Start the day right

Have you ever noticed that with all your best intentions, if something happens early in your day that derails your plans, the rest of the day seems inevitably to tumble?

Starting your day right takes discipline and isn’t simply a case of ‘sleep, eat breakfast, drink water’ although those things do help.

For me, it’s about the whole day; the decisions I make one day affect the next. Not sitting in front of the TV the night before so that my brain has time to process, declutter and wind down instead is the best way to start the following day.

Getting up with the right attitude is the next step. With the fog of sleep still resting on my mind, it’s easy to allow myself to get on the train of anxiety and not give myself a fighting chance to look after myself or my family well.

Starting the day right is a choice. Sometimes my headspace wins out and I lose the battle but the next day is a new chance to fight harder to start the day right. Because if I can make those early decisions well, the rest of the day usually falls in suit.

Advertisements

Stream of consciousness 2

On work life balance:

  • Going back on a staggered re-entry to work has its pros and cons. It’s great that I get to continue spending quality time with my son and have a gentle introduction into a new routine. It’s a blessing to be able to use a year’s worth of annual leave to be paid 4 days while only working 2 for a few months. But it’s also hard to leave your baby, even if only for 2 days, as well as try to explain humbly to colleagues that 2 days does not mean 4 days of work squeezed into half the time.
  • It’s hard to get your head back into a position where someone else tells you what to do and what your priorities should be. Even at my level, I still have a boss and that boss has the authority to dictate my time. Even though it’s done really nicely, it’s still a shift in thinking.
  • Returning to work after maternity leave also means a whole lot of extra stuff in your daily routine than was there before. Preparing food, bottles and schedules for the childminder, making sure car seats, prams and toys are all in the right place to get to the right person on any given day, getting up early to feed and get someone tiny ready for their day as well as getting dressed for your own and extending your commute to pick up said tiny person before getting dinner ready, baby fed, bathed and in bed are all new things that are now part of your routine before your working day is actually over.
  • So it’s not just a case of being in the office, then being at home and balancing the two, it’s also about finding ways to merge the two as seamlessly as possible so that the best of both worlds can be enjoyed.

On pride:

  • I want to be confident enough in myself that other’s opinions of me don’t matter. I also want to be confident enough in myself that other people’s opinions of my son don’t matter.
  • I want to be considered to be a good mum (as well as wanting to be a good mum regardless of others’ opinions!) and I need to find a way of believing that, without my son’s actions being the only reflection of it. He’s such a sweet, happy boy and  he’s so well behaved, even if strangers so often only receive his intense gaze as he figures them out and rarely catch a glimpse of the smile that lights up his little face. They don’t know him. I do.
  • I want to find a way of doing both my jobs well, in the office and at home. I want to accept help humbly but not use it as an excuse to be lazy.

On TV:

  • Television is addictive. In particular, box sets are addictive. It is all too easy to collapse after a long day and consume a few hours worth of our current favourite box set (West Wing, House, Friends, Scrubs…) The same quality that I love about movies and television – their ability to transport you away from your current situation and escape for a time – is the same quality that tempts you away from the real world, your life and the things in it that require more energy or thought.
  • Being able to switch your brain off and forget for a while is addictive. Ultimately though, it is less fulfilling than being present and more damaging long-term than switching off the box and reading, writing, listening, thinking or planning – all things I enjoy but put second when the screen beckons.
  • Relaxing by watching television is not the only thing that relaxes me but it’s so hard to remind myself of that. Other things not only relax me but actually rejuvenate me. Man was designed to work – it’s right there in Genesis – and putting some thought and effort into the things that relax me, while it may seem counter intuitive, actually makes me come alive. Overcoming temptation and addiction – even relatively mild – is hard. It will take some work and time but in the long run, will do all of us a lot of good.

My Ulysses contract

I’ve recently read The Brain: The Story of You by David Eagleman. I had asked my husband for a psychology type book for my birthday that wasn’t too academic but explored some interesting facts about the way we think. This book was just the ticket and one concept (of many!) that stood out to me was of the Ulysses contract. The author explains it briefly here:

 

There a few things I thought I could use such a contract with my future self:

  1. CBT – anxious thoughts
  2. Healthy eating
  3. Social media scrolling

Firstly, anxious thoughts. I’m a worrier. I went to an excellent seminar this year about mindfulness and resilience (the talk can be purchased here). One of the ideas that the speaker, Shaun Lambert, used, was of a train. We can choose to be the train and say to ourselves ‘I am an anxious person’ or we can choose to get off the train, stand on the platform and say ‘I have some anxious thoughts.’ As we watch the train go past, we can decide which carriages or thoughts to get on but we can equally choose not to get on at all.

The only Ulysses type contract I could come up with for this is to plan tasks and activities that bring me fulfilment and have to be done on a certain day – essentially not giving myself the time to get on the train. This contract needs work as it’s certainly not iron clad.

Secondly, healthy eating. There are two things I plan to do here. One is not to buy unhealthy treats and the other is to buy healthy treats. I’m a grazer. Snacks help me to concentrate, keep my energy up and also bring me joy. It’s not the sugar, it’s having something little to look forward to.

