You are living a life that is unique to you. No one else can tell your story. No one. Some of the stuff that you have been through or are going through may simply feel terrible. You need to know, and I need to remind myself, that it doesn’t have to be wasted experiences.
I personally believe that in the Hands of our Creator, even the worst of life’s experiences can be transformed into something good.
I also believe that we have a degree of choice and personal responsibility in what we do with the hand we’ve been dealt.
Sometimes life feels very, very hard. Sometimes we can’t find a way through on our own, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. When we are at our weakest we are perhaps more open to the reality that we need help, from God, from other people, and there can be good that can come out of that. Once we’ve worked hard to recover and build up our resilience, we can reach out and help someone else….even when we are still struggling.
This morning I wasn’t feeling so good. I’m faced with the choice to stay stuck in my struggles or to find a way forwards. Maybe you can relate?
If I can encourage you today, it is to keep on going. Start small and keep on building and let the momentum take you forwards. I started this blog in 2017 when I was going through a rough patch. I started small, with no followers, and although I may still be relatively small, I take courage and comfort from that fact that I can encourage other people. I can use my own experiences of struggles to send a kind and helping hand through the internet to perhaps lift someone else up, and that’s amazing to know.
What are you going through right now? Know that there is power in the smallest of steps. Whether it is chronic pain or illness, severe depression or any mental health struggles, fear, loneliness, low self esteem, unemployment, sickness, fatigue, broken relationships, you don’t need to be defined by your struggles your whole life, or at all. You can overcome them and I believe in you. You can take the smallest of steps to continue on your quest through life for Truth and to live in freedom.
There will be ups and downs, good moments and bad, and I know that, I am faced with my own ongoing struggles. But we can choose not to let them be wasted by reminding ourselves that we are not alone, we’re not the only ones out there, and we each have a valuable story to tell that no one else can tell for us.
Someone needs your wisdom and help to know that they also can get through something similar to what you have got through.
And maybe you need encouragement yourself. You need to know that your struggles or experiences, even if they are positive are not wasted – try to pass on your knowledge, your learning, in some small way today.
The blogging platform is such a gift in being able to do this. To reach out to people, unknown though they may be, but unique and valuable individuals all across the world and say, I’m going through this, I went through this, can sharing something of my life help you…and in turn we can keep encouraging others.
Find a way today to use your experiences for good, and take heart knowing that they are not wasted. x
Human beings thrive on narrative. We need things to make sense, and we try to bring order out of chaos through talking things through, discussing them, or compartmentalising them in our minds.
Women perhaps more than men make sense of the world through verbal narrative. Men may be bemused at why women seem to talk things through so much, but what they probably don’t realise if their brains are wired differently is that there is a lot going on socially, emotionally and psychologically through the process of talking about things. By this I of course don’t mean gossip, but if a woman has a problem you may find that her instinctive response is to talk about it, whereas men are more ‘solution – driven’. The verbal narrative helps us to process our thoughts and emotions, make sense of things, find validation and connection as we engage with the person we are talking to and also work through possible solutions without jumping straight in.
Yet regardless of how we approach the narratives of our lives, we all need our stories on some level to make sense. Isn’t this one of the deepest reasons for why we write?
In trauma, a lot of our experiences, memories and sensations simply do not make sense nor do they fit into a ‘timeline’ because these unprocessed parts of our experience, and of us, are up front and in the here and now just as much as they are from the past and we often experience them in the present with great intensity.
Whether or not you’ve experienced trauma, you do have an innate need for reason, logic, the unfolding of a story and for things to make sense. I personally think that’s one part of being human. And so we write, we talk, we listen, we express.
Yet, some of the ways we think actually impact our unfolding narratives. Which is why we need to work on our ‘mind map’ – our own internal mental journey, because this impacts how we move through life.
Regardless of what your experiences have been you can find purpose and meaning in them, even the most difficult, as you gradually reframe them and make them part of something bigger. Seeing the difficulties as chapters in a book for example, and discovering how these form the identity that you are walking into. Look back at my post on superheroes and origin stories for a better idea of what I mean.
The more we are aware of the mental road map we are forging out the more we are able to navigate our way forward with purpose and positivity, taking the difficult things and allowing them to be used for good, for a greater purpose, as part of a bigger narrative.
This verse has been silently running through my mind for the past wee while. I have often thought about it in time of need, and it has been a challenge to me personally when I have been going through difficult times. The verse is from the Bible from the letter, entitled ‘Romans’ in the New Testament (Romans 12:15), from the apostle Paul to the believers in Rome. Paul was writing this while he was in prison, and the incredible thing is that even while he was bound and in chains he knew a deeper freedom than most of us know in this life. His freedom in Christ. However, even if you are not a Christian, I think this verse has something for all of us to reflect upon through the changing seasons of life.
