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Surviving the pandemic together. Words of Encouragement (4.2): *When home doesn’t feel like home* (or when the people you live with are driving you crazy! ;) ).

Words of Encouragement (4.2):
*When home doesn’t feel like home* (or when the people you live with are driving you crazy! 😉 ).


With reference to my earlier post about finding order in the midst of chaos, I provided the image of your home being like a lighthouse in the midst of a global storm. We considered the idea of things that are within our realm of control in contrast to those things going on in the outside world that we can’t do a great deal about in the grand scheme of things. But what if your home is actually like waves crashing upon the rocks? Could *you* still be like a lighthouse in the midst of not only what is happening right now in our communities and in the world, but also more specifically in your own home?
This is worth exploring because we’re all going to be at home in this hiatus for an unknown length of time. Who knows how this is all going to pan out?
If you find that you are struggling with the daily stresses of home or family life, whether or not the people you are living with at the moment are your family, then it is important for your wellbeing and for theirs that you all consider strategies that could help.


1. Routine: This is a stressful time for everyone. People have various concerns from the obvious life and death reality of Coronavirus, fears for family and friends, worries about jobs and work and managing childcare, food supplies and finances. Regardless of your situation, it is important that you have at least some kind of basic structure that will help you to manage and juggle these various cares and responsibilities, and to keep things from becoming overwhelming. Be flexible with these, but try to establish some kind of new household ‘norms’ in these challenging times.


2. Physical boundaries and psychological space: No one said this is going to be easy. Perhaps you are blessed to live in a happy family where for the most part you all get on well and are loving and caring towards each other. This is wonderful if you do, and take time to appreciate your blessings, the people in your life, but also remember that this is sometimes far from the case for everyone around you, and think about how you can be a source of support to friends or family who may be struggling at home. We need to all be thinking of each other, especially in such challenging times.
If you are in a stressful situation at home, it is important that you create some kind of physical and psychological space for yourself, and allow the same for those you live with. Maybe you feel like you’re not getting a moment to yourself if children are competing for your attention, or maybe tensions are running high with your partner or housemate, and you are beginning to lose perspective.
Even if you feel trapped, you *do* have options. It might mean getting up earlier than everyone else or taking some time after others have gone to bed to decompress and think and process.
If you can, try to create a space at home that is just for you where you can get away to. Even if it is just a small area, if you need boundaries, try to establish them and listen to the needs of the other people you’re living with too – this is a challenge for everyone.


3. Be understanding: Communication is really important, and sometimes we all do it quite badly, but this is a time to learn. The people you live with may be stressing you out, but try to remember that this is a new and stressful situation for everyone, and they may be struggling too. Find ways of being mutually supportive, and give extra grace to those who may not be doing things the way you think they should. You can’t stop the waves crashing, their attitudes and responses may be out of the realm of your control, but yours aren’t. So be that light in the midst of the storm, in the world, and in your own household. Be gracious, be kind, be forgiving, and supportive, and take time to work on your own character rather than getting annoyed about the things you can’t change in someone else – I know it’s not easy but it is important. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Help, love and support each other.


4. Take responsibility: It can be easy to fall into negative patterns of blame rather than working together when things get stressful. You need to take responsibility and be concerned about what you can change in yourself and your own attitude rather than trying to ‘fix’ someone else. They are imperfect, but so are you. They need compassion, support and understanding, and so do you. Look for solutions, together if you can, so that you aren’t weighted down by the problems.


5. Create a new family / household ‘tradition’ for this time:  Maybe it could be a new activity you do regularly at home with your children so that the Coronavirus pandemic seems a little less scary to them, and isn’t always the focus of attention or conversation. Maybe with the adults you live with you can create an activity to accomplish during this time inside, something after you’ve done your ‘working from home’ bit, and something that has nothing to do with watching the news or TV or tidying the house, etc. Read a play or a novel aloud to each other each evening even for a few minutes, do a puzzle, a jigsaw or something else that will activate the parts of your brain that help you to focus, to concentrate and to relax, rather than just constantly absorbing information from external sources. A few minutes of time in your daily routine that you can look forwards to together, and even if you have to stay isolated in a separate room, you can also pick up the phone for a chat 🙂


6. Set goals: When things feel like they are getting a bit crazy around you, it helps to have some small and manageable goals each day. You might have bigger things you want to use your time to work on while you have a bit of extra time away from the outside world, but also be realistic and set small goals too, as during times of stress and change it can be hard to concentrate. Some of these goals can be working alongside your family members to establish a sense of teamwork to overcome conflict. If this seems like it can’t be done then do what you are able to do on your own. Set short time limits, and break down tasks into tiny ‘bitesized’ chunks that you can do for a while and come back to if you are getting overwhelmed. Try to keep your space tidy and clean as this will help you to have a calmer state of mind. If this is difficult, then have one small area that is ordered and that you can go to to rest, even if it is the corner of a sofa!


