Tag Archives: Books

Self Care In A Pandemic (66): Revisiting Those Habits – New Month, New Goals…? …

Hi Friends,

I hope you’ve all been keeping well and finding the courage to move forwards over the past few days since we last checked in.

If you’ve been following along with my ‘Self care in a pandemic’ series, you may remember that at the start of the year I wrote a post on how to create effective habits. If you need a recap, or missed it the first time round, here’s the link.

Self care In A Pandemic (47): Effectively Tracking Habits to Create New Daily Disciplines… ‹ Life as it happens to be ‹ Reader — WordPress.com

As it’s a new month, and the very first day of February 2021 what better time to start thinking about making a fresh new start to things, regardless of how the past month has been for you.

Did you maintain any new habits in January 2021, or did you start something and manage to stick with it for a little while at least? Don’t worry if you didn’t, if we are blessed to have another day, we’re blessed with another chance to try and persevere.

In January I set myself eight new habits to try to maintain everyday, and I’m pleased to say I did pretty well over all, and the only ‘sparse column’ was for continuous learning / studying which I did towards the start, middle and end of the month, but not everyday as with some other disciplines.

How tracking my habits helped me on rough days:

If you feel discouraged reading any of the above, for example, if you haven’t had a particularly good or productive month, then please don’t. You’ve made it to February – in an ongoing pandemic – and you should be proud of yourself with that. You may have had to dig deep and show all kinds of resilience just to survive, so please don’t feel discouraged by any comparisons.

I’m going to be honest because it is so important when discussing mental health and let you know that I’ve had some difficult days this month. I’m on an ongoing journey with my mental health and am still working out ways of coping, managing and overcoming my struggles related to depression, anxiety and c-PTSD. On those down days, having some ‘marker points’ in my days when looking at the habits I’ve been tracking have helped give me a sense of direction and the ability to keep taking small steps forwards, looking outside of my mind, and doing something practical, even if I’m not able to maintain those habits everyday.

They have provided that little bit of leverage needed to persevere from one moment to the next, one day to the next, and keep going, all the while knowing Christ as my True Source and Strength.

Have you had anything in your day to day that has helped you keep to a routine, even if not rigidly, and has this helped you to persevere through your difficult days?

Have you managed to keep or exceed your expectations and have you found any benefit to your mental health from tracking your habits?

Do you feel like you’ve not done very well and have drifted into February and want the chance to ‘begin again’?

Well, if the first of the month isn’t a great place to start, then what is? 🙂

A new month….new goals? …

I think as human beings, we all relish the idea of new starts, especially if there are things that we want to leave behind. However, it’s important to realise that one of the keys to making long lasting changes for the better in life is consistency. Small, meaningful, incremental steps taken daily or on some kind of regular basis, all add up and can make for a brighter future.

This can be especially true if like me you are overcoming some kind of psychological trauma, and trying to unpick the lies and hurts you experienced in childhood. We can wish for a ‘sudden transformation’ but this can be hard to come to terms with mentally if we have been so conditioned into thinking a certain way. For example, if you have experienced years of verbal abuse, it can make you wince if you receive a compliment, because, well, you just don’t know how to receive it in experience. It is alien and unknown to you and it can be really hard to think it’s not a mockery when your personhood and identity has been injured by lies for so long.

Perhaps there are issues in your own life that you can relate to when making a sudden drastic change can feel overwhelming. That’s ok. What we need to do is find a way of retraining our thinking bit by bit, day by day, little by little, and as the Bible says ‘be transformed by the renewing of (y)our mind(s)’. Romans 12:2.

Habits can help with this. Habits can help with moving past trauma. It’s not a ‘be all, end all’ answer, as we need to implement a variety of things into our life and I’m still learning and discovering what these might be, but they can help us move forward a little at a time when our minds and nervous systems threaten to keep us ‘stuck’ in a negative loop of trauma and past thinking. There are times to think about and process the past, but I’ve found that having concrete goals that are to do with the here and now can help me to move forwards in a healthy way in this what can be a very difficult journey.

Even if you’re not dealing with overcoming any particular mental health issues, you can benefit from tracking your habits and setting new goals.

I’ve decided to include the goals I had for January which I managed to track as habits on a daily basis, and include these in my February habit tracker. I have also included new ones so that I have a total of 20. They don’t need to be big things, and they don’t need to be as numerous. Start with one or two areas of your life that you want to make incremental changes to if that suits you better. I know that some people don’t like to track habits and goals and if so that’s fine, feel free to find another blog post in my series that helps you better, but for those who are inclined, this can help you with your mental health and help with that sense of purpose that we talked about in another post, as well as providing structure to your day. You can break free from that structure as and when you want, but if your mind is struggling with what feels like muddled days all merging one into the next, then this could be good for you.