It’s a tiny phrase, but it says so much. Don’t you think? “Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn”.
I’m not entirely sure why this has been in my mind recently, however, I think it probably has much to do with seeing the contrasting seasons that some of my friends are in. Whereas previously, in earlier days, I would have been thinking of this from a more challenging place of mind and heart, when I was suffering and my friends were going through really happy times, times of joy, love and fulfilment of dreams, now I am looking at it from a different standpoint in terms of my season of life. I’m kind of ‘in the middle’ of things in terms of circumstances and wellbeing if I were to consider my experience in comparison with what some of my friends are going through. Some are rejoicing, and others are mourning. And at the moment, for the first time in a long while, despite the ups and downs of life, and as yet unfulfilled dreams, questions about the future as time passes, I’m actually doing just fine right now and making the most of things.
I have a friend who recently lost her mother. I have another friend who is overjoyed and loving life as a new mum after her season of wondering whether it would ever happen for her. I have friends who had wonderful seasons of joy, and the blossoming of marriage in their early 20’s, only to be faced with the painful sting of divorce, which was a surprise and shock to friends who know them and care for them.
I know some people for whom life has been a pretty happy ride ‘merrily down the stream’, just like a dream, as the nursery rhyme tells us. And overall most of us have a mixture of things going on. But there are seasons in life where either we ourselves or those around us could be said to be quite poignantly in seasons of mourning or of rejoicing. Mourning doesn’t necessarily relate only to bereavement. You could think of it also in terms of many of the painful depths of human experience. Mourning could be as vast ranging as the end of a relationship, the loss of a job, struggling to come to terms with your wayward adult children who have made wrong choices in their lives causing distress to those around them, it could be unfair treatment, unfulfilled longings, cruelty inflicted upon you by others, or illness, depression, losing the ability to walk, sing, smile, talk, or remember things or people you once loved.
Seasons of joy are also evident when we see them. Perhaps something broken has been restored. Maybe a fractured friendship or family relationships have been mended, and you feel a joy in contrast to the loss you once felt. Joy restored! Maybe it is characterised by accomplishment, carefree times, births and marriages, or new milestones. Perhaps a business venture or a project or a dream has come to fruition, or perhaps you have learned a new skill or lost some weight, become healthier, got fit, are challenging yourself to try new things, you feel healthy, life is going smoothly and for the most part all is well.
So, how do we relate to the contrasts in the lives of those around us? How do we “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn” as we are encouraged to do?
I don’t think that there is a simple or straightforward answer, as it is a lesson that we must learn and be shaped by throughout our life’s journey on earth. One thing, however, that does really speak to me is that even if we are not sharing an experience with someone else, even if they are rejoicing while we are hurting, even if they are mourning while we are rejoicing, or are just doing alright, even though we don’t necessarily share the same experience, we do all share a common humanity. And we are called to care about each other, to be sensitive to one another, and to consider each others needs.
It can be hard to know how to support a friend when they are in mourning. But we can be withthem. Maybe this doesn’t mean that we are with them physically, as that is not always possible, but it does mean that we can consider what they are going through, what they might be feeling, and how we can ease their load at least a little. We can reach out to them and show them the kindness of a friend, we could help them with their practical needs, send them a gift or a card, or if they are open to us we could simply sit there with them in the quietness of their grief, or listen if they want to talk, or hold them as their tears fall….or…..give them space. Maybe if you have gone through a similar experience, or are going through the experience with them, then you will have a better idea how to bring some comfort in that particular situation.
Rejoicing with those who rejoice can be a wonderful thing. We might ourselves be in a place of rejoicing, and life is like one big celebration in this time, but what if we are not? What if we are just doing ok, or muddling along, or struggling with pain or heartache in our own lives? We can choose to rejoice. We can choose to be kind to others, to wish them well, to love them and pray for them, we can choose to celebrate their milestones, even when we are longing for or waiting for our own. We can choose to think kindly of others. We can choose to be the kind of caring and kind person we aspire to be, even when that takes challenge or a ‘sacrifice’ on our parts. That said, it doesn’t mean that you neglect your own wellbeing. Sometimes, it is just hard, nigh impossible to show up for others if you yourself are in a difficult place in life. Be kind to yourself, be gentle, and know that you are choosing to cultivate a mindset of kindness to others…and to yourself. I personally believe that it is only possible to do this fully by the Love of Christ. However, I also know that we each bear the image of the One Who Created us, and that even those who don’t believe in Him, still have a capacity for a deep kindness to others, through our shared humanity.