7. Be *intentionally* grateful everyday: gratitude doesn’t just happen. It takes a choice on your part to recognise and appreciate the specific things in your life that you can be grateful for, even if those things are challenges. Be intentionally grateful at the start and the end of each day, and allow this to change you. You can put pen to paper or just take time to think on these things. If you are feeling stressed out or annoyed with your living situation and the people around you, take time to be intentionally grateful for them everyday. It might not be easy for you, but when you think of the sobering reality that so many people are losing loved ones, and how many frontline workers would wish to be at home with their people even if it is stressful, then it will definitely change your attitude, your perspective, and hopefully the atmosphere in your home for the better.
Take care, love, stay safe, be kind.

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Surviving the pandemic together. Words of Encouragement (4.1): *When home doesn’t feel like home*

Words of Encouragement (4.1):
*When home doesn’t feel like home*


In the last post we looked at the idea of creating a sense of order in the midst of chaos…exploring the idea of our homes being like a lighthouse in the midst of a storm.
I want to continue to think about the idea of establishing safety, this time acknowledging that being at home, whether alone or with other people, doesn’t always feel safe.
This touches very lightly the surface of some very deep and potentially dark issues, many of which are beyond the scope of this short post. There are all types of issues that could press upon your sense of safety within the home from feelings of depression and anxiety, loneliness, to domestic abuse, child abuse, and also even the stress of living in a space with other people with little sense of freedom, which overtime can lead to feelings of entrapment, fear and depression.
In a unique situation like the one we find ourselves in, in the case of this pandemic, we may not have access to the sources of support that would normally be available and this can be particularly tough for some people who are experiencing any of the things I’ve mentioned above. Devastatingly, some people can and perhaps will slip through the net, and my heart goes out to them.
Knowing this makes it difficult to write this post, however, I’d like to offer a glimmer of hope that there are helplines, support groups and other online resources that can help you through this difficult time. A quick ‘Google’ search shows me that there is a variety of resources in local areas, and perhaps with the many support groups springing up around the Covid-19 situation this may mean more opportunities to get some kind of help, even in the interim. In the UK you can phone the Samaritans, access online resources on mental health such as ‘Mind’, reach out to a friend by telephone if possible. Perhaps if you are concerned about a child’s safety at home, you could report this. If anyone reading this has particular knowledge of what to do and how to help people in such circumstances or who fall under other vulnerable categories, and who need a lifeline right now, please comment below with resources and contact details for organisations that can help, where possible. Thank you ❤ Let’s pray that as few people as possible slip through the net.
I will follow this up with a post 4.2 for managing the stresses of being at home where your safety isn’t actually at risk, but when things sometimes just feel too much. Take care, stay safe and well.

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Don’t let the ‘little things’ build up…

Everyday stresses can add up over time, and if we’re not careful we may experiences a wide range of negative effects from anxiety, depression, burnout, fatigue, a sense of being overwhelmed, trapped and frustrated, backed into a corner, to name but a few.

Having come through times of intense stress, anxiety, depression, burnout, fatigue, etc. due to a range of challenging circumstances, I know how important it is to be mindful and aware of when these little ‘niggly’ things that occur day to day begin to trigger even a hint of those feelings.

If we allow things to build up and up (which, I truly know, friends, can be difficult not to) then our bodies and nervous systems will begin to move from a state of calm, rest, efficiency and productivity, to being hypervigilant, and in fight-flight-freeze mode. Stress hormones will build up and this will affect our thinking, cloud our judgement and affect us physically. We may find it difficult to sleep, we may turn to comfort eating, or feel too stressed to eat, and so on and so forth. You get the idea. Perhaps, like me, you know it all too well.