Finally, social media scrolling. It’s one of my worst habits. I’ve written before about how soul destroying I find this 21st century activity. Yet it doesn’t stop me from doing it. Humans can be so fickle. Ironically, the contract I’m considering here involves an app. Specifically, one that tracks the amount of time I spend on social media and potentially alerts someone if I exceed a pre-determined time. Essentially, pride becomes my contract.

I’m not sure the above are quite bullet-proof just yet, but it’s a start, right?

One Day

One Day I’d like to live in a house with a garden. I’d like it to have space for a library so that my husband can immerse himself in books and those he has penned can have their own pride of place. I’d like a kitchen with space to create delicious dinners and bake fun treats. I’d like a play room for the children and enough rooms so that each child (hopefully 2 or 3) has their own nest and we still have a spare for guests.

My husband I both have a vision of this house. Our images seem to match and we dream of it fairly frequently. But it’s not just the house itself that we want, it’s the lifestyle and choices it represents and that go alongside it hand in hand in our dream.

We’d like the flexibility of work that allows us to raise our children mostly ourselves, encourage them to love learning and give them opportunities to explore. We’d like to welcome people and for them to enjoy being in the moment, to relax, cast off their burdens and feel blessed by our home, our food and our family. We want to practice hospitality, enjoy the seasons in their most basic and beautiful forms and we want to teach our children to do likewise.

I’m often impatient for this house; for this dream. I catch glimpses of it so often but am never able to connect the dots between our lives now and how we get there. But somehow, I trust we will get there, because it’s not just the house, it’s a God-given desire to create a place which others can also call home. A simple and genuine home free of fear and judgement for our children, friends, family and strangers.

So until then, I must simply learn patience and practice hospitality, enjoying the seasons and creating a warm environment in readiness and preparation for One Day.

The curse of comparison

Look at your life for a moment. In isolation from every other person’s life, are you happy with yours? If you didn’t know that a colleague had a bigger house, a friend had more children or an acquaintance had a higher paid job, would you be satisfied with your life?

Comparison is ugly. Not only does it make us compare tiny segments of other people’s lives to the entirety of our own lives, it takes our eyes away from what we do have.

If we were truly to compare our lives to others, then we’d have to take their good with their bad. We can’t be jealous of one element of their lives without taking into account everything else that makes up their daily living. They may have something you want but they inevitably will have other things that you’re thankful you don’t have to deal with.

It’s worth remembering that to someone, your grass is greener than theirs. To others looking in, those Instagram photos, job updates or home improvements are exactly what they are aspiring to in that moment. They won’t see the in between, the struggles, disappointments or failures.

It’s the one time in life when blinkers are acceptable. Usually, a life led wisely demands a broader perspective, to consider the needs and circumstances of others and to see the world beyond our narrow existence. But when it comes to comparison, we are free to put those blinkers on, block out the lives of those around us so that all we see is our own. If there are things we still want to change or we’re unhappy with, we can work at figuring out how to move forward, where possible, but only if those areas and dreams are free from ties to a life lived elsewhere.

Comparison is a curse. Why indulge it when the alternative is thankfulness for the blessings in our lives, which leads to greater contentment and peacefulness? If we weren’t so caught up in contests and races, the answer would be a no brainer.

Makarios

Our culture has its own quirks, whether we notice them or not – in fact, the ones we are blissfully unaware of are the ones that have the potential to make the most silent impact.

Our language defines us, whether we choose to let it or not. In our first few months of life, billions of synapses form in our brain and the ones we don’t use gradually fade. We have the ability to speak any language when we’re born but by the time we’re a few years old, if we haven’t heard certain sounds or words, they become more difficult to learn later on. This becomes a grounding principle when we realise that our words are our primary means of expression.

It is one of life’s great mysteries: the feelings, emotions and experiences that we don’t have words to describe. It is why music is so formative – it transcends language and can speak and evoke response without the need for words. But words are also telling – if we have many words for something, we value it enough to try to describe it as best we can. For example, we have one word for rice. To us, it’s rice whether it’s in the field, in a bag or on a plate. But in Asia, you have padi, beras and nasi – the distinction between each is important enough to those who speak that language to make sure they are adequately represented.

So why is it that we only have one word for love? And one word for happiness?

“The Greeks had a word for the feeling one has when one is happy: makarios. It is a feeling of contentment, when one knows one’s place in the world and is satisfied with that place. If your life has been fortunate, you should feel makarios.” (Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, p.75)

It is a feeling that is so profound and important that the Greeks gave it its own word.

The authors go on to say: “In Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that if you are a peacemaker, then you are makarios. Since English doesn’t have a word for this feeling, translators have struggled to find one. What do you call it when you feel happy, content, balanced, harmonious and fortunate? Well, translators have concluded, you are blessed... Jesus meant, ‘If you are a peacemaker, then you are in your happy place.’ It just doesn’t work well in English. Alas, here is the bigger problem: maybe the reason we North Americans struggle to find makarios in our personal lives is because we don’t have a word in our native language to denote it.”

Our expectation of one word being able to sum up our current emotion and the important things in our life, also influences how we interpret phrases and whole sentences.