If you are in a season of rejoicing yourself, try to think of a time when you were not, as long as it is ‘safe’ mentally and emotionally for you to do so. Perhaps there was a time of hardship in your life. Perhaps the thing you are rejoicing about now is something that you were longing for, or waiting for, or heartbroken about in times past. Perhaps your dreams were deferred, your hopes unfulfilled, and maybe you were in a time of sadness. Do you remember the sting of pain that you felt when those around you were rejoicing over the things that were so far off from your own life and experience? Maybe what you are celebrating now, and rejoicing over, is a similar cause of pain to someone else in a season of ‘mourning’. Maybe you can’t see the full extent of what they’re going through, of course you can’t, we can’t. But you can consider them. You can rejoice over your blessings, but you should also be sensitive to others you may unintentionally be hurting. And if you have never had such a negative experience yourself, count yourself blessed, but still try to put yourself in the shoes of others, and think about how they might feel.
Only by showing kindness to ourselves and caring about others can we begin to respect the profundity of what it means to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn”. xx
Travelling teaches you the importance of Home. Perhaps this in itself is a challenge to some of us. It is beautiful and inspiring to get away and explore the world. However, there are inevitably challenges and annoyances along the way no matter what we do. Moving from place to place, living out of a suitcase at times, being in unfamiliar territory or out of our comfort zone, or simply not being somewhere that is our ‘own’, of living in a constant state of the temporary, of moving, shifting, changing, can give us a deeper longing for and appreciation of Home. Yet, perhaps some of us, especially those of you who have spent years ‘on the road’ (something I haven’t yet done) find the idea of ‘Home’ a strange and transient concept, and maybe you don’t have a place where you feel ‘rooted’ to.
I’m sure most of you will have heard of the popular acronym ‘FOMO’; if you haven’t and you worry that you haven’t heard of it, then you probably have it! 😉 For those of you who are familiar with the term, you’ll know that I’m talking about the ‘Fear of Missing Out’.
I’m sure we’ve all experienced it at some point in our lives, or perhaps we experience it as a long standing condition! Missing out on what, though? We are often more concerned with doing rather than experiencing. We think our lives would be better (and by better, deep down we probably mean more fulfilled, exciting, happier, having more meaning, value, significance and purpose, and perhaps being more admirable in the eyes of others) if we had what that person had, or we could do what they did, or we looked the way they looked or could travel where they travelled, or had their talents, or family or friends….and the list is endless.
FOMO steals from us the precious moment that we can enjoy and live in right now. We anxiously look around us at others, or we get lost inside our own heads thinking of what we ‘ought to’ do to make the most of our time, and generally losing focus on where we are and what we are doing right now, and the value of simply experiencing it deeply.
I got to thinking about this while washing the dishes – I was enjoying the experience of slowing down, appreciating that I had dishes in the first place to wash when other people sadly go hungry, of feeling the warmth of the water through my washing up gloves and enjoying the bubbles. Experiencing the experience, finding the value in it, enjoying the little, simple things, right in front of us.
But then …then I considered the time, the fact that I am on retreat, taking a day’s unpaid leave from work, wondering whether I could get this done quicker and then go out for a walk or to a coffee shop or something more ‘retreat like’. I became more concerned with the doing rather than the experiencing and therefore allowed anxious thoughts to steal the joy of the moment from me. And maybe you sometimes think like that too. But we can come back from that…we can slow down, refocus, and be thankful…and find joy as we move slowly, quietly, peacefully and humbly through the day.
Do you think that all of those people doing all of that amazing stuff really enjoy their lives more? (I’m not talking about in comparison with people who are in situations where their basic needs aren’t being met – that’s a different situation to what I mean, and a topic for another discussion). Maybe the people who seem to have it all ‘should’ enjoy life more…and maybe in some respects they do, and that’s a good thing for them, we should think kindly of them if their enjoyment isn’t harming anyone else- but chances are the reality is that like butterflies people who seem to have it all flit from one thing to another because they need the big experiences, they need to show off their relationships, or look a certain way and be admired for it, or go to so many places because they are not experiencing and enjoying the simple things deeply and so they don’t have contentment and never truly feel like their lives are ‘enough’. Perhaps we are all like this to some extent. All of these things are beautiful aspects of life – wellbeing, healthy relationships, opportunities to connect, to travel, to go on adventures, to experience and learn new things, to grow in ourselves, to develop our skills and our talents. However, if we focus solely on doing and ticking things off our list of ‘oughts’ and ‘shoulds’ then these lovely things in life actually become hollow. We rob ourselves of the true value of experiencing our own lives if we are constantly worried or thinking of something else that we might be missing out on, and putting a ‘price tag’ or value on that experience by outward criteria alone.