Brainstorming:

If you feel like you’re back at square one, and don’t know where to start, then why not take a piece of paper and a pen, or type something up on your computer and just have a few minutes brainstorming session.

Write down anything and everything that comes to mind that you’d like to implement into your life that will help you to move forwards. Maybe it’s exactly the same as what you have been doing and you want to strengthen and persevere with the same goal / goals and that’s absolutely fine. Get strong in one area before moving on to another if that’s what will work for you.

Once you have brainstormed, then pick out a few key ideas. If they seem very big at first then break them down into smaller parts and set about doing a little bit everyday, or a few times a week, whatever works for you.

This can also be helpful if your goals seem attainable but a bit vague. Turning your goals into trackable habits can be extremely helpful in making progress. For example, maybe you want to ‘read more books’ for a number of reasons, perhaps also because you feel that this will benefit your mental health, especially in a lockdown! This is something I’ve been getting back into and making progress with. It’s not a small thing to be honest. All my childhood I was a voracious reader. I studied English Literature in my undergraduate degree with Politics and for most of my life have been a big reader, but this had not been the case for many years since after graduating. A few years ago I had a traumatic breakdown when childhood memories were ‘exploding’ out of my mind and were stopping me from living a normal day to day life -it was quite simply terrifying as my body and brain was processing the experiences of traumatic bullying in childhood, years of night terrors, and chronic adult stress from a variety of situations that I couldn’t process at the time. As someone who used to love the peace of solitude and thinking my thoughts, daydreaming, reflecting, reading and writing, it became a terrifying living nightmare to no longer be able to feel safe in my own company and mind. I’d try to sit down and read a book but the adrenaline and cortisol would be coursing through me, I’d be having flash backs of the bullying, and I’d feel like a terrified child shouting out for help and my mind felt so broken. It was heart-breaking for me to not be able to read a sentence of a fiction book properly because all around me was so scary in my mind and I could not process even a sentence. So getting back into reading now is a joy and something I need to continue to persevere with because those triggers can happen when I’m reading and I need to keep on strengthening new neural connections as I strengthen my mind.

My apologies that I digressed somewhat, but hopefully the above insights will help encourage someone else who might feel a bit defeated or discouraged with trying to persevere. Things can get better, please don’t give up.

Reading more books can seem quite vague in terms of goal setting. Even giving yourself a number of books to read can feel overwhelming and you may feel discouraged if you’re not able to meet that goal. Instead, if you change it into a habit, then you will be more likely to feel encouraged and make and maintain progress. I have the dates of the month written as rows down the side of my notebook, and I have corresponding columns for the goals I want to track as habits across the top of the page. Included in that is ‘reading’. I don’t specify how much to read, but I can tick off or make a note of progress as I go down through the days of the month. It’s ok if there are gaps, but I can come back to it and it is encouraging to me to see that I am reading often, even if some days that is little, because compared to where I was before, it is big progress. As I persevere, I find that I am enjoying it, I am more able to push through triggers, and it is good food for my mind.

So what about you? Do you have anything you’d like to persevere with, start afresh or embark upon for the first time as we head into this new month?

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, but if it helps to add structure to your day, and give direction to your mind, then why not give it a go? And as ever, please feel free to share your thoughts and learning in the comments, I’d love to hear from you and you might just encourage someone else out there who needs to hear what you have to say.

Stay safe and never give up, keep taking small steps each day, and enjoy seeing the progress you make, even if you have some hurdles and difficulties along the way. x

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Self Care In A Pandemic (48): Communal Habits…

Yesterday, we looked at how to effectively track habits, and I hope some of you got something helpful from my post.

Today, I thought we could take a step further and look at habits in terms of things we can do collectively with other people.

For example, there might be something you want to build into your daily life, or do more regularly but perhaps you lack a bit of motivation, or maybe your motivation dwindles from time to time. Or maybe you just would find the experience more enjoyable if you could share it with other people of a like mind.

In my own experience this has been helpful at certain times, although it also helps if I don’t feel too ‘tied down’ to any particular commitment with it.

