Monday, 31 December 2012

#RealLifeRocks in 2013

I'm writing this on the evening on 27th December, so we have just four days left of 2012. I've looked back over the last three years on my blog and each year at this time, I say the same thing - that I won't set any resolutions and set myself up to fail. That does make sense but tonight I have been questioning whether I have not set any resolutions in recent years so that I do not have to actually keep to them. There are certain things that really do need to be tackled and I keep pussy footing and not grabbing the issue by the balls and dealing with it.

A couple of months ago I posted about my main focus for 2013, that being Operation #RealLifeRocks, I totally standby this and it is my overreaching aim of the year, to live in the now and to cherish what I have in front of me.

I do need some direction but I want to keep it positive and simple, so rather than a list of do-nots.  I'll share with you in pictures what I will be doing in 2013...

 
 
 
 
 
 
Most of these I look at and think yes that is achievable I can do that but when it comes to my weight I have a brain block, so I'll leave you with this simple thought and I have to admit it made me cry when I read it -
 'If you believe it .... you can achieve it'. 

I need to start believing...

Books image credit

Sunday, 30 December 2012

2012 - A year of highs!

For the last week or so I've been wanting to write a post to pull together this last year and to round it all up. The logical place to start was to look for a resolutions, goals, wishes type post from January gone to see if I achieved what I wanted to. You know what, I could not find one.

There was a post about my weight - isn't there always, and yes again I had vowed to eat less, move more, sleep more and dump some pounds.  But sadly it has not happened, I think I am the same exact weight now as I was at the start of Jan in 2012. So I might as well start this post off with the low point and as far as I can recall this is the only downside from 2012, so I can hardly complain at that, can I?

Right, on with the highs - I'll take you on a month by month tour of what happened in the life of Mummy from the Heart -

January
I moved jobs in Jan and adore my new role.  It offers everything I want from a job and a girl could not ask for a lot more. In the bloggy world I published a post titled Blogging is just like the real world.  This went down well and I read it out at BritMums Live in June as a crowd sourced speaker.

My own little animal at the Muppets preview

February
I hosted my second New Bloggers Fortnight and had some great guest writers, my favourite posts were probably those by Ruth and Clare. Geek Mummy's was the most read by far and I will always feel joyful that Kerry posted here too.

I ended the month asking people what their opinion on blogging awards is and 91 comments later we can sum up that it is completely mixed. Will I put myself through the agony in 2013, who knows?

March
My blog received its much longed for make-over in March and here I am 10 months later and thank the Lord I have not bored of it, so I obviously made the right choice in the design.

It was also the month that I travelled up to London to meet the ONE Campaign and to learn about who they are and what they do, of course I then went on to do great things with them in October.

Paultons Park for a review

April
We took our annual trip to Spring Harvest, the huge Christian festival at Butlins in Minehead. This was an amazing week of family time and worship. Whilst we were there I wrote a post called 'seeing myself through my kids eyes ' and this struck a cord with lots of people.

I also wrote one of my blogs biggest SEO successes.  Not one I would have chosen to write, I revealed my tactics for having dealt with a clothes moth infestation!

May
May seemed to be a month when I wrote about blogging.  I often hear that it is the kiss of death to blog about blogging. Apparently it makes me boring.  Oh well, my stats tell me you like it and people keep coming back.

June
I had a great weekend away with the ladies from my Church, lots of down time and relaxation and then the next weekend I headed off to BritMums Live to spend time with my best bloggy buddies.


July
July marked my girls turning 5 and we headed off to Yorkshire for my first review holiday, it was a great time. On our journey back I got a tweet to say I had been picked to be a Butlins Ambassador in 2013 and then later in July I was asked by the ONE Campaign if I wanted to travel to Ethiopia in October.  I also felt I needed a change of direction with my guest posts on the BritMums blog so the Positively Inspirational round-up was born. It was a VERY good month indeed.

August
I had a lot of down time this month, blogging less and being with my family more.  We stayed in Bournemouth with my parents for a week and enjoyed family, sun, good food and just simple time together.

In general I had the best summer with the kids and will never forget the time we spent together, laughing, singing and playing.



September
This month was all about the mental preparation of getting ready to travel to Ethiopia, the kids went back to school and I worked hard. I also joined in with the debate about Kate Middleton and those topless photos.

October
We went to Legoland for JJ's 9th birthday and shortly after I boarded a plane for the first time in 8 years. My journey to Ethiopia is well documented on this blog and I'll never forget what I saw, heard and learnt there, I have been forever changed.



