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.

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!

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.

December – Enjoying the Season

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December is always dominated by Christmas and this year was the first in many years where my family have all woken up in the same house on Christmas day. It was nice. Sad because the reason we were together was because we didn’t need to split the family between Germany and England any more but it was nice. It was quiet.

As it should be, this month has been about celebrating and spending time with friends and family. From carol singing and parties to ice skating and eating lots of cheese, December has thankfully been fairly uneventful. It also means that I’ve had a bit of time to take stock and figure a few things out ahead of the New Year.

This Christmas time, I am thankful that Jesus came to this earth so that we could have hope: hope in our earthly lives as well as hope for an eternal life on a perfect, restored earth, with no more tears, death or suffering. What complete joy.

November – Rejoicing through tears

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It’s safe to say that November wasn’t what I’d anticipated. It was sad. Losing a grandparent is such a huge loss, of wisdom, of laughter, of childhood. My Oma was the best grandma I could ever have asked for and her funeral was the greatest celebration of faith and love that anyone could hope for when their earthly breath leaves them. We know she is in the presence of the Lord she served her whole life and this in turn means we can rejoice, even through our tears.

The rest of November blurs in comparison. Our family changed this month. We will miss her.

Winter wanderings

Winter WanderingsWinter is a strange season as it bridges the gap between the year’s polar opposites. While spring, summer and autumn all have a unique flavour that is usually predictable from beginning to end, winter embraces many emotions and characters. It is the only season where the mood and mindset change dramatically in the middle. At the beginning, the warmth, hope and joy of Christmas are all-consuming and they wrap up the year, offering time to reflect on the highs and lows of the past 12 months. But the season’s end welcomes in a New Year which, although cold and often marked by post-Christmas blues, is also ripe with possibility. For me, January often ends up as a strange month without any discernable purpose, so if you’re like me, here are some ways to stay in the moment through the whole of this coming winter.

  • Food & Drink: Toffee nut latte with chocolate hazelnut loaf
  • Bake: Snickerdoodles & Pflaumenkuchen
  • Places to visit: Germany
  • Play in the snow (if we get any!)
  • Do some Christmas crafts – most of mine involve Cinnamon sticks!
  • Watch lots of movies: The Holiday, Miracle on 34th Street, Muppet’s Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life, Love Actually
  • Experience a Christmas market – Köln Weihnachtsmarkt is just perfect
  • Buy a calendar for the New Year
  • Start on some New Year goals – make plans for the year, book tickets to shows and search out new restaurants
  • Go to a museum – it’s low season in January so much quieter and you can take your time
  • Go to coffee shops and watch the world go by
  • Have a long hot bath with candles and a good book
  • Prepare for spring – get ahead of the game with a pre-spring clearout
  • Make the most of the slower pace of life by sipping wine (or, my preference, G&T) late into the night with friends, dreaming about what the year ahead might bring

Winter may be the odd season out, but it can still bring joy if you live it in the moment!

Autumn jaunts

IMGP0491bMy favourite season of all is fast approaching. For me, Autumn (September to November) is the perfect temperature, the perfect speed of life and the anniversary of me meeting my hubby. For me, Autumn is synonymous with joy. If you’ve lived life in the moment in spring and summer, here are a few ways to make sure the delight of this new season doesn’t pass you by.

  • Food & Drink: Pumpkin spiced lattes & Butternut squash… everything!
  • Bake: Chocolate torte with autumn leaves
  • Places to visit: New England
  • Walks, walks, walks
  • Splash in puddles (who says this has to be confined to spring?)
  • Wake up early and go for a sunrise walk
  • Drink Baileys hot chocolate while watching November 5th fireworks
  • Make S’mores
  • Gather acorns and pine cones ready for Christmas decorations
  • Take a photo surrounded by Autumn leaves – or throw them in the air!

Probably because a school calendar is hardwired in my brain, Autumn for me is still a time for new beginnings, a hopeful fresh start as the temperature too becomes fresher. We’ll see if any new challenges or opportunities arise for this favoured season.

