Trapped in the shadow

My husband possesses what I consider to be a quite remarkable character trait: he doesn’t worry about something until it happens, at which point he sets about dealing with it.

I on the other hand am capable of worrying about the most random, usually highly unlikely but equally highly imaginative scenarios, with great passion and backed up by research which I am quite certain is based on profoundly reliable sources.

He sees today and how today will impact tomorrow. I see a year ahead and wonder how I’m going to get there. Both have their merits but his method allows considerably more room for joy in the present.

If I turn off social media and answer the question my infinitely wise big sister asked me: “If you had nothing and nobody to compare it to, would you be happy with your life today?” The answer would be a resounding ‘yes!’

But this life and our culture forces its timings on us and its ticking hand and encroaching demands fool us into believing that something else is better. It robs us of our patience and tempts us towards things we never needed to know.

So I shall turn off social media for the next little while and instead of looking at other’s lives, I will try to divert that energy into rediscovering the beauty in my own. For it’s only by false comparison that my life looks dull. By returning my attention to my immediate surroundings, I have realised that the only reason my life had lost its shine was because I had trapped it in the shadow of another.

Two sides

In today’s world, there’s a lot of pressure to choose a side. Whom do you believe? Which version is the truth? Which political party will you support? 

The more I’m given an opportunity to pick a side – a work conflict, an election, a public debate – the more I realise that there are always two sides. Most people do not deliberately set out to inflict pain. They just come at the same problems from very different angles.

When you’re the one at the heart of the matter or if it directly impacts someone you love, then it can be excruciatingly hard to see the other side. But there is always another side.

Impulsive, ignorant comments about those with opposing views anger me beyond belief. What is missing in our politics, our workplaces, our culture, is not generosity or care, but understanding amidst dissent. Understanding that we are all different; that we all have our own stories to tell, our own priorities, our own joys, our own heartaches, our own passions and our own anxieties. 

These inevitably lead to disagreement but without conflicting viewpoints, how would we hold one another to account or uncover the best way forward? Without diversity of opinion, how could we celebrate achievement or understand the world around us? 

Of course, there are some who break this mould; who are intent on causing harm and abuse an incredibly misplaced understanding to excuse inhumane behaviour. Those are not the ones to whom this applies. There are some things that will always be wrong, no matter which side you’re on. 

But most of us do not conform to those extreme, judgemental and completely irrational, horrific groups. Most of us are just flawed human beings, feeling our way through an increasingly capricious and confusing maze of life.
We live in a broken world. No one person, party, friend or colleague can make the right decision every time or create a world that works for everyone. It’s on us as individuals to step into the breach, put others before ourselves, make the most informed choices we can and always to remember: there are two sides.

Onwards

It’s amazing the toll that stress can take on your body. It’s also amazing how your body can adapt to previously unheard of regimes (such as fresh lemon and hot water – a bitter but effective detox – in the morning) in order to restore it to its proper balance.

I’ve had almost seven weeks out of an office environment and in the last two I have finally, thankfully, begun to feel like me again and my body is singing thankfulness to me for giving it a much needed rest. A new job, a new routine, new challenges and new opportunities await and I’m so looking forward to it all. My mind is back to a place where it has room to process, my body has energy with little pain and I have established a set of eating and daily habits that will hopefully serve me well.

So… things I’m looking forward to:

  • That Friday feeling. When you haven’t had to work during the week, the weekend blurs into just another day and you lose its value. You need to work hard to be able to understand that kind of relaxation and I’m looking forward to getting back to working hard.
  • Listening to Radio 4 in the morning. Being in touch with the world beyond your own bubble is great for perspective. My commute has become significantly longer with my new job so I’ll be tuning in in the earlier hours and getting my global news fix.
  • Managing a team. I’ve seen some outstanding examples of how NOT to manage people in the last few years and I’m so grateful I have an opportunity to manage a team in a way that inspires them and enables them to excel. I hope and pray I do it well!
  • Incorporating my rest habits into my new work routine. My skin is glowing, my stomach is happy and my energy levels are restored. There are ways I can continue this even with early mornings and I have every intention of doing so! The hot lemon is a great way to start but so is the significantly reduced sugar intake, the decent amount of rest, the flexible time and prioritising my time with God, husband, family and friends without trying to please and look after everybody.

Hubby and I are marching into an exciting new season. Onwards!

Working 9 to 5, what a way to make a living

Dolly Parton really knew what she was singing about. We tumble out of bed, stumble to the kitchen, pour ourselves a cup of ambition and yawning, stretching, try to come to life. There’s a better life and we think about it, don’t we? It’s a rich man’s game, no matter what they call it and we spend our lives putting money in his wallet.

So why do we do it? For money? Yes we need money to provide shelter and basic needs but do we live to make money and in doing so, miss out on actually living?

Work life balance is an elusive concept. Working hard is something we are built to do. We were designed to get satisfaction from an honest day’s labour. But what that has transformed into is settling for what makes us money, no matter what the cost.

