Ash Valentine Wednesday

black_watercolor_cross_heart_tile-reda79b343fe14ab28c1b66bcf89ba539_agtbm_8byvr_324I overheard a conversation in our tea room about how inconvenient it was that Ash Wednesday fell on Valentines day this year, it made me chuckle.  Often God intersects  my life at the most inconvenient times.  Like inviting us to plant a church when we had  3,4 &5 year old sons.  Like asking us to reach out into Armagh with a campus when Jason’s dad was terminally ill. Like when i’m ordering my breakfast in a cafe and the little lady beside me starts telling about her arthritic pain, doctors appointment and suddenly losing her brother in law 3 weeks before and I know that I have to pray for her, but really God don’t you see I’m in for a quick breakfast and diary scheduling with J and its all a bit awkward and embarrassing.  Or the time during Holy week prayer room when I was busy doing the church accounts and my friend kept insisting I come and hear her prayer and I thought “wise up just pray”, but God you insisted I go sit with her and in that moment she gave her life to you.  Interruptions to my plans, my schedule, like the beginning of Lent on Valentines Day.

Father, you are interrupting my plans for celebrating love with a reminder of what Ash Wednesday symbolises.  It links back to a Jewish tradition of wearing sackcloth and ashes as a sign of penance.  Its a reminder that we are from dust and to dust we will return.  Its an opportunity to repent.  That’s what I woke up thinking of this morning.  I accept that my sins are forgiven once and for all; past, present and future through Jesus. But there is a hidden power in confessing our sins that leads to breaking the hold that sin can have over us and when we already know Jesus as our Saviour we confess in the assurance that we are already forgiven.  The act of repentance actually reminds us of who we are, not sinners anymore but the redeemed. Repentance is not just a saying ‘I’m sorry’ but a determination to live a holy life, to do a u-turn from sin and turn towards grace and righteousness. Repentance breaks the power of the habitual sins that enslave us and steal our already won freedom.

Today I am choosing both. Celebrating love and repentance.  Actually finding that I’m loved deeply in both, accepted fully as I am.  This Ash Valentine Wednesday I’m walking in love preparing to u-turn where I need to; living beloved, cherished, forgiven and redeemed.


Bullet Blog for friday


It’s January everyone is eating healthily, joining diet clubs and gyms.  Not me.  I’m embracing Hygge; comfort and simplicity to see me through the dark, grey, and cold days of January.

This week I’m …

  • ReadingKen Follett A Column of Fire – finishing this novel that I bought in India on my way to Lucknow in Nov, I saved it for Christmas. My Boxing Day tradition is starting a new novel and breaking into the chocolate from my stocking.
  • Listening toJason Upton A Table Full Of Strangers, Vol. 2” and Brene Brown Braving the Wilderness on audible
  • Eating – comfort food; meatballs & Pasta, McKees Chicken & Ham pie fried cabbage with mash and gravy
  • Wearing – cardigans, layers, coats, warm socks and boots
  • Doing – walking the dog, napping, back to work
  • Loving –  candles and fires
  • annoyed with – the fog

STRONGER parenting


This is a transcript of my talk from church yesterday at Vineyard Church Dungannon. Not my usual blog style, written to be spoken rather than read.



Sunday 1 October 2017

This morning I want to talk about parenting, now for those of you who have children who are growing up and are now adults or those of you haven’t kids please stay and listen in because I’m going to talk about the gift we can all be to children and teenagers, but before I do that, I want to add a disclaimer about today’s talk. I have not written a book on parenting, I don’t have a degree in psychology, I’m talking only from experience, I have been a child, I have three boys and my experience in parenting is only 20 years in so I have a ways to go, however regardless of age or stage all of us can invest and help children and teenagers. 1800’ Hannah Smith a Quaker in her 70’s she wrote a book called ‘The unselfishness of God’

People talk a great deal about the duties that the young owe to the old, but I think its far more important the duties the old owe to the young”

Regardless of our age, stage or circumstances we can all add value to the lives of younger people.

