ages... so I thought I'd write you a wee post about it! 

So let's see where he starts... 

Once I was seven years old my momma told me

Go make yourself some friends or you'll be lonely
Once I was seven years old

How true this is for me! When I reached the lovely age of 7, my mum, dad and two sisters moved from the lovely town of Enniskillen to Newtownards to my Dad's family farm. I remember a summer of trips up to do wee jobs about the house, where Dad would pick me out of bed, complete with my cover, and put me into the back of his car. Half-way to Newtownards (which took about 2 hours in total), I'd wake up, have a sandwich or cereal bar breakfast (on the back seat beside me) and then chat to him the rest of the way up. What fun days!!! 
Well, when September came, and we'd moved up properly to Ards, at 7 years old, I started in a brand new school, with brand new classmates and a whole new set of teachers. And guess what my mum probably told me? To go get some friends!!! And I did! I had a couple of wonderful friends in primary school and am still in contact with them, although not as often as I'd like. 
Once I was eleven years old my daddy told me

Go get yourself a wife or you'll be lonely
Once I was eleven years old

And then we come to 11... At the age of 10/11 in Northern Ireland we do an exam that helps determine which school you go to for secondary education. When I did it it was called the 11+. (And now it's known as the AQE.) You do a series of tests, and then get a score. Everyone who has done the tests then gets a grade. If you got an A you passed, if you got an M you were borderline, and if you got an F you had failed it. Yep - it was that plain. 
I got an A and got accepted into our local grammar school - Regent House. And what did I do when I got to Regent? Why I found myself a husband of course!!! Seriously though, my husband and I didn't start dating til we were at university, BUT we were in the same year at the same school and were in several of the same classes!!!! 

Once I was twenty years old, my story got told

Before the morning sun, when life was lonely
Once I was twenty years old

And then comes 20... At 20 I was fearless, had 'left' home and thought I knew everything. In reality, I had packed my stuff and moved to the house I lived at in Belfast - where I was at uni - a house my mum and dad owned and paid all my bills for! And yet I thought that was it - I knew better and didn't want to be at home with them anymore!! Yeah.... Well.... 
During my years at university I had a lot of great friends round me. I started a chemistry course with my best friend, only to realise I loved the maths questions more than the chemistry, so changed to a maths degree. Here I met another set of fabulous girls who really helped me through the purse, despite being two years younger than me!! I may not be in touch regularly with all of these girls - although I think I'm Facebook friends with them all!! - but every one of them helped me in ways they can't even think about. I was not a nice person during university - I was selfish, lazy, focuses on the wrong things and totally preoccupied, yet these girls were willing to help me even despite all my many many faults. Thank you girls. 

Soon we'll be thirty years old, our songs have been sold

We've traveled around the world and we're still roaming
Soon we'll be thirty years old

And then we hit 30... I got married when I was 24, had one son at 25, another at 28 and was pregnant with my third at 30. So what do I remember about turning 30? 
Seriously??  Yep - not a thing. 
Let me explain why. You may or may not remember me mentioning my battle with post-natal depression or the dark times I had while pregnant with number 2 and number 4 sons. Well - when I got pregnant with son number three I got everyone to pray for me - and I mean everyone. If I met you in the street I probably told you and asked you to pray! And the whole time of my pregnancy I had no symptoms, no signs of PND and no reason to take any medication whatsoever. Fantastic, right? 
Yes and no. Yes - because obviously at the time I had a wonderful pregnancy and was able to enjoy it and my other two toddlers. No because apart from major things (like a trip to Disneyland Paris in the July), I remember nothing about that year. Not a thing. The only thing I remember about being actually pregnant that time was walking round Disney in the heat at a huge size, and the morning I went in to have him. I was lying in bed, ready to go up for my section, when a news report came on about Richard Hammond having his big accident (he was a car show presenter). It was shocking and I just remember watching it before I went up. And that's it.
I don't know why I can't remember such a big part of that year, but I'm sure there's a reason. All I know is while I can't remember it, I have a wonderful son to show for it and for that I'm truly thankful! And as my mum reminded me tonight, when we can't remember how we got through certain periods that's when God carried us..... just like in the poem about the footprints in the sand. (Thanks Mum!)

Soon I'll be sixty years old, my daddy got sixty-one

Remember life and then your life becomes a better one
I made a man so happy when I wrote a letter once
I hope my children come and visit, once or twice a month

Thankfully I'm not quite at the age to be able to sing this last verse, but I'm sure hoping I get to see it! My mum and dad are both alive at well at 64 and 67, and while I've just turned 40, I'm at a really reflective stage of life - call it a mid-life crisis if you want! I'm really thinking a lot about my life in the hope that I can start to pass things over to God and deal with them, to make my life a better one. I know I have issues - some small and some huge, but I also know that I have a Father God who knows every single one. And is there to help me deal with them as I need to. 
So there we go - my life in a song! Have you actually tried thinking back at different times in your life and looking at where you were? It's definitely a wonderful experience. 
Keep shining xx 

(Disclaimer: memories may appear different to different people, but since this is from my head, I'm happy with them!) 