November
I don't really feel as if my feet touched the ground when I came back from Ethiopia, I was swept away in a need to blog about everything I had experienced and also conscious I needed to get ready for my journey to Belarus in early December. I knocked out a post about blogging (yes again) as I was getting a tad fed up with the newer bloggers keep moaning about things.

Towards the end of November I was honoured to be a part of a group of bloggers who came together for a very public show of prayer and healing for Kerry of Multiple Mummy. Sadly for us and her family, God had plans that Kerry should join Him and she passed away in December. RIP Kerry.

December
Bringing us right up to date, the month started with me travelling to Belarus with Operation Christmas Child. Yet another amazing journey and so different to Ethiopia but equally as rewarding and thought provoking. Upon my return I wrote an expose of what I had seen and heard whilst travelling with this Christian charity. I also published a post on the same subject on the BritMums blog.



2012 has been good, thank the Lord for the wonderful opportunities He has put in my path.  I pray He finds many uses for me in 2013.

Happy New Year readers, thanks so much for keep coming back.  Mich x

Saturday, 29 December 2012

#SocialPix - my first time!

I have been meaning to post today, really I have but just recently I have been enjoying surfing the blogsphere and reading rather than writing, so my blog is bare!  But then I just saw Annie post and remind me about #SocialPix and seeing as I have not joined in before, I will now.

Here are my favourite series of photos from this week as shared on FB and Twitter -


Why don't you join in too and share an image that has amde you smile.


Thursday, 27 December 2012

A simple Christmas #R2BC (Week 52)

Happy Christmas one and all, this is the last Reasons to be Cheerful of the year, this linky has now been running a full two years and I am pondering its future - is it here or elsewhere?  We will see, I know there will be lots of changes a foot in 2013 but I'm not entirely sure what they all are yet.

I don't think there is anything else I could make my #R2BC about this week, it is Boxing Day evening as I write this and I am pleased to have a bit of calm and some downtime.

Here is what I have been thankful for this Christmas -

1.  Getting to spend time with my husband, children, parents, brother and Nan. No frills, just simple conversations, board games, craft, food enjoyed together and hugs on the sofa.


2.  All my family being well over Christmas, normally at least one of the kids gets ill but no so far. It is also a blessing that my Nan is still with us, she went into a hospice back in October and is the only person I have ever known to get well enough to come out again.  Yes she is bedridden and has terminal cancer but boy is she fighting!

3.  Christmas day had a purpose, as well as being fun. Dh cooked food for our church dinner and I ferried it back and forth and helped to set up/ serve.  We also had one little lad come over our house to play for a few hours and I think this made his day.  We were both exhasted by the end of the day but lots of people who would have been lonely got to spend time together and that is what counts.

4.  I got Mum to myself for a couple of hours on Boxing day to go to the sales and enjoy a nice cappuccino together. The bonus was that I managed to buy some really lovely goodies, Next leather shoes for £14, a beautiful leather purse (I won't say the price of that one) and a couple of pretty vest tops for just £3.50 each as well as a gorgeous crystal hair accessory, annuals for the kids some nail varnish - result!

5.  The girls had the best time playing beauty boutiques with Mummy.  I spent £3 in the cheap shop last week and bought a set of brushes, eye shadow and lip gloss for the express purpose of having a play together. We made each others faces up, did our nails and they did my hair - there was giggles all round.


6.  There is still loads of time before we have to go back to work/ school. Lots of chilled days at home with games, movies and crafts.


Over to you...

So that was us, how was it all for you?  I hope you had a great time. If you fancy, write a post about what has made you cheerful/ grateful/ happy and link it up.  Then we can all go visit each other and leave some comment love.  I'm not expecting there to be many this week to be honest, but you just never know....

I hope to catch you soon but if not I wish you a very happy New year!

Monday, 24 December 2012

Take a nosey at our Christmas trees


I'm very late to the show but who is keeping watch of time hey? Cass at Diary of a Frugal Family set up a linky for us all to share our Christmas trees and I do love a good nosey, so time for me to link up and go and visit the others. I'm hardly expecting anyone to turn out here as it is Christmas eve after all.

This year we have two Christmas trees, I decided that I wanted an adult one in the front room, one where everything matches and then the kids had fun literally throwing decorations at the other. It appears that the bag with all their decorations has not made it down from the loft but they had fun with the coloured sparkly decorations I had bought ready for a Christmas tree festival this year.  I have to be honest and say I like their tree much more than mine.