Jason had this great idea that when our lads turn 18 he invites people who have been influential in their lives to write a small piece for them to go into a journal. You can imagine how much I cry when I read these! Some of these people are parents themselves, some aren’t, but all of them have played a positive role in our son’s life, we have nurtured these relationships, encouraged them and they hold a real value in our families. But the content for these journals didn’t happen by accident, intentionally decided years ago when the boys where babies actually that the job of bringing these boys up was too big for us alone, primarily our responsibility yes, but we knew we’d need reinforcements. The journal contributors are different for each boy, some are teachers, family friends, and many from this church. We value and love each of our boys armies of reinforcements. Mary & Joseph had reinforcements too;

Luke 2:42-44

42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. 43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they travelled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends.

I find this passage wonderfully reassuring, even Mary didn’t know where Jesus was 24/7!!! In their culture their was a collective caring and looking after, we’re loosing that in 21st century Ireland – lets not lose it in the church.

So this morning please please don’t zone out on me if you’re not a parent, as a church family you have your place just like aunties and uncles and cousins in our natural families. Lets be a church where everyone cares, where we step in and take collective care for all out Vineyard children and young people.

The reality of being a parent is so much harder than I ever imagined. Lets talk about the elephant in the room – parenting is hard. It can be all consuming and stressful. This new human does not come with a manual, and they fully depend on you to keep them alive. We can feel guilty ALL THE TIME. For everything. We feel guilty for finding it difficult, we feel guilty because sometimes we want our old life back, and we especially feel guilty because we have people in our lives who are heart broken that they haven’t yet become parents so we feel extra pressure to look like we’re loving it!! Social media makes all of this worse. I’m so glad we didn’t have facebook and instagram 20 years ago when I first became a parent. The pressure to present this perfect parenting life with your little ones. We all know the secret don’t we, if we panned the camera and around we would see the same mess and chaos that we live with daily!!! And the update is this, it doesn’t stop being hard, you just get used to it and find your own way to do family and eventually you get to my stage and you give yourself a break! Except don’t wait 20 years to give yourself a break start now!!!!

  1. Stop trying to be the perfect parent.

Perfection doesn’t exist and comparison as Theodore Roosevelt famously said,

Comparison kills joy.

Your child is fearfully and wonderfully made, unique right down to its fingertips, but so are you! And each family is unique. Do not compare you, your child or your family to anyone else’s. Please please stop it!!! Be inspired, be encouraged by, take advice from other families for sure, but don’t compare yourself to them, its impossible!!

Here’s my personal top tip on this. Apologise. From toddler right up, apologise to your child when you get it wrong. It will not make them insecure, it will not burst their bubble, it will teach them that when they get it wrong that they need to own their mistakes and apologise just like they’ve seen mummy and daddy do. It also deepens the trust between you. I found this one difficult sometimes because it felt like backing down. And one of my parenting mantras is say what you mean and mean what you say – so I have always tried to follow through. That works both ways if I promise that we’ll do something then I will make that happen – also means I’m slower to promise things. Equally when it comes to discipline, if I say you’re going to get grounded if you do that again then guess what you did it again you’re grounded!! Problem came when sometimes the time didn’t fit the crime and I was being too harsh – usually at this stage Jason would take me aside away from the little ears and ask me to reconsider the punishment, I’d at first be like no way am I going back on what I said, and then I realised there was another teachable moment in this, so id go back to the son in question, apologise for being too harsh and readjust the punishment. Win win. He saw that I could admit when I was wrong, experience some grace and at the same time still see that I’d follow through. Im so glad we started apologizing to the lads when they were little cause ill be honest if id waited until they were teenagers I might not have been able to do it! And admitting I’m wrong now to a young adult well that’s a whole other thing all together.!!

James 5:16 (MSG)

Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed.

Lifegroup story – speaking to a friend this week and she said that learning to apologise to your children through a parenting lifegroup changed their family!!

So no1 stop trying to be perfect, you know you aren’t anyway, no one else is either and apologise when you’re wrong.

  1. Teach them to make good choices

Proverbs 1: 1-3 The Message

These are the wise sayings of Solomon, David’s son, Israel’s king -Written down so we’ll know how to live well and right, to understand what life means and where it’s going; A manual for living, for learning what’s right and just and fair; To teach the inexperienced the ropes and give our young people a grasp on reality.

