Find Where You Belong

I was scrolling through the blogosphere when an advert came up for the British Army. I’m pretty open to their cause and have a strange affinity because I grew up with a parent serving in the British Army. But something in me winced at this advert.

You see, their advertising has always been targeted but now it’s reaching into the hearts of the many people who have a sense of missing something. It reaches into the heart of the person who feels as though they don’t belong by offering them the one thing they want: a place to belong.

What does it mean to truly belong?

Often people allow fitting in and belonging to become interchangeable, when they actually sit opposite to one another. Fitting in is about changing yourself to be accepted – to fit in you can’t necessarily be yourself. On the other hand, belonging is about being yourself and being accepted and embraced anyway.

It’s because of this distinction, I think, that so many of us have felt that sense of not belonging at some point in our lives. And, oh what sweet relief, when we finally find people we can be real with, be entirely ourselves with. The joy of true friendship has been when I’ve completely messed up. That sounds strange, but it is so freeing to have people who we can turn to and say, “I seriously screwed up here,” and know that they’ll stand by us anyway. And yet, the problem with finding belonging in the people around us, or in our jobs, or our homes, is that these things inevitably shift and change. I know that I’ve loved moving house and yet, I’ve struggled with the shift in relationships. My friends are still my friends, even 100 miles away, but it isn’t the same. I don’t belong in that place anymore and that is uncomfortable.

True belonging

For me (and for millions of others around the world), the truest belonging is found in relationship with Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter how badly I screw up, I can always turn to Him. It’s not without challenge, as we constantly reflect on our lives and little by little try to live better. My relationship with Jesus has changed so much over the last 30 years, but not because he has changed. Rather, he’s changed me. I’ve shifted and grown, and yet Jesus has stayed the same. His constant unchanging presence and truth has enabled me to find a deep sense of belonging that isn’t on offer anywhere else.

At the heart of belonging is Jesus’ offering of grace. It is this grace which allows us the space to be imperfect, to love and live imperfectly and yet to somehow belong at the same time. The world is full of imperfect people, living imperfectly and yet trying to mask their imperfections through literal or digital filters. This is dangerous, not least because filters lead to a lack of grace for ourselves, but also towards others. It’s dangerous because we slowly view ourselves through that lens of judgement and shame.

“If only they knew what you were really like…”

“If everyone knew what you did…”

“If only they knew who you really were…”

When we view ourselves through this lens, there isn’t a lot of room for grace… and there isn’t a lot of room for belonging either. This is fitting in, holding up the filter, hoping it never falls. Brene Brown says, “Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging have the courage to be imperfect.” Today, it truly is an act of courage to openly be imperfect… but to do so requires the truest sense of belonging.

Belonging in community

The other thing about finding true belonging in Jesus, abundantly surrounded by grace, is that it roots itself in community. The church doesn’t always get it right, but at its best it is trying to create that grace-filled space for people to enter into and to belong. Unfortunately, many Christians are the harshest judges, refusing to extend even the slightest amount of grace they themselves have received. But my hope is we can do better.

My hope is that we might be people who accept Jesus’ invitation into relationship with him because, when we do, we accept his invitation for grace and love; we accept his invitation to find an eternal belonging. A belonging that doesn’t shift. A belonging that isn’t dependent upon life’s circumstances.

My prayer is that we might be people who extend that grace to other people so they might also find belonging, and learn to drop the mask.

Welcome. Please, come in. You won’t find perfect people here, but we hope you will find belonging.


Backstage Help Required

“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” James 5: 16


It’s interesting, isn’t it, that so many of us think we are the only ones struggling with something. No-one else could possibly understand. And yet, this verse says otherwise. We are never alone in our falling short; we are never alone in our struggles. It is part of the human condition.

Yet, how many of us allow people into the backstage areas of our lives? Who are we accountable to? Who has permission to ask us those tough questions that require total honesty?

For me, it’s always been this fear of being ‘found out’ that has kept me from showing my backstage life to others. Inviting people in might mean they think less of me… but why would that ever have been my concern? People might think less of the me I’ve portrayed, but it isn’t even the real me. It’s just the front stage, polished act I’d grown into playing throughout years of collusion in my mind.

I say ‘I had’ because I’m trying to live this out in the present. I’m having the really tough, sometimes costly conversations. I’m letting people into the backstage who can pray with me, give me advice, or sometimes just hold my hand through it all. And wow do my shoulders feel lighter.

In his book on leadership, Simon Walker writes about the consequences of not letting people into the backstage: inevitably, the backstage starts to leak onto the front stage; or it just completely explodes. He says, “what lies behind the creation of a front and back stage is the sense that we can’t entirely trust our audience, and so we need to manage what they see of us.” And yet, where we trust, where we intentionally let people in to the stuff we are struggling with, where we make ourselves vulnerable, we find relief and freedom.