I think next year we will go back to one tree and we will just put all our favourite decorations on it, I miss the mismatched, hotch potch approach that I remember from my childhood Christmases. I hope my parents still have some of my favourite decorations in their loft, I must ask them to have a look.


I find that decorations hold so many memories and that is far more important that the overall glamour (or not as the case may be) of a tree. Between our two trees we have decorations made by the kids, one that were bought when they all were born, decorations bought on honeymoon in Barbados and more recently some from my trip to Belarus. Ones chosen by the kids and ones bought for them, it really does represent my family and all the Christmases we have spent together and I love that.

Until this year we have alwasy had a tree entered in our local Christmas tree festival and thus have literally hundreds of decorations to choose from. My trip to Belarus with Operation Christmas Child this year stopped us taking part but hopefully we will be back with a vengence next year.

 
My tree in the lounge, which sadly you can't really see much of due to the lights! lol

 
And the kids tree - aren't the lights fab on the kids tree?

Saturday, 22 December 2012

It's such a perfect day.....

...and I'm glad I spent it with you - Daddy, Miss M, Miss E and JJ.

I really am very easy to please, I don't hanker after the finer things in life, just time with my family, a small amount of money to spend to make that time extra special and then lots of relaxation. Only a couple of small things could have made today even better - 1. that my Mum and Dad were here and could join us and 2. that I had some elves who could finish wrapping the presents for me!


Today we visited Santa at his grotto, went for a cream tea afterwards and had a good browse round a beautiful garden centre.  Then we came back for lunch, made crackers for Christmas day and sat and watched three Christmas movies back to back.  I even managed to fit in the ironing, some wrapping and tidying up the house.

Dh was a diamond and did lunch, dinner and showered the kids.  That's what I team work!

It's now time for a movie snuggled with my hubbie.  What are you up to?

Thursday, 20 December 2012

#R2BC - Christmas preparations with 2 little ladies (Week 51)

Hello, happy Thursday!

We are practically at the end of the year, I can't believe this is the 103rd week of Reasons to be Cheerful. Time really does pass quickly when you are having fun! Thanks again to all of you who keep me company on this, my weekly vigil.

Last weeks reason was the children I met in Belarus and all their happy smiles, this weeks reasons are my own two smallest beams of sunshine. I seriously need to remind myself of how much I adore them as they are driving me potty right now! It is a case of pre-Christmas fever and there is only so many Christmas carols I can tolerate when they are sung at the top of their voices!

We have had a lovely couple of weeks preparing for Christmas - wrapping presents, making crackers, making fudge, decorating the tree and so much more....

This is the shy and retiring Miss M!


and her twinnie Miss E

and the Hama bead decorations they had made and were hanging on their tree.
 
 After their school performance the little ladies pose for a random picture!
 
Posting letters to Father Christmas in John Lewis

Time to tell the nativity story....

Enjoying time just being together - finally we have completed the puzzle which took us days!
 
 
Over to you - what is making you grateful/ happy/ cheerful right now?
 
Write your post, add in the blog hop code and then go visit some fellow happy peeps. Tweet with #R2BC if you fancy but most of all have fun and share the comment love. I'll aim to come and visit you all - lets be honest, it is practically Christmas, I don't expect they will be that many of you!
 
If we don't speak before, have a fabulous Christmas!  Mich x

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Operation Christmas Child Exposed

Me with our translator, Nastia
I’ve been back from Belarus for almost a week now and I have been enjoying the down time, it is as if I do not have enough brain capacity to blog right now, I am well and truly spent. I did wake up this morning though and have a silent longing for it to be last Sunday again; we met so many fabulous kids in Belarus and we were riding the high of our successful webcast. Last Sunday was for sure my best day there and the people I spent the week with were such fun and kept me grounded during a week which could have been very emotional.