So, that’s ‘FOMO’ ~ a rather unpleasant state of being and comparison either with others or with our expectations for ourselves. So what on earth is ‘JOMO’? ….
Have you ever noticed a very young child whose parents may be trying to show them something that they hope will be exciting for the child, and that most other people would think would be of interest to them, but instead, they are utterly mesmerized and absorbed by a leaf or flower at their feet (and nearer their eye level anyway), or an ant or something we have learned to dismiss as not being of much interest in our experience. Children can sometimes express such joy and glee at the strangest of things. I once saw a video of a baby in joyful hysterics, laughing its little heart out, when its dad ripped up pieces of paper. It’s silly, but we can learn a lot from young children like that. They don’t care about what else they should be doing, they are just enjoying the little things fully in that moment of their life as it happens. And that in itself, especially to adults, is extraordinary.
I read a quirky little article a while back that talked about replacing ‘FOMO’ and anxiety with ‘JOMO’ – the JOY of missing out. Of not feeling we have to do the ‘big things’, but to find joy in not doing them and enjoying the little things that we love. The joy of missing out can really be translated of the joy of being here, right now, and fully experiencing the good things in your own life however insignificant on the surface they may at first seem.
I awoke naturally at around 5.30am, which is definitely not my usual time of day as I’m a night owl and not a morning person. I spent some time in a sort of ‘sleepy prayer’ state, committing my day to God, and listening to some gentle worship music. At 6.30am I started my early morning writing, and wrote for just under half an hour, and enjoyed a hot cup of tea and some breakfast snacks. I wrote again from around 7.30am to 8.30am, and after that I went back to sleep for a while.
It’s now 10am, and I am writing my update here to avoid procrastination. I am curled up on my sofa, with a cosy blanket, and my laptop propped up on my armrest as I type. Day two has a gentler feel to it than yesterday. Yesterday I wrote quite a lot and I feel that I wrote well. Today, however, I decided not to set myself with a word count to ‘accomplish’ which has given me the freedom to linger and engage and connect more deeply with what I am sharing of myself, creatively, through the written word.
The mind and heart have caverns that take a life time to explore, and healing comes not instantly for the most part, but over time, and with love. And we express much of ourselves through the characters we create, whether intentionally or not. For me, it is intentional, and therefore there is the opportunity for deep and genuine connection through writing this novel as well as it being an opportunity for me to learn more about myself.
I have spent an hour and a half this morning continuing on my journey through writing my novel, and have written 808 words. This may not seem much for the time spent, but there has been a richness in the connection, and quality of experience of slowing down, taking time to consider words, to experience the resonances with my heart, and understand a little better the tapestry of my mind.
The world we live in is so rushed, and hurried. People ‘think faster’, but not necessarily deeper. Words are fired out over ‘Twitter’ ‘Instant messaging’ and text. We are being moulded to expect instant responses and constant information. And with all the interconnection, there lacks the depth of connection with our selves.
So if you have the chance to write, to create, be intentional about it, and yes set yourself goals. However, enjoy the process. The world doesn’t give us time to savour the moments as deeply as our souls need to – we need to seek and find and carve out that time that God so freely gives.
Slow down. Especially on retreat. The world of course will rush you once again, so take this time. Pause. Reflect. Connect. With your creativity, with yourself, with your Creator, and delve a bit deeper.
When you travel to a new place, you may spend a day or two trying to accomplish as much as you can on your sight seeing ‘bucket list’. You want to make the most of your time and cover the most ground you can, especially if it’s unlikely that you will be travelling there again. Once you have seen all the sights, however, on day two or three or four, you will have gained a sense of what is most important and interesting to you, and also what is not as important. And so….you slow down, you linger, you stay a while. You don’t rush from one museum to the next, you don’t have to….you can pause and look….really look….at that one particular painting that catches your eye, stimulates your mind and captures your heart. Previously, you caught a glimpse of a variety of places you could perhaps eat at, but today….today you have chosen one place, and you slow, you enjoy the colour of food on your plate, the taste, the aroma, the textures and flavour. You listen, to the conversations around you in languages you don’t understand, and hear not just unfamiliar sounds but nuances that you hadn’t noticed before and similarities of words and phrases. You feel more connected, with yourself, with the company you are in, and the day you are inhabiting. Having taken a multitude of photos the previous day, you decide to put your camera away for a while, and soak in the experience of being present, being here, now. You know that tomorrow or quite soon you will have to attend to the business of tidying and packing up and leaving for home. So you pause, you linger, you soak it up. And maybe you don’t ‘tick as many boxes’, but that’s alright. You don’t cover as much ground, but the ground you do cover leaves an impression upon your soul, becomes part of you, and enriches your life….in this slow, authentic, savoured and connected moment of your life.