Though we risk rejection and judgment, it’s only of the false self we have put forward anyway. In reality, vulnerability allows others to be vulnerable; it breeds honesty, acceptance and respect.

Who are you vulnerable with?

Who do you let into your backstage?

You Got A Friend In Me

Today started out as many others have recently.

My little girl is definitely entering those tricky toddler years, with tantrums galore and crying at the drop of a hat for no reason at all. Of course, that’s not quite true. It seems to be for no reason to me, an adult. But clearly something is bothering my darling daughter. Whether it’s her teeth, her tummy, or just simply the frustration that she can’t communicate what she wants, something is causing my child to behave in a way I previously thought wasn’t in her nature.

And so, today started pretty badly. There were tears, lots of shaking of the head and some very cross noes. All before breakfast! For some unknown reason, she had given up eating for the last week or so. This morning, it is safe to say, I wasn’t looking forward to another day of refusing to eat. But thankfully, this was not to be. She’s eaten so well, and I am thrilled!

Anyway… why the title from Toy Story? 

Well, because today a friend reached out to me. And, for once, I let them.

Wow! What a difference!

I was able to pack my entire wardrobe for our imminent house move, and clean the bathroom. And I was able to breathe, not worry that my child isn’t having fun whilst I am getting organised. My friend arrived back at my house with my lovely bundle, and we enjoyed a natter and then he surprised me… with a lovely box of chocolates (which I might be enjoying right now). Wow! Good friends are really good for you. Such a blessing!

With my mood drastically lifted, I felt ready to get through the rest of the day. Despite a bit more whinging, my little girl seemed happier today – probably because she has eaten food! She’s now in bed, sleeping, and my husband is out at football. So I’m chilling on the sofa in my pjs, eating chocolate and drinking a hot brew. Bliss!

If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask. It may be just what you need.

Mini Beasts Advent

It’s December, but it is only the 1st of December, and our church does a lot of fabulous Christmas things for children and their families a little closer to the main day itself. So, for this month’s Mini Beasts I thought we would try to not look too closely at Christmas itself. Instead, I thought a few wintery activities, alongside some miniature wreath making, might help us get in the mood and get excited.

We had…

Gingerbread playdough (smells amazing!), which the little ones could mould, roll out and cut out gingerbread men.

A festive paddling pool, with tinsel and glitter and baubles.

A surprise blind feeling box, which was wrapped up like a present. Children (and adults) had to put their hands inside and try to work out what it was they were feeling – Christmas pudding, and mince pies.

Miniature wreath making with foliage, little candles and oasis.

Singing, a story and a special Advent prayer!

I am seriously blown away by how much joy I get from doing this group. Not only do I get to come up with fun, creative sensory activities which go with our story / theme, but I also get to share my faith with my daughter and with other parents and their children. What a privilege!

As I hurtle towards my daughter’s first Christmas, and then her first birthday, I am reminded daily of God’s goodness. Whether it’s a message from a friend, the fact I had a good sleep, or just a beautiful blue sky, his love and faithful provision surrounds me. With Mini Beasts, we have taken what was a small seed and planted it. We have met 3 times now, and I am excited to see where 2017 takes us.

The Imperfect Mum

Sometimes, I wish I could wear a badge saying, “Hello! Lovely to meet you. My name is Olivia and I am an imperfect mum.” I would wear this badge to all places where I might meet other imperfect mums: baby groups, sensory play, cafés, church, soft play etc. The list is probably quite endless.

As I wear this badge, I would find the conversations around me different. Perhaps instead of ever so slightly competitive chatter about where our children are on the development milestone scale, I would start to hear more honest conversations. The kind of conversations that deep, lasting friendships are built on. Conversations that are honest and don’t sell an image of motherhood as unachievable as unicorns and rainbows.

Perhaps I would sit with a group of mums I’ve never met before, and one might speak openly and daringly about how they are struggling with their thoughts and emotions. They might say, “Oh I’m so glad that you feel the same way as I do. I LOVE my child, but I am so tired. I feel broken. I wonder if I’m good enough.”

Or they might comment, “I feel confused. Yes, I love my child, but am I being selfish if I want to go out on my own every now and again? Does that make me a bad mum?”

They may even say, “I hate being a mum right now. I don’t know what I’m doing, and I wonder if I’ll ever feel ‘good’ again.”

These are hard things to talk about, especially if we consider that: 

  1. Most of us mums have only known each other as long as our child’s life span… we can feel like relative strangers;
  2. We are British, and have stiffer up lips that don’t talk about feelings and emotions.