I feel as if I have been propelled on a journey that started in November 2011 when I was first asked to travel with Operation Christmas Child to be part of and blog about a shoe box distribution abroad. Once the initial panic of just three weeks’ notice had dissipated I was so excited to take this journey, OCC is a charity I have supported for years and love the idea of, so why wouldn’t I do this? I soon realised the answer to this – there are so many people who are anti-OCC and they were not going to make my journey easy. The amount of negative comments I have received in the last year could have been seriously demotivating if I had allowed them to be.
For one reason and another I did not take the journey last year but it was agreed I would join the OCC team this year, so I had lots of time to prepare and that was much better for me. If I’m honest I spent much of this year in a bit of a panic that I might not be able to offer OCC what they wanted from me. I was really conscious that as a charity they do not have money to waste and were putting a lot of faith in me to write their stories for the web and their publications. My trip to Ethiopia with the ONE Campaign helped to boast my confidence I could do this, but still the niggling doubt remained. Oh Michelle, ye of little faith!

Controversy
As well as my own performance nerves there was of course the issue of controversy surrounding the fact that Samaritans Purse (the charity behind Operation Christmas Child) is an evangelical Christian charity. For me personally this does not present an issue, I’m a Christian and whilst I do not tend to label myself, by my very nature of being Christian I am called to Evangelise, all Christians are. However I know this is a massive issue for many people, in their words not mine – ‘shoebox gifts should be given without any strings attached’, ‘forced conversion to Christianity is wrong’ and ‘religion and charity should be kept separately’.
I have to say that even as a Christian I agree with the first two statements, the gift should certainly be without strings and Christianity is all about free-will, so anything that goes against that is not right in my eyes. As for religion and charity being kept separate that one just makes me chuckle as charity is ingrained in the Christian faith, God calls us to love our neighbours as ourselves, which translates into what we nowadays call charity. If you check back so many of our well known charities today came about because of Christians.

What I saw and heard...
It was because I held these same views as the sceptics that I felt able to take this journey with OCC, and to blog honestly what about I saw and found out whilst I was in Belarus. I made a commitment that if I saw practices happening that made me uncomfortable I would pull away from OCC and not support them anymore. I’m pleased to say that is not at all necessary, I did not observe anything in Belarus that made me uncomfortable in the slightest and I do not think that is because it was set up to be that way, as I was able to talk to a British photographer who has taken trips with Samaritans Purse (both UK and USA) to 57 countries, many on more than one occasion.

What made it really interesting for me is that this photographer is a ‘life-long atheist’. He works with Samaritans Purse and OCC as he believes in the work they do but that does not mean he holds the same beliefs. I held my breath slightly as I asked him ‘had he ever witnessed anything that made him, as an atheist uncomfortable’ and he practically laughed at me, as if I was asking the strangest question.  I explained that in the UK there are some people who do not believe in the good work that OCC does, that they feel it is misguided in its efforts and they believe OCC are travelling the world and forcing poor helpless children to become Christians. I told him some of the second-hand tales I have heard - of Muslim children being refused boxes, of children being frog-marched to bible classes and of children being made to pray a prayer of commitment before they are handed a shoebox gift.
He told me he had frequently seen the ‘Greatest Gift’ leaflet given out alongside the boxes but that the children were free to bin them if they wanted, that he had seen children of all faiths and none being given boxes and that he had never witnessed anything that made him uncomfortable with the work that Samaritans Purse and OCC do. He talked about accompanying Samaritans Purse staff and volunteers to countries torn apart by war as part of their World Medical Mission, he witnessed esteemed surgeons pray over their  patients and then perform specialist surgery to save their life (after being hacked apart by a machete) and they would then again pray with the patient afterwards.  I specifically asked if they were making the patient pray as well and again I got the quizzical look that said ‘are you crazy?’, ‘no’ he said, ‘they just prayed for them’. He then explained that he had seen this open up a conversation as the patient would ask why they had done this for them and then yes they would tell them they felt compelled to do this work as it is what Christ requires.

Every shoe box is a gospel opportunity
For me this is where the biggest misunderstanding comes from, Christians understand that we do things as God requires us to, we are prepared to step outside our comfort zone in the name of our faith but people without that kind of faith do not understand that and are suspicious of it.  The American website of OCC states that they see ‘every shoebox as a gospel opportunity’ and so do I.  This does not mean I stood and preached to a child as I handed them their box but it means we showed them love in action as we handed over something that meant a lot to them and told them we feel compelled to show love in this way as Jesus loves us. If this initiates a natural sense of curiosity and they wish to find out more then so be it.
I can sincerely tell you, hand on heart that I did not observe, nor hear anything that would make me cautious about working with OCC and I believe I say that as the Christian I now am and I could also happily say it as the non-believer I was ten years ago. What I learnt is that the shoebox makes the children smile at Christmastime and also opens a door for the local church to be able to work with the whole family all year round, not to convert them but to offer them a bathroom to use, a lift to a hospital, a hand with parenting, food to eat, friendship and to support them as they seek to give up an addition.