Did you remember to breathe?

Sometimes I ‘forget to breathe’. Obviously, my body will be breathing, but what I mean is sometimes I get into a rigid state where I’m kind of holding my breath without even realising it, and therefore not getting a sufficient supply of oxygen for my wellbeing, and for regulating my nervous system.

Did you know that something as simple as breathing well is so powerful in regulating our nervous system, and promoting our wellbeing? And yet so often so many of us seem to ‘forget this’. We breathe from a ‘shallow’ place and don’t allow a full intake or exhale of our breath. Once we begin to be aware of our breathing and to intentionally practice doing it ‘better’ then our nervous systems are able to ‘calm down’. So, for your own good….”Don’t hold your breath!”.

What are those ‘little things’?

Sometimes life throws us into challenges where we feel like we may well sink if we don’t ‘swim’ to survive. At times life is so tough that our ‘default’ is to operate on fight-flight-freeze mode, simply to survive an intensely stressful, emotional, challenging and / or traumatic situation.

However, even at times when we are in those more calm and peaceful seasons where things overall are going well, our bodies and brains can be overstimulated and create a ‘stress response’ within us similar (or equivalent) to that fight-flight-freeze response.

Can you see yourself, or relate to what’s happening, in any of the following scenarios?

Scenario 1:

You all know the feeling. You’re on the way to see your friends for a great day out, but you can’t find the keys to your car, when you finally do and are on your way you then get caught in traffic and you worry that you’ll be late, you arrive just in time but can’t find a parking space, you’re feeling anxious because of angry drivers that you’ve encountered and before your great day out has even started, you kind of want to be back home where you can crawl into bed.

Finally you meet your friends and it’s great to see them. You hug and you’re reminded of why the stress of the journey was worth it. As you catch up over coffee, the noise around you and the multitude of conversations going on from other people leaves you feeling a bit disoriented. You try to listen to your friends but it’s difficult to ‘tune out’ the noise and ‘tune in’ to hear their conversations. When things finally quieten down your friends begin to share updates about their lives. They’re doing great, you’re happy for each other, but some things in the conversation seem to ‘trigger’ you and they seem insensitive to it. You listen patiently and are as encouraging and loving a friend as ever but something doesn’t feel quite right inside. A few of your friends get up to buy something to eat and you’re left alone with one friend. You’re by nature a ‘listener’ and you’ve listened attentively and shown genuine interest and contributed here and there to the group conversations. However, alone with this person they seem to ask you question after question after question. It’s been a long time since you’ve seen each other and it’s nice to catch up but you feel stressed, uneasy and needing your own space. You hope that the others will come back soon so that they dynamic will feel more ‘balanced’ once again, as far as is possible with a range of personalities, and a mix of ‘introverts, extraverts and ambiverts’. All in all by the end of the day you’ve had a lovely and a pleasant time, but some of the ‘little things’ have got to you and you don’t quite understand why you’re feeling so stressed after a nice day out.

Scenario 2:

You’ve landed your dream job. You got through the interview despite your nerves, impressed the new bosses and are finally where you’ve wanted to be for oh so long. Things are going great. You manage to push past your first day nerves, the disorientation of not knowing anyone, and having to get to know a lot of new faces, names and ways of working. After a few weeks into your dream job you’ve built some rapport with colleagues, feel comfortable and confident in what you’re doing, know the ‘lay of the land’ and where to get lunch, where different offices are and what your day to day routine is like. You’re really pleased with this great new step in your life, but somehow everyday you feel a bit of a ‘gnawing’ in the pit of your stomach, and a feeling of nervousness and stress rising up within you. The dream job you should be overjoyed about and looking forward to going to everyday doesn’t leave you feeling the way you had hoped. It’s not the job itself – it perfectly fits what you had wanted to do. It’s not the location – it’s ideal for you and the building and the facilities are great. It’s not the ‘vibe’ of the organisation, people are friendly and professional. It’s just that one little thing. That one colleague who hasn’t taken so well to you. The one who rolls their eyes, who makes subtle flippant remarks that you are sure are about you, who is overly friendly to everyone else but ignores you or responds abruptly and provides as little help or good will as possible. The one who does so many ‘little things’ that are hard to pin down as being ‘problems’ in and of themselves, but who gives you that feeling inside your chest, the one that leaves you feeling somewhat stressed. Why can’t you just ignore it, shake it off? You try but it seems to leave you feeling drained nonetheless.