For example, for a couple of years, I participated in an online Bible reading plan that was organised by someone in my church and it was on an ‘app’ called ‘You Version’. It’s something that I’ve used before on my own, but it turns out that you can also do reading plans along with other people. I didn’t actually know most of the other people doing it, but that was fine. There were a few daily readings and then the chance to share comments, reflections and thoughts about the passages. It was really helpful and insightful to do this and to also read about other people’s perspectives and learn together with other Christians. I did this in 2019, and completed it by playing ‘catch up’ towards the end of the year as I didn’t manage to do all of the readings on the particular day set, but I gained a lot from it as well as my own personal study of Scripture. I also started it last year in 2020 but only continued to about half the year as although it was helpful it no longer quite fit with where I was at and I felt a bit constrained by having to ‘keep up’. I have other studies on the go now but I do them at a pace that I am comfortable with and I feel like at the moment that works better for me even though the communal habit of reading daily Scriptures together online was a beneficial one.

Another hobby that I enjoy is adult colouring in. It’s beautiful in that because there are certain books that are quite well know it is easy to find images of what other people have done with the same pictures and to be inspired with them. There is so much to learn and be inspired by and there are colouring groups that connect people with like minded others. I personally love many of Johanna Basford’s books and on her website she has a ‘colouring gallery’ where people can upload their work – it’s lovely, even if from a distance and not knowing the people personally, to know you’re part of a community of sorts and that you can inspire and be inspired by others and develop your skills together in a way.

Since moving back with my family after lockdown alone for most of 2020, there have also been a few opportunities for us to turn the TV off and just sit and read quietly together. It’s only something we’ve done a few times, but I think it’s been an encouragement when we do.

There’s something about feeling ‘spurred on’ by other people on a similar journey or with similar interests to you.

I know people at work, who in the good old days pre-pandemic wanted to get fit and formed running groups. There are other people I know who used to go to weekly or fortnightly craft groups where they’d meet together, chat, have a cuppa and do whatever craft or hobby they were interested in such as knitting, crochet, etc. and share skills and tips with each other.

While we’re in the pandemic and isolated from one another a lot more, it may not be possible to have a ‘book club’ in the conventional way, especially if you are living alone. But there are other ways of cultivating community habits with other people online, or even by phone, or whatever way works best for you. A couple of young ladies in my church wrote each other letters during lockdown in a Jane Austenesque style and posted them to each other, giving that something special to their day to day goings on by putting it into an old fashioned style letter which can now be a keepsake.

If you feel like you don’t have friends or family you can do such things with, but would like to do something with other people, I’m sure there are plenty of online opportunities out there, you just need to start looking, but be discerning about this too. Maybe you want to feel like you have ‘company’ or an encourager with your habits, but you don’t actually want the stress that sometimes comes along with connecting with people, in which case there are plenty of people on You Tube with inspiring content that you can look to as a form of ‘mentoring’ or who can feel like they are spurring you on with your habits, even if it is just watching their videos and not interacting with them.

We all have different personalities and different things we want to glean from forming habits and from doing so collectively. Take a moment to think about whether this is something you are interested in and then get creative with ways to take it forwards with whatever interests you. Maybe you are learning a musical instrument and can find an online tutor? Maybe you want to connect with other bloggers, in which case you’re in a good place, and commenting on someone’s posts might be a good start or following a blog that inspires or encourages you to take your next steps forwards.

There are so many things we can do once we start thinking creatively about it. Just look at what some people have done during the pandemic and lockdown to be inspired!

Take care, stay safe, and keep taking those small yet productive steps forwards in 2021. God bless. x

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Entering a New Season of Life…

The funny thing about life is that even though we all know and have heard and see it vibrantly displayed in the lives of young children, that there is a joy and freedom from living in the moment that we can’t find if we are constantly overthinking things, we still know that life has a forward momentum and we need to go with it.

We can be still…but for a moment. I love to sit at a high point of the park overlooking the city, and just be still, to pause, reflect and just ‘be’. And yet, I know I will have to get up again, my feet will keep walking and I will have to move from the stillness and from one moment to the next. The gentle or fast paced momentum of life is still a momentum that no one can escape.

You know the saying, ‘Time and tide wait for no man’. Perhaps you are also familiar with Shakespeare’s Sonnet 60:

Like as the waves make towards the pebbl’d shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
Nativity, once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown’d,
Crooked eclipses ‘gainst his glory fight,
And Time that gave doth now his gift confound.
Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth
And delves the parallels in beauty’s brow,
Feeds on the rarities of nature’s truth,
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow:
And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand,
Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.
Each changing place with that which goes before”.
I remember studying this Sonnet in University, I think initially in my first year as an English Literature student. I was particularly taken by the beauty of the first two lines and the way in which the iambic pentameter perfectly echoed nature’s rhythms hidden in the waves that made towards the pebbl’d shore. I wrote a poem of my own after that, also in iambic pentameter, about time and about waiting.
Reflecting on this now, I feel not the anxiety of experiencing the passing of time that comes from life bearing witness to decay, but instead a blossoming that comes from one wave flowing into another and life’s experiences and gifts and lessons building upon another.
I think of how my early days spent captivated in the moment, and in the beauty of books, led to my interest in writing, which helped me as I moved through school and through some of my darkest of days as I found solace in the written word, and then into my passion for English Literature as a high school ‘senior’ in 6th year, which changed place with subsequent moments of learning in University as I studied English Literature and Politics with Philosophy for my first degree before going on to study my Masters and continue to write.
Shakespeare knew when his ‘swan song’ would be as he wrote his play ‘The Tempest’ as he bid farewell and adieu through the life of Prospero, and perhaps most of us know when we need to prepare for our farewells and our curtain call in this life.
Yet between our entrance on the world’s stage and our final bow, we have a collection of moments one building upon another upon another, just as the waves of the sea.
And perhaps we know also when one season of our life is giving way to the next, not in terms of a farewell so much as that of the greetings of a Spring season, of new beginnings and adventures and opportunities.
Sometimes these demarcations in life can come in obvious fashion by way of the more apparent ‘milestones’ and change points of life such as graduation, a first job, a new home, marriage, starting a family, moving through one’s career and so forth.
However, we are all moment by moment entering new beginnings in life as the momentum of life carries us like the waves of the sea. Sometimes new beginnings are demarcated by the dates on our calendars, we know that as we focus on enjoying the winter season of the year, as much as we live in the moment, the moment will give way to a new year, and so we seek to prepare ourselves for that in whatever way we can and as we know how.
However, some new beginnings we come to internally. There are no significant change points in our lives, no particular milestones or dates to point to, but we know that we have decided to make an internal shift and to view what’s next as something new. We create the entrance into a new season of our lives within ourselves.
I think that is where I am now. There are no specific milestones to point to, however, the change is a decision within myself. Having worked and fought long and hard to survive and struggle through a process of recovery from various health and other challenges, I am choosing to accept that I have done a great deal of work in this area, and to believe that I am strong enough to step into new opportunities with fewer limitations.
The change in my blog itself is an indication of this – from writing more from an exploratory perspective, to try to find healing and help and strength for myself, I notice a shift in being able to use the lessons I have learned to help and encourage other people. I can see my, albeit ongoing, lessons as being rooted in the past and not something that is the focus so much as the basis of what I am stepping into and doing now.
We create new seasons for ourselves, or most of us do, every time a new year and a new January rolls around. However, we don’t need to wait for an external signpost in order to make those inner shifts and changes and to embrace the new. We can start right now, within ourselves. What do you think?

ocean taken photo during sunset
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The Beauty of Audio Books

I wonder if you’re a bit like me. If in childhood you caught the ‘reading bug’ and became an avid reader, transported from one world to another, and set on a course of imagination and possibility?

“When I was just a little girl…”

As much as I was an adventurer, a little girl who loved to play in nature, under this vast sky, some of my fondest memories also include being absorbed in books. I still remember vividly the big old library with wooden winding staircases that my mum and I used to go to when I was little, in the days when our library cards were actually made of cardboard 🙂 I loved the smell of books, the touch, the feel and the worlds within a world that I could embark upon to spark my own imagination. I loved books, everything about them. Some were beautifully illustrated, others were text only, but I had an affinity with them, as perhaps many of you did too.

My passion continued.

As I grew, my passion for reading, for literature, and for writing (I started writing stories and poems as a little girl) continued, unabated. I was commended and won prizes in school for my writing, and loved studying English, so much so that I went on to study English Literature as part of a joint-honours for my first degree (afterwards going on to complete a Masters in Human Rights, Women’s Studies, and International Development).

I loved reading, and I was introduced to a new way of looking at the world of literature through more focused analysis, intertextuality, literary theory, and so forth.

It was an amazing new challenge, however, part of me missed just being able to step into another world, through the gateway of reading, and to imagine without analysis.

Success and ‘Failure’.

I worked hard, studied and read a lot, put my heart and soul into my studies, and gained two First Class Degrees. I had achieved a dream in excelling in English Literature as a big part of my studies, and my identity, as it was part of the fabric of my being.

However, the victory would shortly give way to ‘failure’ in a sense.

My adverse childhood experiences from being traumatised from bullying and hate crime over an intense couple of years most particularly in the first two years of high school, coupled with having severe anxiety, and experiencing the stresses of young adulthood and looking for my first jobs, moving out, and other challenges, bullies in adulthood, close to 3 years of not sleeping, night terrors, and so forth all combined to trigger an ‘explosion’ in complex PTSD, and a few years ago everything collapsed.