The greatest thing, the greatest gift you can give a child, a young person is to help, influence and teach them how to make choices.

The story of the Bible has this overriding theme running all through it, God gives people choices and then He allows them to live with the consequences of those choices whether they are good or bad. The story of the Bible is full of choices and consequences. What you sow you reap, choice and consequence.

 Choice is the most powerful thing you can hand you children. Choices determine our kid’s futures and define their character. Your child comes to you, your pupil comes to you your niece or nephew comes to you and they ask you a question, like “Can I”, Can I do … and you say no and they say why not and you say “Because I …. because I said so. And you know how it goes they’ll ask again and again and you’ll repeat, listen because I said so. In our house we try not to use ‘because I said so’ instead we answer, age appropriately, with the ‘why’ behind it. I confess sometimes when the why hasn’t satisfied and I’m still being asked Can I – I have been known to shout cause I told you so!!    Ok now back to the why I love proverbs and all scripture is because it answers the why, God wants us to make the right choices.

From when my boys where young enough to talk and ask questions we let them make choices, age appropriate choices, not I’m not going to school today choices or I’ll take 6 spoonfuls of medicine instead of one.

Now I want to be honest with you, helping kids make good choices is not an easy road because you know they will get it wrong sometimes. Choice = Consequences. If you do this for your children, for your pupils, your niece, your nephew you will help them to do what’s right, what’s fair and what’s just and get a handle on reality when your not there.

A handle on reality when you’re not there. When you’re not there when your child steps on to the play ground at school, when you’re not there and your daughter or son heads of to university, when you’re not there and it’s the first sleep over, when you’re not there and facebook friends start writing about another friend in a way that could be a form of bullying. When you’re not there on that first interview. 

  1. Caught not taught

Ecclesiastes 4:12

Though one may be overpowered,

two can defend themselves.

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

I love this verse. It was part of our wedding service and many of you have probably heard it only in that context. But this morning I want us to look at this on a wider relationship view than just marriage. The context of this verse is friendship, what if we applied this little verse to every relationship we have. And for the sake of this morning what if we applied to the relationships that we have with the children and young people in our lives. To intentionally interweave Jesus into those relationships. Often we think of the third strand being added as Jesus, when I think of how I’ve introduced God to my boys it was actually their strand that I added to the me and Jesus rope! And here’s why this is so important for all of us, it means that I bring my boys, the other young people and children that I have in my life too, into my relationship with Jesus. I allow them into that sacred space. I share with them my experience with The Father, I introduce them to my friend the Holy Spirit not from a place of theory but from a place of knowing.

This changes everything! Instead of feeling pressure that our children and young people must know off by heart the books of the bible we long for them to know the God of Bible. Instead of settling for them knowing 20 verses off by heart we long for the truth of those verses to be planted in their hearts and minds.

Jason and I invited our boys into our relationship with God, as wonderful, and messy as that is sometimes. They get a front seat into how we live this gospel, how we love to worship Jesus, how we bring God into every situation. Confession time as a family we have tried family devotions – that don’t work for us and if they work for you I confess I’m envious. The last few family holidays I insisted on doing it just on a Sunday instead of church and the lads barely compiled and told me I was just making it really awkward! But we have always had teachable moments – we were doing this for years before I heard someone use that phrase and I thought – oh that’s us! In the car, around the table, at the edge of the bed, on the sofa, in the garden wherever there was a situation to ask God for help, to seek His truth in a situation, to act with mercy, to ask what would Jesus do? To pray for someone. We took it.

You don’t have to know everything about God and the bible to share your faith with the children and young people in your life, don’t hold back until you know more and please don’t leave the job only to the church, invite them into your friendship with God, interweave their strand with you and His.

  1.  Slow down

Around the late nineties something happened we got influenced by the football mum or rugby mum, the overloaded weekly activities – driving kids across the country to football, singing lessons, speech, drama, clubs, cubs, swimming scouts and bally. Children first thinking and living has lead to in some cases not all but some cases where parents find the they have more month than money, no time for intimacy in their marriage, single parents shattered and kids not fit to concentrate or give themselves to their natural God given talent. Where parents are working full time in highly stressful jobs because they don’t what their children to miss out on the expensive school trips, extra curricular activities, a foreign holiday every year, plus all the latest clothes and gadgets! When really what the parents would love is a less well paid, but less stressful job so they could actually spend more time with their children. A report last year stated that companies in Sweden are looking at introducing a 6 hour working day because research shows that people can be just as productive in that time and it also increased their general well being as it increases the amount of time they have outside of work!