July – Indulging Summer

P1030196aFor the first time in many years, we have had consistently good weather in England. Most days can be relied upon to produce a climate that is suitable for shorts and a T-shirt and it has been wonderful that as a result, we’ve really been able to make the most of this stereotypically warm season. We’ve had many BBQs late into the evening, sipped cider outside a pub on a Sunday afternoon, delighted in salads that satisfy our dwindling summer hunger, sat on a beach in Wales and been slightly sunburnt a couple of times (not the highlight… we do try to be careful!), we have lain on rugs under fleece blankets at an outdoor cinema and we have generally made the most of what the long evenings have offered. Somewhere in amongst all the summer activities we also got to meet our friend’s kitten for the first time – so cute!!

Cider, outdoor cinema, BBQs and sitting outside, particularly in the evening, are great ways of genuinely feeling like time isn’t slipping by. By making the most of these opportunities I feel like, for the first time in a long time, I have really enjoyed this summer season at home. It wasn’t forced and I’m already wondering how I can make sure I do the same next year. Mid-week BBQs, sipping cider, going to an outdoor cinema, trying lots of new salads and generally seeing friends in the long evenings are such a good place to start.

June – Embracing restoration

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It’s quite something when you’re given permission to embrace a season of restoration. When life has thrown you a season of difficulty, acknowledging that it’s ok to get back to ‘normal’ and stop worrying about what might happen next is liberating. March for me was all about recharging the soul. It was a time that was really needed and so refreshing but until these past few weeks, I hadn’t actually stopped holding my breath, waiting, fearing and preparing myself for what might be around the corner.

In June we spent a lot of time doing Church. By which I mean more than just attending Sunday morning services. We took students punting, we had students over for a picnic lunch, I hung out with some of the girls and made bunting for our Church Fun Day, we had the Church Fun Day, we went to our old Church to listen to a great friend speak there for the last time before he leaves and I led the second Ladies Prayer Breakfast at our Church.

This month we’ve stopped using our lack of perfect kitchen (which will be transformed in July!) as an excuse not to have friends over for dinner and as such have opened the doors of our home to hospitality once again. It’s been good to return to what we as a couple feel so called to do. We have been blessed with so much and I have learned this month that practicing hospitality is more than just food, it’s sharing our home, our time, our space, our finances and building relationship. It’s real.

Speaking of which, I also attended a women’s conference this month called ‘Real’. It centred around a theme of courage and there were some superb speakers encouraging us to be women of faith. When we allow others to see ‘the real you’ we open ourselves up to vulnerability but we also open ourselves up for deep and meaningful relationship that we may never otherwise have the chance to experience. The conference was great and I shared it with two women who I admire hugely, which made it even better.

In between all of these events and activities, we celebrated Father’s Day with my family, spent a weekend with my hubby’s family and went to see Minions the movie!! It hasn’t been a month that has been filled to the brim but it has been populated by people (in a manageable level for this introvert) and speckled with meaning and it has finally given me permission to embrace this season of restoration in our lives.

Countdown to 30

For the first time recently, I said these words: “I’m quite looking forward to turning 30.”

Granted I’m still a couple of birthdays off that age but I cannot deny that I am in my late 20s and most of my friends have turned or are turning the big 3-0.

The reason I’m ok with marking three decades of life is because I am more content in myself now than I ever have been. I know myself so much better. I know who I am, I know what I like, I know what I want, I know what’s important to me and I know who is important to me. I know what to do when I’m feeling rubbish, I know what I enjoy in my free time, I’m starting to know what I’m good at at work and I am more secure in what I believe and why, with a mind that challenges and questions more in order to find truth and meaning.

I’m not about to create a list of things I want to do before I’m 30. I don’t know what life will bring tomorrow let alone in a couple of years so I’d rather take life in the moment rather than tie myself to a list defined by an age.

What surprises me in all that I have written is the one thing that I haven’t mentioned. I haven’t said: “I’m proud of what I have achieved for my age.” I could have declared that I have an incredible husband who I’ve shared almost 5 years of married life with, a great job that I love, a beautiful flat that we own, stable finances and amazing potential for all of these things to grow. To me, these things are blessings, not achievements and they don’t define my success. When I look around at my family and friends who are approaching or have embraced this new season, they don’t all have the same accolades as I do. They have lived their own paths and they are successes for themselves, not based on a societal scale of success.

The final reason that I am starting to look forward to 30 is because I’m finally slowing down on the comparison game. I’m not looking around me at what others have achieved, I’m just looking right next to me at the smile on my husband’s face that tells me he is content and excited about life and that’s all I need, to know that we’re doing just fine.