My brain felt like it was exploding. Everything was terrifying. The smallest of things was overwhelming, and I didn’t know how I would take the next step or make it through life. I was devastated. My waking and ‘resting’ life was a nightmare, I was both awake during the daytime in a living nightmare even as I went about my day to day or tried to, and was unable to escape in the repose of sleep either.

And to make matters worse, reading had become terrifying for me. My head was exploding, everything was frightening and confusing and overwhelming, thoughts ‘screamed’ at me, sentences were a blur, I couldn’t focus, and when I did my mind couldn’t make sense of things, I was intensely fearful and didn’t understand what was happening to me. I knew I should be able to read, I had majored in English Literature as part of my undergraduate degree after all. And yet, I was broken, and could not read even one line in a book without fear and terror.

I could spend an age staring at one page, tears filling my eyes, the room swimming around me, utterly broken and devastated. What had happened? Why were books no longer a safe and comforting place for me? Why was my brain malfunctioning such that even reading one line in a book was a tremendous and terrifying ordeal?

Was it over?

Scrambling back up that mountain.

There’s a line in a song that encourages me: “Life ain’t over, life ain’t done yet, so get back up in your place, child’. 

That’s what we’ve got to do.

The song goes on to say: “When you feel like it’s the end, no mother and no friend could love you more”.

The song is about the faithful love of Jesus, and He carried me through it all and continues to. Suffice to say I got help, and after years of persistence, I started reading again….including for pleasure.

A new way of exploring books.

Although I write a lot as part of my professional work, and have managed to push through and excel (high functioning! 😉 ) in my productivity at work, and although I have started reading again for pleasure, it is not quite as easy for me to just sit down and read a book as it once would have been. I used to be a ‘voracious’ reader, and I would lose count of how many books I had read in a month, in a year. Now, however, I can count the books I have read in a year on one hand. Maybe I’ll get back to where I was, or move forwards to something new.

Recently, however, I have been enjoying new vistas of opportunity for my mind and imagination: audio books. I have embarked upon a free online borrowing system with my public library that allows users the chance to borrow audio books online, download them and listen at leisure – for free.

Once again I am able to get cosy on a cold winter’s evening, and absorb myself in a good book. Only this time, someone is reading to me. I can go about my tasks while listening, or I can close my eyes and imagine the scenes unfolding before me as someone helps to lead me on that journey with their voice. What a pleasure to find a new avenue into the world of books. Of course, it is nothing new, audio books have been around for goodness knows how long now, and with technology, they literally are at people’s fingertips.

The hope of new adventures.

Sometimes we all need a helping hand to get us through. Even Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress found comfort from like minded friends on his arduous journey. Like faithful friends, the narrators of audio books are helping me through, from the slough of despond to being able to see in the far distance a promised land, a ‘Celestial City’.

Audio books are a new gateway for me, into new stories, adventures and realms of inspiration. I can listen to the Word of God, Scripture, biographies, factual accounts as well as fictional stories being read to me.

There is comfort in this. When I was a little girl, I also enjoyed listening to stories on tape and read along with the accompanying illustrated picture books. Perhaps this is like the adult version of that. Another form, another gateway into the realms of stories, of human life, of imagination.

A word of encouragement. 

So what can you glean from my gratitude for and enjoyment of audio books? Perhaps that no matter what your challenge is, there is a way forward, it might not be the route you thought, it may seem like you are using a ‘crutch’ at first as you hobble on your journey, injured as you are, but nonetheless, as you persevere you may just find that what you thought was a crutch assisting you in your weakness actually turns out to be a blessing and a gift of comfort, strength and new possibilities as you continue on.

blur book stack books bookshelves
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Notes from a Writer on Retreat! 1.

If you’ve been following along, you’ll know that I am taking a few days out of my work schedule to continue writing my novel. I’m ‘on retreat’ in my own home, and although the days I set aside for this are Monday to Wednesday, this Sunday evening I have been settling down to re-read the most recent portion of my book and to reengage with it.

This is my first novel, and it comes from the deepest part of me. I am also writing a light-hearted piece of fiction, but that is really just an imaginative journey with fictional characters, whereas the novel that has been birthed in me through painful experiences, hurt, perseverance, faith and hope is what is most important to me out of anything I am writing.