These are all things I heard whilst I was in Belarus. I ask you, honestly – would you say the local churches should stop providing those things? And no it is not with the condition that the children attend bible classes, this year for the very first time in Belarus they will trial out the ‘Greatest Journey’, a 12 part bible study for children and any child will be free to attend this. There is no requirement and in all the years that the boxes have been distributed in Belarus (well over 15) this has never been available before.
So now you have read my expose what do you think?  Do you still have questions you want answered, leave them in the comments and I endeavour to help.

Thanks for reading, Mich x


Disclosure:  I travelled to Belarus as an expense paid guest of Samaritans Purse with the intention to collect stories from the children who receive shoeboxes and to help with the live web casts. Never did they place any conditions on what I might blog about whilst I travelled with them. The opinions expressed here are honest and my own.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

R2BC (Week 50) - 50 Smiles....

Some of you might have noticed I was missing from Reasons to be Cheerful last week, I was in Belarus with Samaritans Purse, the charity that run the Operation Christmas Child initiative.

It was a superb week, I met so many awesome children and had my eyes opened in so many ways. If you look back through my last few posts you'll see more from my trip if you are interested.  At the weekend I'll be publishing a post about what I learnt about OCC while I was away with them, it will make for interesting reading.

Thanks so much to Kat for being a great host last week and this week is being hosted by Sally over at Pressies by Pebbles. Write your post and then please go over and see her to link up, leave a comment and go share some comment love. I'll certainly come visit anyone this weekend that leaves me a comment.

#R2BC will be back here with me again next week and will run each week over Xmas and the New Year, so do join in.

So what is my reason to be cheerful this week?  Simple - 50 smiles as they received their shoebox gifts...


Have a great week, Mich x

All images by Jonty Wilde

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Operation Christmas Child - Belarus, Andrey's story


This is Andrew, but pronounced Andrey when said with a Belarusian accent. He was just the most gorgeous boy that we met during our whole stay in Belarus. Yesterday at dinner I told my family about him and I kid you not both my husband and son nearly had tears rolling down their cheeks.

I'll tell you his story -

Andrew is now nine years old and has been living happily with his Babuskha (Grandma) for the last three years, it is clear for all to see that they adore each other. We were proudly shown the medals that he had won in the local family fun days, apparently he had run on behalf of himself, his mother and father and then his Babushka had taken her turn and they had come home with the medal! Very impressive and a good start to Andrew’s desire to be a ‘Speedy man’ when he grows up, that is a racing driver to you and I.

Andrews life did not start out anywhere near as happy. When you learn that he lives with his Grandma you automtaically start to wonder where his parents are. It turns out that Andrews’s parents had not been married when he was born and in fact his father had gone off to Russia to make a new life with his wife and children. Andrew lived with his mother for the first couple of years of his life but sadly she was not fit to look after him and he was taken into care and ended up in an orphanage.

During this time his Babushka learned of his existence and set about proving she was his biological fathers mother, this was an expensive and lengthy process but luckily one that she won and Andrew was able to come home with her.  No wonder he is so happy now.  His first couple of years were spent with his mother who I do not really know much back history on but I do know she lost her parental rights through a lack of care for Andrew and she has now died.  He then spent about about 4-5 years in the orphanage where he was just one of many abandoned children, it can't have made for a secure and happy young childhood Andrew now lives in a very basic house which is desperately in need of repair but it appears he does not see his surroundings as he feels blessed to be loved. He greeted us at the door of his house with a smile that could light a room. He started to look through his box straight away and then his Grandma called us into the house to take a seat and chat for a short while.
Andrew asked us who had made this box for him and his manner was very inquirring and you could tell it was important to him.  We informed him that children in the United Kingdom had made up the box as they wanted to send him some gifts.  When he saw there was a hand made puppet in there he asked us if he could make something to send to them to say thank you.  We told him his smile and photograph were enough...... 
And they will be enough for me for many years to come. I am sat here feeling so emotional as I type this. The chidren we met in Belarus were so respectful and giving and are a fine example to our own children. It literally churns my guts when I think of how much kids here have and how ungrateful they are for it. Don't gte me wrong my kids are no worse than anyone else's in the UK but you would have thought the world ended yesterday when I told JJ he wwas having a week without his computer.  I think maybe he learnt a little lesson himself when I talked about children over there of the same age as him never having used a computer.
May the Lord bless you Andrew, I hope your dreams come true.
-------------------------------------------------
This was my soundcloud made on the last day on the trip and I think I might even have mentioned Andrew in it, he touched me deeply.