“Paul struggles for a Greek word to describe the fruit (singular) of the Spirit. He describes it as a ‘love-joy-peace-patience-kindness-goodness-faithfulness-gentleness-self-control kind of fruit’ (Gal 5:22). Paul is not giving us a list of various fruits, from which we may pick a few. Rather, he gives us a list of words that circle around the one character of Spirit-filled life he is trying to describe.” (Misreading Scripture… p.74)

I will continue to enjoy those moments that words cannot describe and appreciate them for their awe-someness. I will also continue trying my best to use the words at my disposal to articulate thoughts and emotions. All the while, I acknowledge that sometimes, I need to experience and see beyond the words to the indescribable beauty of life and truth in the Bible and all around me every day.

Togetherness on the path to happiness

Society is constantly pursuing happiness and contentment and most of the time coming up short. When these things are our destination, we end up going in completely the wrong direction. Instead, they should be stopping points along the way to something much better.

You’ll have heard it said that happiness is a choice. When you’re really not feeling it, not only does that sound like a lie, it becomes a frustrating mantra from other people whose lives seem to have blessed them immeasurably and so why wouldn’t they be happy. You’ll also have heard it said that the grass is always greener on the other side.

Practicing thankfulness turns our eyes to the green grass under our feet. If nothing else (and there almost always is a lot else we can identify) we have our Creator and we have a purpose for today – to be his Kingdom on earth. That’s it. That’s the purpose.

The ultimate goal is serving others and showing them a glimpse of how generous, loving, creative and selfless our Maker is. In pursuing that, we usually find that contentment and happiness have crept in unnoticed and simply are.

When I was pursuing happiness and failing miserably, I considered myself weak because I needed other people and felt I was a burden to them. Once again my wise husband’s words were balm to my soul: “It’s not weakness it’s togetherness. You have time right now. Rather than dwell on the sad things, enjoy right now.”

So I’m pursuing a life of serving others. Of talking to and listening to God and to dwelling in and appreciating ‘togetherness’.

Thought for the Day: Fellow travellers

There is a wonderful quote by C.S. Lewis that reminds us of the importance of keeping vision, direction and interests in your life.

“The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends. Where the truthful answer to the question “Do you see the same truth?” would be “I see nothing and I don’t care about the truth; I only want a Friend,” no Friendship can arise – though Affection of course may. There would be nothing for the Friendship to be about; and Friendship must be about something, even if it were only an enthusiasm for dominoes or white mice. Those who have nothing can share nothing; those who are going nowhere can have no fellow-travellers.”

So, what are you sharing and where are you going today? And who’s travelling alongside you?

Friendship, community and serving

“Friends voluntarily tie their hearts to one another.”

This beautiful quote from Tim Keller’s The Way of Wisdom reminded me just how important it is to invest in the people around me.

One of my goals for this year was to find ways to serve others. That doesn’t mean signing up for a rota or doing a few random good deeds. It means an intentional* shift in the way I think, the way I interact and the way I look around me. It means going out of my way to be there for my friends. It means sacrificing my time if needed so that others come first. It means making it a priority to check in with my friends; to find thoughtful actions or ways to make sure they know they are loved.

And it extends beyond my friends. Serving others is hugely rewarding, even when you don’t know them well. It is a privilege. The number of times in the last few weeks, people have served our new little family and when I’ve tried to express my huge gratitude, they’ve responded: ‘Are you kidding me?! It’s a privilege to be trusted and brought into your family.’

That mindset – that others can get deep and genuine joy from serving others and even consider it an honour, no matter how much of a stranger – still staggers me but I want to cultivate it. By serving others, we are serving the Lord; Jesus said when you serve others, you serve me (Matthew 25:35-40). Serving the Lord is what we were created to do, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that it brings us joy!

As a start, I’ll try to check in on my friends more regularly, send more snail mail, try to say ‘yes’ more often and invite people round for a good meal that inspires community. From there, we’ll see how it goes!

Shabbat shalom.

 

*Apologies for the cringe-worthy Christianese but I felt it was appropriate here…

July intentions

I used to be incredibly goal orientated. Truth is, I still am, but with a 2 month old baby, achieving those goals has become increasingly difficult – even the simple ones. I used to get so much done each day, let alone each week or month. I loved the focus and the sense of accomplishment.

Being a Mama has taught me so many new things. Some of those things are:

  • the importance of being in the moment,
  • that small, simple tasks can be a real achievement and
  • that getting everything ticked off a list can’t be the source of my satisfaction.

June is half way through and we’re off on holiday next week so I’m looking ahead to July to some simple things that I’d like to do that are almost entirely centred on wellbeing:

  • Drink 2 litres of water a day (with this bottle which makes drinking water surprisingly enjoyable!)
  • Successfully plan friend’s hen do
  • Do a Quiet Time every day, no matter how short
  • Start a new book
  • Consciously look for ways to serve others
  • Review 6 month New Year goals
  • Start Tae Bo
  • Keep up to speed with CBT course
  • Invite someone round for dinner and plan a really fun meal that gets me back in the kitchen (including aperitif!)

We will see how it goes!