If our work satisfies us and uses our skills, making the most of who we are, then it also gives glory to God. If our creative outlet is content sat at a desk from 9 til 5, then that’s great but for those who need more, it’s worth taking a moment (or two, or five) to figure out what we could do that would truly satisfy us in our work. Even the concept of work can be expanded far beyond anything involving an office. Our work can be with the people around us, with our families or pursuing the growth of particular gifts that we have that hold great scope to impact others. The potential benefits of finding a balance that compliments where we’re at in life and also satisfies us will always outweigh any sacrifice required in the process.

Memory triggers

Scent is the biggest memory trigger. As I was making breakfast this morning, I caught the smell of fresh coffee and it made me smile. In fact, it made me very happy for that moment. There are other smells that have a similar effect on me:

Brewing coffee or fresh coffee grounds – my Oma and Opa always used to put on a pot of coffee first thing in the mornings and my happy holidays in Germany always started by waking up to the smell of coffee. It made me feel like I was waking up to a new day, to new possibilities.

Freshly cut grass – I mean, who doesn’t? I even have hayfever and I still love it! It reminds me of carefree summers, of innocent play, of the loaded possibility of fun that the summer months promised.

My mother’s perfume – a simple comfort. My mother always smells good.

Roast dinner – coming home from Church on a Sunday to the house smelling of a roast was so wonderful. It was a routine, it was familiar and of course it smelled delicious!

Bonfires – Autumn is my favourite season so the smell of bonfires is a welcome reminder of the joy that is to come

Crisp air – some may say it doesn’t have a smell but I promise you it does. When I’ve been cooped up indoors all day, then emerge into the cool evening and inhale deeply, my shoulders relax and my head clears. Especially when I’m in Germany by the woods where the air is steeped in oxygen, this smell simply gives me some perspective.

I could probably add to this list indefinitely but for now, those are what trigger happy memories and remind me that the simple things in life are, without doubt, the best.

Just living

I am a planner. I set goals. I dedicate time to figuring out what’s next. I look for ways to improve on my faults and maximise on my strengths. I organise, I walk with purpose and I am deliberate in where I want to go.

There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these traits but this year is a year of ‘wait and see.’ My husband and I have no plans, no set targets. We have things we would like to happen and we are working on but we’re not revolving our lives around those things. We’re not filling our calendar and we’re not constantly looking into the future.

The inevitable result is that we’re far more in the present. We are enjoying the moment, embracing the things that we love and simply seeing what happens.

In a sense, we are letting go. We’re giving our plans up to God and seeing where we end up. I’m still aware of things I want to work on in myself but I’m also excited to see what the next few months hold.

Already I’ve been prompted to focus on creativity, on enjoying the things of this world that simply exist to give us joy and evoke a sense of possibility that is hard to stumble across otherwise. We’ve been steered as a couple into looking at prayer; why, what and how we pray. Right now, those two things are completely monopolising my thoughts and as I mull them over, I begin to see more opportunities to practice what I’m learning.

I miss having a specific purpose that I’m working towards but I have to admit, it is invigorating just living and seeing what life will bring our way.

So for this year at least, that is my new system for measuring goals. I want to see what we end up doing, whether we have embraced creativity, pursued what God has for us and discovered more about who we are and what brings us joy. I want to make sure I don’t waste my time on social media or overwhelm my time by forcing my schedule to fit in too many things. Instead I want to spend time with God, invest in relationships and use my time to appreciate the beauty and goodness that this world offers. I want to enjoy life’s simple pleasures, accept but not dwell on the frustrations and disappointments that arrive and develop a perspective bigger than what I can see. I want to experience new things, make the most of where I’m at and trust that by relinquishing control of what’s next, whatever comes will be exciting, challenging and satisfying.

Escapism and the importance of creativity

Creativity is critical to contentment. It makes sense when you think about it. This world is a thing of beauty, designed by the ultimate Creator. It is inspiring by its very nature.*

The joy of creativity is that it offers us an escape from the rubbish of this world by transporting us temporarily to another reality. Really good creativity returns us to our lives with either renewed resolve or at least a clearer perspective. A good book, film, piece of music or art all have the power to reach a part of us that is untouchable by the rest of the world.

I find my escapism in movies – it’s why I’m so interested in film production and why, when I was younger (and still today), I used to sit in the cinema and wait until all the credits had rolled before leaving; I wanted to see the names of the people who had created this story that had pulled me in and made me ponder life.

My husband’s creative outlet is writing and he’s outrageously good at it. When I read his words, I am transported to Cairo, to France, to a time when life was different; not necessarily better or worse, just different. As well as entering into another world, there are phrases hidden throughout his work that capture elements of life beautifully. Through artistic prose, he explains what usually cannot be articulated.