 Last photo Image Credit - Samaritans Purse/ Jonty Wilde

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Operation Christmas Child, Live web cast in Belarus - Job done!

I have had such an amazing time here in Belarus, we have experienced so much in such a little time. A real whistle-stop tour of this great place. The culture is so different to anything I have experienced before and I have been really impacted by the place and the people I have been privileged to travel with. My eyes have been opened to new opportunities, ways to achieve things and avenues to explore.

There are loads of blog posts brewing in my head but for today I'll just share with you the live webcast that we filmed this afternoon and my soundclip made last night at the end of day 4.

It has been fantastic having you join me on this journey. Thanks so much for reading. God bless. Mich x



Day 4 soundclip for you -
 

Oh and I have to share my favourite pictures of today too. We went to visit the Sunday school at the church where our translator Nastia is a Sunday school teacher and the children had been working on the topic 'God holds each of us in His hand'. The children drew some pictures and asked me to take them back to my children at my church/ school, they liked the idea of reciprocal gifts.  Yes I was welling up at this point and as I just had not expect it.

One of the drawings

The budding artists!

Saturday, 8 December 2012

OCC Belarus - They may look well dressed but....

Before I came here I hooked up with a lady who has been on an OCC distribution trip to Belarus in the past and I asked her if she had any advice for me.  She said not advise really but just be aware that when she showed her pictures on her return home everyone said 'they do not look poor' and she is so right.  Very often the children here do not look poor.....  but we all know looks can be deceiving, right?

At the moment in Belarus the snow is about 6-8 inches deep and it is -5 degrees, I think we would all agree that means every child should have at least a thick, warm coat and a pair of good boots. What they also have is probably a couple of outfits, one to wear and one for best. The best one might have been worn and outgrown by dozens of children before them but it still looks nice as it is cherished and looked after. The Belarusians I have met may be poor but they are also proud and keen to present a good image.

Take a look at Eger and his little brother Vladik, they do not look too poor do they?  No holes in their jumpers, their clothes appear to fit, their hair is tidy - they must have enough money in their family, right?


Shall I show you where these two beautiful little boys live?

These pictures will paint quite a different picture for you and you'll see why a shoe box of small and insignificant (to us) items mean such a lot to these children.


I couldn't have made that up, could I? The back of their house has literally fallen down and the inside is not a great deal better. Leonora, their mother cooks in a tiny, cold thin wood outhouse with a peeling ceiling.


My message to anyone reading this is to not judge a book by its cover. Just because a family wish to present a good front does not mean that all is well and they are trying to decieve you into giving when they do not require it.

You also have the other side of things to think about as well..... is poverty just about a lack of money?

Or could it be a lack of love or a lack or spirituality as well? I certainly think it can be both of those things too.

I have been to two social shelters since I have been in Belarus and both of these have looked really well maintained - they had nice rugs, toys for the kids to play with, ample heating and lots of room to run around outside but what they do not have is parents, people who love the children and will be there forever for them.  Don't get me wrong, they have superb staff from, what I have seen but the children only stay there for six months whilst longer term solutions are sorted out.  I would call those children poor too, despite them being well dressed, like this -


I hope you will give this post some thought and if you feel compelled visit Shoebox World where you can still make a shoebox online for as little as £12.60.

Go on, make a child's Christmas....

And for those who asked, here is my day 3 update soundclip -

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Do you have to make noise and smile widely? (OCC Belarus Day 2)

This is a question that the team here in Belarus have been asking ourselves since yesterday.

Tomorrow and Sunday we have two live webcasts (God willing) to transmit to the UK from a live Christmas shoe box distribution here in Belarus and what are the people back home expecting to see I wonder?  Hmm, I suspect they may be looking for children whooping, jumping for joy and beaming big smiles. So much work has gone on in the UK to help these 9000 odd boxes make it safely to Belarus that it would just be the icing on the cake to see how much they are loved.

However, I have a little concern, having now met a number of Belarusian children it is evident that children are far more traditional and reserved here (especially in front of adults and esteemed guests at that - yes that's us! lol), they are extremely well mannered and polite but quite distant at first too - not in a bad way, they just appear cautious and watchful until they know you a little better.