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Bracelet love

I'm back - well for a bit at least!!! 

And to start off I thought I'd post something very light hearted and something I love... my Nomination bracelet! 

I was given my bracelet (and several of my charms) by a lovely bunch of girls that I do life with, for my 40th birthday this year. 

My girls are a crazy bunch of individuals who I go to church with, meet for coffee with, go to conferences with, read books with, and more importantly than anything, pray with and for each and every day. They have kept me sane in the midst of madness and I am so very thankful for every single one of them. They are my posse and we truly do life together. 

And yes - I turned 40 - it's a big one but I'm embracing it with the passion of a man and his mid-life crisis!! 

(*Minus the sports car or motorbike!! I'm sticking more to getting more massages and having fun with friends and family!)

But back to the bracelet - every charm I have is significant and I thought I'd share some of my lovely charms. 

See - told you it would be a nice light post!!! 

First come my fortieth charms - when I got my bracelet it came with some beautiful charms, all lovingly picked out by my girls. 

Because they are my wonderful FRIENDS!! πŸ‘πŸ»

For my 40th birthday - a lovely cake!!! πŸŽ‚

Because my name is Tanya... 

Because I LOVE SHOES!!! πŸ‘ 

And lastly a cross because our friendship is all the stronger for being based on our faith in God. πŸ“–✝πŸ™πŸ»

And since then I got a couple more extremely special charms. I decided not to go daft and buy loads - I just wanted to get ones that were special to me, and that's exactly what I have. 

My husband and I took a lovely break in Italy to celebrate both of us turning 40 so this special charm reminds me of him  ❤️

I'm extremely proud to be Irish, especially when you see how amazingly both sets of football fans have been during the Euros!! So I got a little Irish clover!! πŸ€

And then I got this one bought for me by another wonderful friend - 

You may have noticed that I talk a lot about butterflies - they just show God's amazing plans in action and I love that!! So a big thank you for this reminded of God's plan for my life!! 

And that's it for now. We did arrange that we'd all get a charm to remember the great conference we go to each February, but I haven't got mine yet!!! I'll show you it all when I eventually get it!! 

Thanks for staying with me - it's long winded but a fun piece to get me writing again. There's been so much going on that I want to share but I've struggled to write it all down! So this is definitely a start!! 

Speak again soon. 
Keep shining xx 

Thursday, 5 May 2016

F is for ...

Facing the Giants. 

So this post is about two things which come together... I hope!!! 

Our church AGM was on Thursday night and as usual our Pastor started it off with a devotional. This year it was based around 1 Samuel 17 - where David has arrived to the site of the big battle to find out no one is willing to face the giant Goliath. 

As part of one of his points, the Pastor talked about Saul talking a good fight, and trying to give David his armour to wear, but not actually being willing to fight the fight himself. He pointed out that we can do this too, telling people what we think they should do, but not doing anything ourselves. He also mentioned how God equips us all differently and so really the only person wearing our armour for the battle should be us. This REALLY got me thinking. 

You see I am very good at telling other people what I think they should do. Whether it comes as a friendly conversation, directions in work or advice to someone I'm helping to disciple, I have lots of ideas of what will help them and solve their issues... Yet I'm not ready to do anything about my own.

If you happen to be blessed to know me personally ( and yes that's sarcasm - blessed is not what you'd be!!!) you will know that I have lots of issues. From my weight, my issues with food, my inability to keep on top of my house and my habit of never finishing anything... I definitely have lots of things I need to work on in my life. But it's just so much easier talking about someone else's life. 

And I'm not talking about this in a 'take the log out of my eye before I help you take the speck out of yours' way.  I'm talking about having a heart to genuinely help people to grow and to face their giants, but finding that actually I do this sometimes because it's easier than facing my OWN giants. 

If you think about it it makes perfect sense. If I am helping someone else to get over an addiction or an issue in their life it is because it's so much easier to do that than to admit that I am struggling with my own addiction to food. I can give them all the advice I wish I could take... but am too scared to try. I spout off the verses that I know will help them through - but that I don't want to let into my soul because I know the change that will come. 

But God gave me these thoughts, strategies and verses to get MY life in order, to really focus on Him and to give Him the glory. I'm not saying I can't use them to also help others, but I need to be honest enough to know that I need them first. He doesn't want me to stay stuck in this hole, facing a giant that He's already beaten, just because I'm scared of what will change in my life. 

For me it's simple. I can't remember a time when I was slim, fit and healthy, and I panic at the thought of being that now. I know that it may bring more attention as people watch me change, whereas I am happy right now to sit in the background and be the 'cheery fat girl'. It will mean that I automatically will need to do more - from simple, wonderful things like go swimming with my boys on a Friday night, to things like feeling obligated to do some things to help other people which I'm incapable of doing at the size I'm at now. 