We believe the lie that I must give my child every opportunity life can give but it’s unobtainable, it’s impossible. I must give them the very best stuff, some of us think I never had much when I was growing up but this time things are going to be different for my kids, clothes, trainers, holidays, opportunities, toys. Or maybe like me you had everything growing and you don’t want to let your children down by giving them less! Parents you do not owe your kids every single experience in life you do not have to give them the very best of stuff that money can buy.

Slow down

I am heart sore reading articles about anxiety in our children and young people. I am broken hearted when I sit and listen to children and young people describe the crippling effects of anxiety on their young lives. And I feel so much empathy for parents and influencers of children and young people who are at their wits end to know how to help!

Lets start a ‘SLOW DOWN’ revolution.

We all need to slow down. Quit the idolatry of busy. Lean into rest. Stop over scheduling our schedules. We cannot keep up with this pace of living. When we talked about mental health earlier in the year we heard the frightening statistics. Well its time to take action.

Slow down.

Matthew 11:28-30The Message (MSG)

28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

I love Eugene Petersons translation – learn the unforced rythmns of grace. If ever their was a desire for our children, all our children, our own, our extended families, our vineyard children, our friends who are like family children, if ever there was a desire for their lives surely its this. In this frenetic culture and time that we life in that they would learn to live in this place of rest with Jesus.

So how do we do it. A quick not complete manifesto to get you started. Go home write your own slow down family mainifesto

  • Lie in are allowed & naps
  • Schedule days with no schedule – no play dates, no trip planned, no craft, no nothing. Let them fill their own time, at first they might resist but you are teaching them so much good in this.
  • Teach your child to say no, you’re going to have to model this. You can’t sustain saying yes to every single thing. Caleb reminded me last night that in our family he learnt that you can’t do everything but you can do something. He said it carried through to what activity you wanted to do, to what career you aim for. Teach them to say no to what’s good so that they can enjoy best.
  • Choose one thing for one year to focus on. Let them choose one. Piano, ballet, football, rugby, speech and drama. Try it for one year. As parents we are heart scared that our kids CV’s will not be full enough to get them into Uni or that job. Trust God. Choose one bible club, it doesn’t even have to be a Vineyard one! Choose one for one year. Choose one after school activity for one year.
  • Parents be kind to yourself. You are doing a fantastic job. You are doing the very best that you know to do, because you love your children more than life itself. Be gentle with yourself.

Watch this space 

January is just gone and I’ve already slipped into the bad habit of busy. Something broken inside of me feels the need to fill the open spaces of my life with more appointments, tasks and responsibilities. The margin that I was forced to recapture last year is very quickly being swallowed up again. This morning though I have a couple of hours space. I need this space for my brain to breathe. To catch up on my bible readings, to pause and to reflect. To be on my own. No conversation. No verbal processing. Just brain space. 

It’s taken me longer than it could’ve to realise and accept my absolute need of this space. My mind cannot access its deeper thoughts, it’s creative room unless I give my brain this opportunity to slow down. Often it requires me to be in an ‘other’ place for my brain to breathe  more deeply. I sadly struggle to experience this in my own home – this makes me deeply sad actually and I have fought this for years. I’ve tried desperately to create a place or corner in our home for my brain to breathe and in the search stress myself out about it. 

It was accidently and through carefully noticing a reoccurring pattern in my life that I stumbled on my need for an ‘other’ place for my brain recovery. Almost each and every time I would go away for a holiday, on a short trip, for an overnight or even a day I began to notice this urge to write. Initially I thought it was as simply a time issue – I was away from home and the usual routine therefore I had more time. In reality time wasn’t the missing element, it was the opportunity to unchain myself from the everyday lists, the to-dos and the ‘should be doings’ that allowed my brain to breathe more. New surroundings and unfamiliar places awaken a deeper hidden place within me. Even on trips where the schedule was demanding I’d find myself staying up later than my tired body wanted so I could scribble furiously the 100’s of words that tumbled so hurriedly on the page I could barely keep up. 
I have spent the past couple of years frustrated with myself for not being more disciplined in my writing. I’ve lost count of the prophetic and encouraging words spoken into my life prompting, urging and cheering me on to write more. The frustration in my head would grow and sometimes the accusing voice in my head would taunt me with doubts hinting at failure and laziness. 