When I was in Ethiopia just two months ago I had to ask the local people if it was OK to hug the children or to lift them up as they literally throw themselves at you with open arms and want to be loved and feel affection. I do not have this dilemma in Belarus as the children maintain a distance and smile coyly if I catch their eye.

It would be easy to be fooled into thinking that Belarusian children have no sense of fun or joie de vivre but by chance yesterday, after we had spent time with a group of children at a social shelter and then gone for tea with the adults we asked if we could see more of the centre and we got taken unannounced into the older boys dormitory bedroom and there was the sight I wanted to see. All those children happy together, engaged in free play and chatting about their boxes and what they had received and what could be swapped.

It is not a great photo but you can see how natural the children are here interacting with each other.

Then today we visited a family home and again the children were quiet and appeared underwhelmed with their gifts, but then as we went upstairs for a quick tour we got to watch the children being natural with each other as all the foreign guests had gone (or so they thought) and this is when you see them really happy and at ease.


I pray you'll get to see some children on the webcasts who are able to relax and show you how much they appreciate the gifts you have given them. You can rest assured they will turn up in their best outfit (perhaps their only outfit) to make a good impression for you.

Just remember that if they look a little apprehensive or pensive it is because this is a very different occurrence for them to their everyday life and they have not been taught to embrace difference but to be aware of it.

Once the camera stops and we leave the room then the real fun starts for them and you have been part of that, thank you and God bless, Mich x

There is still time ot make a shoebox online if you would like to - visit Shoebox World.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

OCC trip to Belarus - Day 1

I really need to sleep but equally I really want to share. So I am going for the time saving option and I'll share some photos from our visit to a social shelter today and if you want to find out more then listen to my soundcloud clip please. What a fabulous bunch of childen we got to meet, if only I could speak their language...


I promise I'll post in full tomorrow.  For tonight I must be sensible so I can survive the rest of the week.

Oh and if you were wondering about the weather here, yes I am glad I packed for it to be very cold!



Tuesday, 4 December 2012

I used to try to fit in, now I just dip in! It's much more me


I was listening to the radio today and the guest speaker said something that really resonated with me. She said that as Christian we will be judged on how much we have loved and not on how much we know. It occurred to me that whether you are a Christian or not most people would do well to remember this. It surely has to be more important to be loving, kind and generous than to be the most knowledgeable, have the most or be the popular one?

Without ever having thought of this as a stand-alone concept I have always had to ask JJ the question – ‘Is it more important to be right or kind?’ He knows what the best answer is but he is still at an age when the lure of being right is very appealing. Some people never seem to grow out of that desire to be right and I do wonder why - Is it so satisfying to know that you are correct; does it help to make you feel superior? I do wonder how empty their life must be and how little inner joy they have, that those outward insignificant things have to take on such worth.

These thoughts about the importance of being loving have not left me today and I have realised that I must keep this caring approach at the forefront of my mind. I do strive to be a nice person, I want to be available to help others when they need me and I hope to come across as approachable but this has not always been the case. Well, not unless you ask my Mum, she would probably tell you I have always been an angel! However, I know I’ve been on a journey and turn the clock back 15 years and people might not have used such positive words to describe me, but I refuse to beat myself up about the past, God has forgiven me and wiped clean my slate and it is therefore imperative I do the same.\
 
I was surprised earlier to find myself thinking of this radio comment in relation to blogging. I realised that many people in the blogging world would do well to remember that it is more important to be loving than to be knowledgeable, right, popular or whatever else it is they desire. I feel as if my eyes have been open to the fact that blogging is just like any other part of life for quite some time. I found out early on that there are some truly supportive people, some champions who will go out of their way for you and then there are those wearing their masks and pretending to be sweetness, luring you in to their evil games and they think nothing of trampling over you as they win points against their opponents or climb up the popularity charts. There are of course lots of other people sitting in the middle, some dipping into blogging, others diving in and becoming so absorbed they lose sight of real life and what it is all about.

Blogging is wonderful and rewarding but highly addictive and it can bring out the worst traits in people. You only have to watch my Twitter timeline at the time of the month when the Tots100 updates to see that some people go through every possible emotion as they ponder why ‘so and so’ is more popular than them, why they have not moved up in the chart despite their best month ever and what else they have to do to rank higher when they have already slogged their guts out that month.