This realisation of the importance of creativity has been quite ground-breaking for me. As Elspeth Thompson writes in The Wonderful Weekend Book: “We neglect our creativity at our peril.” Whatever our medium, we are all creative – be it in an acknowledged art form or simply in the way we find solutions to problems and use our initiative. If we suffocate this instinct in ourselves, it can have quite grave consequences. I’d go as far as to say that neglecting our creativity can be one of many triggers of illnesses such as depression. When we’re forced to conform to a rhythm of 9-5, sat at a desk in an office, many of us are moulding ourselves into something we were not born to be.

It’s no wonder then, that when my previous jobs have narrowed the scope for me to use my creativity, I have very quickly grown bored, stifled and moved on. When I’m not allowed to use my brain, to find a way to practice my creativity, my inner calm becomes agitated and I look for ways to rediscover that balance.

I’m thankful that my husband realised all of this long ago and has been pursuing ways to use his creativity. He has rejected the contemporary lifestyle of 9-5 in favour of living a life that far closer resembles one that is lived to its fullest. He is embracing his God-given gifts and creative instinct and he has made himself and our marriage more joyous in the process.

*pun completely intended

Why I love the American lifestyle

…as told through my rose-tinted glasses.

Ask me when I have been at my happiest and I will tell you, when I’ve been in America. Recently I’ve been trying to figure out why that is.

Standard American workplaces get c.10 days of holiday a year. We get around 25.

Until Obamacare kicks off properly, Americans have to pay for their health insurance. We have the NHS.

Americans have a work ethic that is fierce compared with the European work-life balance.

So what is it?

I think, for me, it’s that people and family always trump money. The generosity of spirit across all of the Americans I have met has been overwhelming. Their hospitality is genuine and all-encompassing and ultimately, certainly for the Americans I know, real life and real relationship take precedence over whatever demands this world makes.

I realise that my perspective is warped and that Americans as a nation are pursuing a Western dream and are often completely oblivious to the rest of the world. But even in their naivety they prioritise family and people.

I’m not sure how I, as an introvert, would truly survive state-side but I’d like to think that I’d embrace a work hard, play hard lifestyle, frequently interspersed with alone-time of course!

Aloha 2016

2015 watercolour

It was a project I started unintentionally in January with the aim of using my watercolour set to capture what that first month of 2015 meant to me. Somehow it continued through 12 months of ups and downs – small catchphrases that summed up 4 week interludes; brief snapshots of an unfolding story.

2015 has been better than 2014 – not that that was difficult. If I’m honest, it was a little bland overall. Nothing huge changed, I achieved quite a few of the things I aimed to achieve but I started out at such a low point that I didn’t really have time to make sense of anything or plan.

It’s been a middling year; a season in which the primary aim was for time to pass and wounds to heal. Sometimes, time just has to take its course without my plans or expectations getting in its way. 2015 carved its own course with little steering or focus from me and on reflection, that has set me up well for 2016.

If nothing else, 2015 has taught me how to relinquish some control over the direction of my life. It has taught me to live each day as it comes – not that I have mastered that quite yet(!) – and it has taught me that time brings with it its own challenges and hidden delights. Like a stream that picks up, carries and deposits the pebbles and debris it encounters, time continues to flow no matter what you try to do to stop or divert it, accommodating whatever life moments it stumbles across.

My aim for this month was to Look Up and Anticipate 2016 and I definitely enjoyed this time. I celebrated with friends and family in lots of ways from parties to carol singing to ice skating. I also read and re-read the Christmas story, which means so much more than the revelry, and I’ve given myself time to ponder the coming year so that the joy of anticipation isn’t lost in fairly lights and Lebkuchen.

I’m not expecting huge things from 2016 other than what the passing of time naturally presents – and I think I’m ok with that. I want to bake more, I want to have more time to myself, I want to read more and I want to move more towards that wonderful Hawaiian lifestyle we were privileged to experience in March. Here’s to hoping that the islands who gave birth to my name will pervade in 2016 with hellos, goodbyes, love and hospitality: Aloha 2016.

Grandparents – a legacy

The role of a grandmother brings with it a legacy to pass on to the women who follow.

The grandfather leads by example in life skills, in faith and in strength. The grandmother nurtures, she teaches how to listen, to be gentle, humble and gracious and to be a woman filled with faith. The grandfather takes on responsibility for the wellbeing of his family, for making decisions and for ensuring that he walks alongside his family, not dragging them behind. He invests his very soul into praying for every individual member of the generations who follow and encourages his wife to do the same. The grandmother is wise, she guides through her intuition and leads her husband in a way that does not intrude on who he is. She prays with all her might, inspires and gently encourages all whom she meets.

Both, together, serve one another and take delight in discipling their children and grandchildren. As a team they walk as one and as old age takes hold of them both they continue to put the other’s needs first – enticing a smile or a laugh and making sure the other’s heart is content so that they can be a shining light to others.

In all of these things, my grandparents were the lifeblood of our family. They fulfilled their roles in their very beings because at their core they had faith. Their every breath was an inspiration and now that they are both at home with the Lord, I miss them greatly. I am determined with all of my might to continue the legacy they gave us.