Coming from this place, my notes to you (Hello world! 🙂 It’s nice to not have to be a complete recluse on retreat and still have some semblance of contact and connection with the outside world) are that writing is more than creating sentences from finely chosen words to create meaning and story. It is SO much more. For me it is an expression of my soul, a cathartic journey, a making sense of traumatic experience through allegory and story, a process of growth through gaining insights into the human condition, mind, psychology and heart, and an expression of praise and worship to my Creator, and a hopeful offering that something of my soul’s journey will touch and help someone else someday. 

There is depth to such writing, when we write from our hearts, that goes beyond prose on a page or a screen. I have felt so reengaged with what I have written, and also quite emotionally touched by it too. This is perhaps why we ‘creative types’ need time, space and solitude to assimilate and allow what is within us to take shape and find an expression to share with the world. Part of writing is sharing an intimate glimpse of your soul, and even though nobody is reading my novel except myself, there is still power in this process. 

It is hard to grasp the wonder and necessity of creativity in our lives, especially in a fast paced world that does not allow us the time for lessons to simmer within us and for us to more fully process, be changed by, overcome and experience growth through our life’s experiences. And yet there is power in authentic creativity. I know you have something unique to share with the world, even if it takes time, many that have gone before us spent their lives crafting something that would only be completed, acknowledged or understood after their time on earth. Yet, isn’t our human experience so much more than fast paced ‘clicks’, ‘views’ and ‘likes’? Take time to develop your craft, and to share that unique part of yourself with the world in a way that allows you the opportunity to authentically experience the lesson for yourself, and then in some small part share a glimmer of that deep humanity with the world. 

brown paper envelope on table
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Do you notice your dreams coming true? ….

When I was a little girl, I had a vast and vivid imagination. If it was a rainy day and I didn’t have anyone to play with, I would create stories in my mind and go on imaginary adventures. When I was in primary school I had a dream that when I grew up I would be an artist, a painter or a cartoonist…this gradually progressed to me wanting to be a writer (as well as all of the above 🙂 ), and I busied myself with creating short stories. When I was in primary school at around 8 or 9 years of age, my class was asked to write a short story. I was an avid reader as a child and drew inspiration from a book I was reading and a television programme that I watched. Inspired by these wonderful imaginary worlds, I created a story all of my own and enjoyed doing so. It turned out that my teacher enjoyed my story too, so much so that she complimented me on writing to the level of a first or second year high school student – which when you are 8 years old is a massive compliment because high school students are so far removed from our little childhood world that they seem almost like adults! For those who have different terms in your education system, the equivalent would be a student aged between 11 to 13 years old. My teacher gathered the class to sit in a semi circle on the floor around her as she sat on a chair. You can imagine the scene, a group of kids sitting cross legged looking up at their teacher, so glad that their maths time is over and they can enjoy being read to! This was the normal way we’d sit when the teacher would read to us as a class from some fiction book. Only this day, she chose to read my story to the class instead! I was a humble, quiet child, but I was so happy on the inside, and it is a pleasant childhood memory that I am glad to have. 

As I moved schools at age 9 and went to a new primary school I found things difficult for a while and leaving all that was familiar to me behind I became a lot quieter having lost my close friendships and finding myself as the new person and having to start all over again. Being a visible minority also made it harder for me but eventually I found my fit and was respected amongst my peer group. I continued to enjoy reading and writing and although I was always in the top groups for other subjects such as maths, it was a lot harder work for me and I struggled and remember tears being shed over fractions and long division. I could get very good marks, but not without the struggle and tears and a bit of stress. English however, that was a dream to me. I enjoyed writing poetry, prose, short fiction as a child and all but the poetry has continued into adulthood. 

With my move to secondary school aged 11 years old came another big step out of my comfort zone as I had to go to a school outside of the catchment area of my primary school because a family member was already there, and this meant leaving behind classmates once again. As you’ll know by now if you’re a regular (and much appreciated 🙂 ) visitor to my blog, this was a traumatic time for me, and I was bullied physically, verbally, mentally, socially and emotionally by my peers as well as being unfairly treated by a couple of teachers. This totally scrambled my mind and my emotions and has left me with a lot to work on well into adulthood, but by the grace of God, He Is bringing out things from it for His Glory, and my restoration and for the good of other people. 

Writing became important to me on a much deeper level. I was alone, scarred, scared, terrified, shy and friendless and felt I had no one to turn to, other than my family, but even then I couldn’t articulate the enormity of what I was going through so I became quite withdrawn. I was inspired by reading Ann Frank’s diary ‘whom’ she named ‘Kitty’ and as a child in school I poured out my heart to my ‘only friend’ at the time, a notebook of my own ‘whom’ I also named as a friend to comfort myself that I had ‘someone’ to turn to. My short stories turned from imaginary worlds to exploring ideas of people like me who were bullied for their appearance or something ‘different’ or seemingly undesirable about them, how it felt and also touching upon mental health, depression and suicide, although I wouldn’t really know what to call it all at the time. 