I’m not perfect, don’t worry about that. There have been times when I have yearned to be more popular in blogging terms, to have such a wonderful technical knowledge like XYZ or to be able to create a visual fest like ABC. But I’m me, perfectly as God created me. I can only be me. I am so glad that I got my head around the fact that I do not have to fit in with blogging. In fact there is no such thing as fitting in with blogging or parenting blogging or any other blogging circle you frequent. We are talking about 4000-5000 parenting blogs alone that is a massive number. Would you ever fit in with that amount of people in a real life situation? Hardly! You just have to find the bunch of people that you relate to or fell most comfortable with and spend time with them, or don’t spend time with them, the choice is always yours. A while back I sent a tweet in response to a comment on a recent post I wrote about blogging, it said ‘I used to try to fit in but now I just dip in, it’s much more me’ and I think that sums things up nicely. Be you. You are perfect as you are. Be immersed in blogging or don’t, the choice is yours - just enjoy and be content!

Ohh and ignore the negative bloggers that try to sap your energy, they are not worth it, they obviously have issues and you know what they say, what goes around comes around.

So now over to you, have you found your happy medium yet? And any advice you want to share with other bloggers to help them maintain perspective? Just leave a comment….

Monday, 3 December 2012

Operation Christmas Child, watch Live on 7th & 9th December 2012

It is Monday night and work is finished, my kids have been hugged tight and are now sleeping soundly, I have packed my case and I have those last minute butterflies in my tummy. I'm wondering what I have forgotten to do and to pack.

Tomorrow my lovely dh will drive me down to Heathrow and drop me off at a budget hotel to share a room with my travel companion Ruth from OCC.  As we have dinner we'll talk about the live webcasts that I'll be involved with later in the week. Then on Wednesday morning very early we will be joined by our official photographer Jonty and we'll all head to the airport for a 4am check-in. There we will board a plane for Vienna and a quick change over to our next plane to Minsk, the capital of Belarus.

If I am honest my heart is in my throat.  Today at work people have commented how calm I am, yesterday at Church people asked if I was excited and I informed them, that until work and the kids were dealt with I could not even begin to think about this journey I'm about to embark on.  But now I have the space and time to think I realise that I am ill prepared, my knowledge about Belarus as a country is limited, I have not learnt any local words, I do not even know if I have the right plug adaptor to be able to use my laptop over there.



I am anxious for this journey - I am the only blogger going, so many people seem to have negative things to say about Samaritan's Purse, I worry that I will stumble and be clumsy trying to play with and interact with the children when we do not speak the same language and I am convinced I have forgotten to pack something fundamental.

Thank the Lord that I can turn these worries over to Him. I know what a blessing it is to be a Christian, I have seen how my life has changed since I made the commitment over 10 years ago and in the last year alone I have watched a miracle as anothers life has truly been saved by grace.

I will be completely honest when I report back on here about what I see and experience when I am in Belarus but I'll make no apologies for being a Christian women, travelling with a Christian organisation to deliver messages of hope to children and families who really need to believe that things can change and be better for them. Unless you are a Christian yourself and start to experience how amazing it is to be loved  unconditionally and forgiven for all the wrong that you do, perhaps you'll never understand why I think it is so important to be able to spread the good news that Jesus died for us and He wants a deep and personal relationship with every one of us.

Relationship is the key, God has no desire for me to follow a set of rules and to be seen to be part of an organised Religion. He just wishes to bless all His children and to spend time in fellowship with them.

I have seen the draft itinerary for this journey and it looks exciting with visits to schools, churches, social projects and residential areas.  There will even be a small amount of time for me to be able to experience the culture of Minsk.  On Friday 7th December at 12 noon GMT and Sunday 9th December at 12.30pm GMT we will be broadcasting live on the Samaritans Purse YouTube channel as we distribute some shoeboxs to children. Please do sign up HERE to receive the full information on how you can watch the live webcast. Join with me to pray the technology works and it all goes well.

And I'd really appreciate your prayers for this adventure that I am about to take. Pray that I have the courage, words and obedience to do what I am supposed to do - whatever that may be. After all my prayers always include 'Your will be done' and who am I to try and dictate?

Don't foget there is still time to make a shoebox online if you would like to send a gift to a needy child. Visit ShoeBox World today and make up a gift from as little as £12.60.


Disclosure: I am traveling to Belarus as a guest of Samaritans Purse to experience shoe box distribution and to collect stories from the children we meet.