But with these honest conversations, the façade of perfection can be wiped away, much like makeup the morning after the night before. It may have to be scrubbed off, depending on how much of an image we have put on, but it will come off if we wipe hard enough.

Motherhood is hard, and tiring. Sure, there is great joy in having a child, but that doesn’t mean you have to love being a mum all of the time. Yes, you can love your child, and yet struggle with the lack of independence suddenly thrust upon you. You can even wonder if you made a mistake having a baby… that doesn’t mean you’re a bad mum. It means you’re a normal human being, struggling with a complex mix of emotions, hormones, sleep deprivation and an enormous life altering shift of lifestyle that no one and nothing can ever prepare you for.

None of us are perfect. We all have failings and feelings; we all struggle with things from time to time, so why are we putting up a front? Let’s embrace our imperfections, our vulnerabilities; they can make us strong. We can be strong together.

Stronger friendships we can rely on.

Stronger minds that know imperfection isn’t just normal, it’s expected, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Stronger mums who live honestly with the people around them.

Let’s start a new conversation…
“Hello! Lovely to meet you. My name’s Olivia, and I’m an imperfect mum.”

A Letter to My Church

Dear friends,

I want to start out by saying how unbelievably grateful I am for everything you have done for me and my new family: hot meals; offers of laundry and ironing; kind cards and gifts; and such generous prayers. It hurts me to write this, but it needs to be written and said aloud.

You’ve been kind, and generous. But I feel quite alone. I feel forgotten.

If I’m honest, I wish I’d picked a different congregation to belong to. That is, to be connected to, and be a part of. You would think that if a part of you was missing, you would notice. I’m pretty certain, however, that if I deleted Facebook and never went to your service again, most wouldn’t notice. These were people I sat next to, have served alongside, have worshipped and prayed with, and yet I feel forgotten in the wilderness. 

It is hard being a new mum. I am tired. So tired, in fact, that sometimes I don’t go to church on a Sunday morning because it is an opportunity for me to catch up on a few extra hours. Instead, I will go midweek or to the evening service. When I’m there, though, within the congregation of which I used to belong, I feel strange. I don’t feel connected. I don’t feel a sense of belonging. I can’t come every week, so I don’t get the in-joke you’re telling which refers to last week’s sermon. I feel like a spare part, separate from everyone else. Even when I’m there, in the midst of you all, I feel alone.

I don’t know what I thought it would be like. I guess I thought people would still care about me after I had a baby, or that they’d be interested in my baby at least. I thought that, after 5 years of discipleship together, I would still feel connected to a group of people I love.

I do not write this letter to shame, or to bring about offers of catch up and coffee. I write this letter to let you know that just because someone might not be physically there, it doesn’t mean they’re not a part of you. I write this letter to let you know why I arrive late and leave early; why I seem quieter around you than normal. I write this letter because I don’t think you realise that you have a problem.

Everything changes when you have a baby. It robs you of yourself, steals your sleep, and hides your freedom. Motherhood denies you the right to do what you want, when you want, and it changes every relationship. Even my relationship with God has changed… My planned quiet times are so much less than before, but they’re unexplicably more profound and rewarding than before. My prayer life is much more sporadic, but more interesting and exciting.

It is heartbreaking that, at a time when my faith has come to life in a way I never could have imagined, I feel excluded from the people I want to share that with.

Look out for one another, especially those who aren’t in your immediate friendship group. The problem with cliques is that if you’re in one, you won’t know it. The beauty of church is that Jesus welcomes all in, and all should feel welcome. Take a step back. Are you welcoming? Are you inclusive, truly? Or are you part of the problem?

It Takes A Village

So the old adage goes, it takes a village to raise a child. And it does. 

I am so so blessed with a beautiful village around me: husband, church, parents, brothers and sister, Facebook support groups and friends from all over the place. Yesterday I felt that village gather around me and support me, after a long and hard day. It was wonderful, and I felt so uplifted and lucky to have so many wonderful people to lean on in Isobel’s life.

Today, though there were teething tears, was a much better day. I knew I had people praying for us, my husband came home for lunch, and I had a good friend with me for 7 hours. Whilst she came round so that I could help with a job application, actually I had the better end of the deal; I had a member of my village round all day.

During my friend’s time here, she received a long awaited email with her university results in. This is a big deal: this wonderful lady has worked hard for five years, through times of struggle and personal pain. We shared the journey, starting university at the same time, and I felt privileged to share in this moment with her. As if it wasn’t a perfect enough moment, seconds after she had declared her “Eek! I got a 2:1!”, and we were squealing excitedly, Isobel (whose nappy was off, mid-change) peed all over her changing mat. Cue much laughter!

It takes a village to raise a child… and a lot of laughter!