I devoured books. I shone in my English classes, although a quiet student, partly because of my nature and also because I was traumatised and ‘stuck’ and not as comfortable with myself, and often hating myself for being so ‘repulsive’ which actually wasn’t true but it was a result of the emotional and psychological scars from the cruel treatment I experienced. Yet my passion for literature, and to be a writer only grew. I read classics and I found myself imagining being like one of the female writers of times past, pouring out her soul onto paper as it were, because without doing so she couldn’t function, and literally for a while I felt I had to write to live. I excelled in writing and gained academic recognition in high school and went on to study English Literature in University for my undergraduate degree, along with Politics. I then went on to study a Masters course in Gender Studies, Human Rights and International Development and won the prize for the best written dissertation on my chosen subject of human trafficking. This came after a time when my dream to get into the postgraduate creative writing course in my university burst and my application was rejected due to the high quality of the many candidates who applied. Basically, they were telling me I wasn’t ‘good enough’. And that did discourage me for a while. 

Yet, glancing back to my late teenage years, just before I embarked upon University I was at an age, 17 to be exact, when I like my peers was looking to the future and wondering what we’d become. I had worked hard in school to gain good grades and do well, and tried so hard to ‘get away’ from the emotional and psychological trauma and distress buried deep within….yet I was still so broken despite things looking positive outwardly to some extent. People told me later that in my final year of school they admired me, wanted to be me or were jealous of me – quelle surprise! If only they knew the troubled soul beneath the surface, surely they would change their mind. I was admired physically as well which was confusing to me after being taunted mercilessly for being repulsive in my earlier high school years, and having equated my self worth with their comments and feeling worthless. I had fought hard internally to get to where I was and yet the emotional pain was severe and I hid it well.  It didn’t just go away but actually became more apparent later in adulthood, when it all came to the surface and ‘exploded’ in I guess a cathartic way in breaking down, the pain couldn’t stay stuffed within anymore, but I had to face it to begin to heal. 

Aged 17 I was still passionate about literature and passionate about becoming a writer. It was also a form of escapism for me. When you’ve been made to feel like you are ‘nothing’ sometimes you turn to the imaginary world to dream of some kind of success or the person you’ll eventually become…only on the hard rugged road of real life it is seldom that easy unless you are particularly fortunate to tread a gentle and happy path. I was broken and I wanted to write…but not only did I want to write novels, I wanted to write ‘self help’ or ‘self care’ and spiritual books…because I wanted to help other people. I was *so* broken that even though I wanted to be able to help others, I could not reach out because I barely had the strength to get through my own emotional pain and that was so demoralising and frustrating for me….was it all for nothing? I wanted to help….even ‘just’ one person, because I was one person, and I needed help. 

Someone did stop to help me, to tell me about the Lord Jesus, and I just couldn’t fathom why someone was being genuinely kind to me, and I didn’t feel worthy of kindness because I was so hurt. I was like a wounded little bird tied up in chains unable to escape the inner pain and mental fear – fear was something that everyone who came across me would notice – I was sweet, and kind and gentle and creative, pretty and loving, but I was consumed with fear and unable to break free, barely able to make eye contact or hold my head up. 

More than someone stopping to tell me about Jesus, I came over time to know that Jesus Christ, The Good Shepherd of the sheep, as the parable says left the 99 sheep that were safe to come to look for the one that was lost – and that one was me. Perhaps today, you identify and see that it is you. He didn’t merely come to rescue me but to lay down His Life to Save, Forgive, Cleanse, Heal and Restore me, and give me hope in this life and an eternal life of pure love in His Kingdom to come. Glory. Self help and human advice can only go so far, the love and restoration that Jesus has for us is so very real, and it may take time as you cry out to God asking why did you allow me to feel such pain, but He suffered the most to set us free. 