Travelling teaches youto plan ahead. Travelling also teaches you to leave your plans behind.
There is so much to explore, and limited time, so we may find we gain the most from our experiences if we have in mind what we most want to see and do and focus on those. These lessons in planning and preparation can be useful and transferable into our ‘ordinary’ lives. We are so ‘wired up’ in the 21st Century to try to have multiple ‘tabs’ open in our lives, however, just as our computers and devices can only handle so much, so too we sometimes need a ‘re-boot’ or to close down some of the tabs we have so that we can enrich our experience of the fewer things we actually choose to do, and be more productive and efficient in making the most of our time in doing so.
However, travelling also teaches us to sometimes leave our plans behind, to go with the ebb and flow of experience, and to discover these new experiences organically rather than rigidly trying to set our own timetables, schedules or expectations of how we think things ‘ought’ to be. Sometimes we are enriched by being open to possibilities in the moment, to saying ‘yes’ when it is safe to do so, and to being truly present and alive in the here and now.
We all have different and unique preferred styles of learning, experience and also in our approach to travel. These may shift and change, or we may lean more heavily towards one side more than another…yet it is good to be open to learning from both, and enhancing the depth, and quality of our experiences as we do so. What is your preferred way and approach to new experiences and travel opportunities in your life? (c).
(c) Photograph I took in Bellagio, Italy, August 2018.
Travelling teaches youthat ‘selfies’ aren’t always best 😉 That is to say, travelling teaches you to look out for others, and to discerningly allow others to look out for you.
It might be a little ‘tongue in cheek’ to use the example of breaking away from the ‘selfie’ approach, and asking a kindly stranger or fellow traveller to take a photograph of you, and maybe even to return the favour for them, which will create an end result of a wider panorama and view of your surroundings, and a fuller picture of yourself as an individual. Of course, I am referring to more than just the potential picture that you may come away with, but to the experiences of life themselves. However, I have found on my travels that offering to help others, or accepting help (and obviously being wise and safe in who you approach or allow to approach you), and commonly through taking pictures, opens up doors of interactions and exchanges that enrich your experience. In offering to help others, even in simple ways, you might find yourself in conversation with locals, learning something new about the place or people living there, or about fellow sojourners. Sometimes it is good to go it alone, but we also thrive in these simple exchanges with other people along the way. (c).
Travelling teaches you that there is so much more to life to be explored, discovered and experienced than you had ever thought possible, and that there are so many opportunities out there to expand your horizons. It teaches you to think beyond what you are used to, to challenge yourself not to stagnate, and to bring these lessons back into your everyday life. Don’t get stuck in a rut, or think that just because the people around you may not be able to see beyond the confines of their day-to-day routine that you also have to limit your vision. Get out there, see new things, do new things, challenge yourself, and never stop learning or growing ~ travelling is such a great life teacher, so if or when you get the opportunity, with wisdom, go for it. (c) ❤
Travelling teaches you the importance of connection, and of non-verbal communication.
On a basic level, when you’re in a country in which you are unfamiliar with the language, a phrase-book and basic preparation can only take you so far. Many of us take it for granted that someone we meet will speak English, however, even if they do, that doesn’t mean that they will understand your accent, meaning or dialect and vice versa.
Somehow we find a way, and practically speaking, we find other ways of communicating in order to realise our basic needs ~ perhaps one may point, gesture, use facial expressions and / or other non-verbal cues. (As a side note, I am aware, and admit that I speak with a lack of knowledge of how people with sensory impairments manage such challenges, and I apologise for that fact, and welcome any of your insights).
However, communication as a human being goes beyond getting basic needs and wants met. Integral to our humanity is the need for connection with other people, on a deeper level than that of the content of our conversations. And sometimes travelling teaches us this in a way that is unique to any other experience. Travelling teaches us, that as important as language is, we share the ability to connect and communicate as human beings even when words are not spoken or understood. We find a depth and a richness to things that we may have previously taken for granted, such as eye contact, a gentle touch, a gesture of kindness, or even silently enjoying a shared experience (such as watching a beautiful sunset) with a stranger, with whom there is no other means to communicate, other than with the heart.
Travelling teaches you the innate communication of humanity, of shared existence and that we all are Created by the same Hand, and can share the deepest communication by simply being, and ‘speaking’ with the heart. (c).