At last I’ve made the connection not with needing more time, but needing, and I mean I need to be in an ‘other’ place for my brain to breathe. My body and soul is replenished in our home – we have created a home well equipped for physical rest; comfy beds, sofas and an open fire. We nurtured a family space where my soul feels connected, deeply known and filled by the love of those I love most in the world. My kitchen is the centre of  the home where our bodies are nourished and where the souls of those we love like family are fed and loved. So can you see why I’m so sad that I can’t find a place, or a corner in my beloved home to nourish and replenish my mind?

During a session of counselling last year I was challenged to describe how I was nurturing the introverted 48% of myself. That was a quick and easy reply – I wasn’t. I had long neglected or felt almost ashamed of my introverted self and instead leant more into the extroverted side. I’m saying that to say this, that session challenged me to observe and listen to the hidden parts of me as well as the more obvious. On this path I discovered that while time is not the problem, home is not the place, travel is not always possible, the need of another space is essential for my mind to thrive and my brain to breathe. 

January was too full. I’m committing in February to prioritising the preservation of my space. Will you hold me accountable WisdomShouts friends? 

My ‘one thing’ for 2016 & 2017


New Year’s Eve has to be one of the most reflective days of the year.  I find it melancholic, although since I tend towards melancholy it sits with me just fine. I’ve found myself in a reflective pose for the past 2 months.  Reflecting on this time last year, on how difficult that season was for us as a family and marvelling at just how far we’ve come and how wonderfully different life is this year.  My reoccurring theme in conversation especially with those who walked through Micah’s mental illness with us is God’s overwhelming care, His own self in the middle of the hardest thing we’ve ever faced, His provision through the right people, in the right place at the right time for Micah has completely blown me away.  God is good. He is faithful. God is kind, merciful, gentle, just and all the things that I’ve been taught about Him and the more that I’m yet to discover, they are all true. The one thing that I have learnt in the past 14 months over and over again is that I can fully trust my Father in Heaven.  Fully, totally and completely trust Him.  In the darkest moments, when fear gripped my soul, when I felt like I had lost my life forever, when I was totally out of my depth and didn’t know how to parent anymore, in those moments I heard him tell me,  “trust me, Michelle.”  So 2016 unfolded into a year of trust where sometimes it was easier than others.  At times I wrestled and took control again, only to hand it back again.

I’ve been pondering the year ahead, this time last year I couldn’t even do that, it was still a day at a time existence.  But this NYE I feel the freedom and lightness to look ahead with hope and expectation.  Something shifted for me during my trip to India in Nov, I still can’t articulate the what, but I felt it, the shift, a move in my soul.  I can look forward with a deeper understanding of what it means to trust God, it feels like new deep pilings in my foundation that give me the confidence to build this year without fear that I can’t sustain it.  

My one thing for 2017 is to be faithful.  Faithful to my family, to Jason and my boys, faithful to deepening my friendship with Jesus and faithful to the call he has placed on my life.  It’s not dramatic, it’s the ‘left foot, right foot’ approach to living my life well.  To be faithful means I am committing to being present, to being disciplined, to following through, to not quitting, to learning from my Father what true faithfulness looks like.  It might mean that I take some risks this year, it could mean that I stop putting off the things I have been putting off and finally get stuck in.  Or it could mean hunkering down and living life at a deeper, fuller more sacrificial level.

I’m expectant, I’m hopeful and I feel the wind of the Holy Spirit on my back as I step into 2017.  My prayer for you is that whatever year you’re leaving and whatever you are anticipating in the year ahead that you would know deeply the love of Father God, that you would experience the life changing friendship of Jesus and that you would know the power of the Holy Spirit in your life and bear witness to presence of God in the lives of those you love in 2017.