When I was saved, God led me to lay down my writing and my dreams of being a writer as an idol. This was not an easy process, and I didn’t accept it easily until finally I did. I surrendered, and I wasn’t able to write for a long while. And all the while He was changing me from the inside out. I had started writing a fantasy adventure novel maybe the year or a few months before I was saved. And so I had to give this up. But God in His great love and wisdom had better plans. I used to imagine becoming a well known and respected writer, and opening up a box of my very own published works and being able to dedicate them to family and friends and share them with people. Was this the illusion, the escape, the reclusive ‘fame’ even that I sought? Yet over time, God changed me to want to do everything for His Glory alone because of the greatness of His Sacrifice of Pure Love for me. We all are sinners in need of a Saviour, no matter how ‘good’ we think we are, and I thought in my foolishness that I was good, until God showed me my heart and convicted me so that my very ‘bones cried out’ for mercy. Only the righteous blood of Jesus Christ can cleanse us and forgive us for all sin, He had to endure the cross, and suffer the wrath of the Father so that we, the guilty, could go free….and be considered blameless and righteous ….and only because of Him. And after some time I gradually began to write again. There were people and friends in my life who were doing well with their writing and getting published, and I was struggling with life and a whole host of things going on that I was just trying to survive and so much felt utterly broken so I was pretty dejected and I guess in my heart my dreams were broken, and I didn’t feel like I mattered so much…it often feels like that when we are going through particularly intense hard times while those around us seem to be blossoming with the happiness of life and good circumstances and blessings. Yet God does not have favourites and that was a painful lesson for me to walk through as I felt that I wasn’t among them. 

So, fast forward a few years, and now we have this term ‘Millenials’. According to my age group, I come within this category of being a ‘Millenial’ although I’m not sure how fond I am of terms that lump people together in such a way, as I am able to connect with people from across the generations, younger to older. As a millennial, in terms of the time frame I grew up in, I am towards the middle and older end of the spectrum as I can actually remember a time before mobile phones did anything more than call and text, and before the internet was much of a thing. The internet was around when I was in school but it was only just gaining in popularity and people were still getting to know what it was all about. I realise some of the younger readers won’t be able to imagine such a ‘land before time’ ….a time before the internet, would they even know what a ‘dial up modem’ is (anyone remember those?).

As such, when I dreamt of being a writer, my dreams were written with pen and ink on paper, were treasured in notebooks and drawers (yes, I did not have a laptop as a child or teenager…can you imagine? 🙂 ) and my inspiration was drawn from the Brontes, Jane Austen, ‘Jo’ from ‘Little Women’ who had to write in solitude and courage in the hope that one day their dream to share their heart and writings with another human being might actually come to fruition once they had found favour in the publishing world – which of course was not an easy journey. 

Which brings me once more to the title of this blog post: “Do you notice your dreams coming true?”. As human beings, because we are on a journey through life, we are often so caught up in what happened before and thinking about what is to come that we seldom truly appreciate where we are right now, and the dreams we once had that are coming to fruition ….no matter how seemingly ‘small’ or ‘inconsequential’ they might seem to others. Someone might have the dream to walk again if that has been a challenge in their life…so while those around them might be dancing, running and leaping and may not even know how big a ‘step’ they have taken if they finally do accomplish their dream, it doesn’t make the fruition of their dream any less special, beautiful or significant. 

Once upon a time, I dreamed of being able to write to help somebody….even one person…because one person matters. I could barely find a way through my own pain so I didn’t know how this would come to pass. I dreamed of someone, somewhere being able to read my words and be touched by them…and even though I’m a ‘Millennial’ I dreamed these dreams before the days of the internet and blogging were common place and as part of our daily lives as they are now. 

In the past few days a friend of mine who has gone through a lot of difficult things in their life, who has accomplished much, and is yet working through the effects of their earlier life experiences, gave me the gift of sharing that they had read my blog and had been impacted by it, had appreciated my writing and had found help in their own life and would continue to read it. Now this is no small thing, for it really is the fulfilment of a dream I had many years ago…to write, and to help, even one person. 

I have been working on a novel for a number of years, and write for the glory of God and not my own ambition anymore. For when you are known and loved and noticed by your Creator, you don’t strive after recognition or validation by people in the same way anymore. You are freer to live out your dreams for the right reasons. So I will keep writing, and keep praying that I do all that I do because He Is Great and merciful, and the Love of my life, and so Worthy of honour, and glory and praise. I will keep writing and leave the rest with Him, whether or not people see what I create, that is in His Hands….Hands that were pierced for me, that hold me through all of life and eternity, Hands that I can fully put my trust in. 

What are your dreams? While you continue to plan for your future goals, is there anything you need to take the time to stop and think about and appreciate today? Max Ehrmann in his beautiful prose-poem, Desiderata, wisely advises to ‘enjoy your achievements as well as your plans’. Sometimes we come to things after a lot of struggle and difficulty ….it is worthwhile taking the time not to compare, but to appreciate and be thankful for the unfolding of our own life story, and what we have managed by grace to achieve. I’d love to hear what dreams you have noticed are coming to pass in your own life. xx 

 

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