So I'm happy to stay fat, unhealthy and unfit. Because I fear change and the victory. I let that fear be the giant I'm telling everyone else to beat, while I sit back in my tent and watch. 

But God has already beaten ALL of our giants. No matter whether it's something big like addiction, weight, fear, self-confidence, or something smaller like the wall that seems to rise up at my front door if I ever try to go talk a short walk... He has beaten them all and through Him we have the VICTORY!! We can truly face every giant and be the conqueror, just like David. 

"For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you
against your enemies to give you victory."
Deuteronomy 20:4

All through God. 

So back to the beginning... 

'Facing the Giants' is one of my favourite Christian movies. It's an amazing film by the team that also brought us Fireproof, Courageous and War Room films and is a definite to put on your 'to watch' list. Yes, it's about a college Amercian football team, but it is about so much more than that. You are literally yearning for them to go that extra mile at one point, and you want everything to work out. It's about the power of prayer, trusting in God no matter what's going on around you and learning that in Him all things are possible. 

So if you get a chance to watch it, or if you've already seen it, comment and tell me what you thought of it - and let's get facing these giants together. 

Keep shining xx 

Monday, 2 May 2016

Psalm 119

This term I am spending some time reading Psalm 199, working my way the LOVE GOD GREATLY study for the Psalm. So I thought since it is a wonderful Psalm with some major challenges in it, I'd share some of the things I'm getting out of my daily coffees with God. 

This week I'm going to highlight 3 different passages that have really touched me and made me reevaluate my relationship with God, looking at where it is and where it should be.

"Joyful are people of integrity, who follow the instructions of the LORD. 
Joyful are those who obey his laws and search for him with all their hearts.”
Psalms 119:1-2

Wow - right in at the deep end!!! Does my life reflect His commands and His glory? I would definitely have to say no. I sin way too much each and every day, and my attitudes (esp laziness, selfishness and pride) are not at all God-glorifying. I am so in need of this reminder. I long to live a life of integrity and know that I reflect Him but there is so much in my life right now that doesn't. I am truly praying that I'll really see God work and transform me over this study - I need it! 

“I have rejoiced in your laws as much as in riches. 
I will study your commandments and reflect on your ways.”
Psalms 119:14-15

I need to spend time with our Father to really understand what He wants of me and how I'm supposed to live my life. He has laws for a reason - not only to help me live right, make the right decisions to be the best version of me, but also so I can see exactly how amazing the gift of His Son is. His Word should impact everything I do - and I definitely need to work on that! I want to be able to rejoice, to be glad when I'm found wanting in some areas, because I know that that is when God can come in and work His power in my life. If I ignore it then I'll never ask for His help and too easily fall into thinking I can do it all on my own. 

“Keep me from lying to myself; 
give me the privilege of knowing your instructions.”
Psalms 119:29  

This verse really struck me. I am forever lying to myself about my failures or issues. For instance, I eat something I don't need, but tell myself I needed it... Or I don't exercise and tell myself there was a very good reason... Or buy so sing online and pretend to myself that it wasn't very dear, I really need it and I have the money so why shouldn't I get it... 

Even though I know that I eat too much and too emotionally, I need to exercise or I will end up not being able to even move, and that the money would be much better spent elsewhere. 

And because of this I self-sabotage anything good I try to do. This is a continual cycle of behaviour that has to change. Not only is it destructive to me, but it also impacts everyone around me. 

I need to get back to the Word, to stop kidding myself and learn from the source what I should be doing. God is the only one who can help me so I need desperately to give it to Him.  

And so it continues... This Psalm is amazing and I'm so pleased to get another chance to study it. What are you studying right now and what is God teaching you? 

Keep shining xx 

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Meddlin' Madeline Mysteries...

When I first read about the chance to be on a launch team for 'Sweet on me' I was so excited! Chautona Havig is easily one of my favourite authors. She got me hooked after I read 'Ready or Not' (Aggie's Inheritance Book 1) so much so that I immediately bought and read the other two books in the series!!! 

So it was with great excitement that I signed up, ready to read the first book of a brand new series. And boy was I surprised! Not only did it completely surpass my expectations, but now I'm just devastated that I have to wait until she writes the next book in order to read it!! I'm not the most patient of people! 

Madeleine is an amazing character and I bonded really quickly with her quirkiness, her independence and feisty spirit. I love the fact that she is lost in her own thoughts at times, and I adore the way those around her interact with that! The 'will-she-ever-notice-him' is lovely and I can't wait to see what happens as the series progresses. 

This first story focuses on Madeline's suspicions of her friends fiancΓ© as she follows him to investigate and see if he is what he claims to be. As she explores the seedier side of Rockland her eyes are opened to a different side of life. I don't want to spoil it for all of you - so you'll just have to buy it to find out what happens!!!! 

Meddlin' Madeline is now a fantastic friend and I'm looking forward to seeing what she gets up to next!! 

Keep shining xx