PS Micah approved this post before I shared it, its always my rule that my boys approve any reference to them before its shared.

PPS total confession time – this post almost didn’t get shared because when I was searching for a hashtag to accompany my image i realised that one of my favourite bloggers Sarah Bessey has also chosen ‘faithful’ as her one word for 2017.  Catch her brilliant piece here one of the reasons I blog so little now is that I fear that I have nothing new or original to say and here I am faced with that dilemma head on.  Any how I’m posting this, so very often in the Kingdom we will hear over and over the same truth in the one year because the Lord is looking to remind us of something important or timely, I’m choosing to believe that rather than allow my insecurities to win and to delete my post.  

Here’s the links to other posts that are relevant to this one and you might also enjoy.

When fear tries to steal your soul 

My ‘one thing’ for 2013


Wisdomeats : Bear’s smoothie 

The Hassan’s have inherited a sweet tooth through the generations. My Dad has one, I definitely have one and my Matty continues in the line of sugar and all things sweet lovers. I actually feel guilty about this. Every time I challenge the amount of sugary stuff he’s consuming I’d see the mirror reflecting back to me the amount I’d consumed that day too! Sometimes I’d feel like our love of the sweet and sticky things of life is a curse passed on, not a delight to be enjoyed (in moderation of course).

So Matty (or bear as he’s affectionately known) has always loved the sugary breakfast options, although when I think of it the other 2 brothers aren’t far behind him. Coco Pops, Frosties, crunchy nut cornflakes, frosted shreddies or current fav Krave! Or it’s 2 croissants smothered in a half a pot of raspberry jam. Or white toast (never ever brown but I have tried I promise, even sneaking a slice of white and brown in a sandwich when the white has run out – it can back home uneaten) with layers of Nutella. 

Earlier this year I began to fully grasp my unhealthy obsession with all things sweet and sugary and begin to tackle it.  The results to my well being felt so immediate that I became a preaching convert to the whole house on the evils of sugar and poor Matty was my main target. 

And here’s the proof that I’ve converted him to smoothies for breakfast!!! It feels like a bigger achievement than it probably is but I’m delighted, and he loves them. Started at exam time when I wouldn’t let him go to school without breakfast and he could have this in the car.  I confess that often my boys eat breakfast in the car, travel mugs are an invention I’m very thankful for. Grown up sippy cups!  The smoothie is now firmly the breakfast choice for Matty most days, I mean it doesn’t beat a bacon sandwich but it’s up there. I’ll be honest getting up to make him a pre rugby smoothie at 8am on a Saturday morning does make me feel like one of those ‘super mums’ that we will all aspire to be but  deep down know don’t exist (accept on Instagram or Facebook) 

Further Confession time, they do say it’s good for the soul; I fell off my low-sugar wagon in France and I’m struggling to get back on it, but I am trying. This week the goal was drinking more water and a couple of walks (thanks to my pal Janice who’s been sending me pics to motivate me and get me up and moving more). I want to be healthier;  eat less processed, less sugary food, and definitely be more active, but I’ll be honest I don’t find it easy and some days it feels like another thing to add to my ‘could do better’ list. My relationship with food and exercise has historially been accompanied by those bully boy friends; failure, guilt, and their side kick comparison. I’m 44 now and feel less intimadated by them and I’m slowly learning to be kinder to myself, kinder in my whole life, realising that eating better and moving more is actually a kinder way to treat my body. 

Meantime do yourself a favour and try Bear’s smoothie, the ingredients in brackets are my variation when I make it for myself. 

Bear’s smoothie

1 banana 

½ cup of mixed frozen berries *

1 small pot strawberry  yoghurt (Greek yoghurt & 1/2 tsp cinnamon)

1 cup whole milk (semi skimmed) **

1 handful or ½ cup porridge oats 

½ cup cashew nuts

1 – 2  tsps or a squeeze honey 

Blitz it until smooth. Sometimes it will be thicker than others so add more milk to adjust the consistency. 

* use whatever soft fruit you prefer. Personally I love mango, the men in my house all prefer the mixed berries. Frozen is cheaper and there’s less waste. If you’re using fresh fruit add ½ cup of ice to the smoothie. 

** use whatever milk or milk substitute you prefer