Scenario 3:

You’re really thankful to have good and close friends. Or perhaps you have a loving partner or spouse. You’re so grateful for the people in your life. It’s just that sometimes you feel the need for your own space, sometimes they do or say things that make you feel stressed, sometimes you find yourself putting your needs aside to help them, to keep them happy. But those little things, they still get to you a bit, don’t they?

Scenario 4:

Life is going great. You’re doing well in your job. You’ve got good friends. You’re quite healthy. No family drama. No major life crisis. But you can’t quite seem to keep up with all that you have to or want to do. You live alone. The dishes have piled up. There are things needing done around the house. You want to get on top of things, but you’ve got to manage so many things yourself, and you spend so much time doing things yet before you know it things need to be done all over again, and you haven’t even got to that ‘to do’ list of things needing fixed, repaired and so on and so forth.

Or you’re a working mum, you love your family, your kids, they are everything to you. But sometimes they just don’t listen. They leave things lying about. They seem more interested in their phones and their friends and their computers than they do in connecting with you. You feel unappreciated, stressed, you love your life, your family, your job, but sometimes those little things…leave you feeling a bit stressed, frustrated, in need of a holiday on a beautiful desert island with a good book, all by yourself! Do you know the feeling?

Taking a step back:

We don’t need to be going through a trauma or a life crisis for things to become stressful. Sometimes the ‘little things’ in life can leave us feeling overwhelmed. And if we let them build up then at some point they might just ‘bubble over’. Have you ever ‘snapped at’ someone who really didn’t deserve it, not because of them, but because you allowed different stresses to build up over time and this was just the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’? Have you ever burst into tears, or just ended up so fatigued that you couldn’t do anything? Have you let the ‘little things’ in life get the better of you?

Or are you just beginning to notice them? Don’t let the ‘little things’ build up and overwhelm you.

Sometimes we need to try taking a step back. Sometimes that can be difficult. Sometimes it involves saying ‘no’ or ‘not right now’ to someone and facing the ‘fear’ of not meeting their expectations of us for the sake of preserving and maintaining our own well being. In order to do so we need to know and be aware of what we need, we need to work on managing ours and other people’s expectations in a healthy way, managing boundaries and taking good care of ourselves.

Sometimes we need to take a step back, remind ourselves to ‘breathe’ and do something to nurture ourselves.

What are you going to do today to make sure that the ‘little things’ don’t cause you to feel stressed, overwhelmed, frustrated or a bit lacklustre today?

Remember, it’s never a little thing to take care of your own wellbeing! x

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Investing in Friendship.

Connection. Belonging. Love. Shared experiences. In a word: Friendship.

The importance of Friendship:

Friendship is one of the most satisfying and meaningful parts of our experience of being human. Yet, how often do people intentionally invest in their current friendships, or in forging out new connections?

Expectations of Relationships:

Our society often puts such an emphasis on romantic relationships (to the detriment of friendships) to such an extent that they can become somewhat of an ‘idol’, bearing the burden of expectation to fulfil all of our unmet needs. Yet, what about this little gem of a notion that friendships of the non-romantic type can be life affirming, fulfilling and bring meaning to our lives, whether or not you have a ‘significant other’ or a family of your own? In fact, having a wide circle of close friendships can lighten the load on relationships, as you have different avenues through which to express different parts of your personality, a variety of people to share hobbies with that your spouse or partner may not be particularly interested in, and an outlet in which you can be more ‘carefree’ with your friends when the level of responsibility and commitment is not the same and less intense.

How do we measure ‘success’ and satisfaction in life?

We all know that we need human connection in order to thrive, yet we often seem to be a society driven by ‘goals’ that can be measured in terms of ‘success’. In the western world, where the sense of extended family connections tend to be weaker and weakening, in combination with higher divorce rates and more frequent family breakdown, you would think that the value placed upon friendships would be significant; yet is it? Have you set any goals or made any new year resolutions this month? Might they include things that measure ‘success’ or satisfaction in life in terms of money, status, experiences, job / work opportunities, travel, family?

Have you included investing your time and attention in your friendships as part of your thinking?

‘Investing’???!

I don’t mean to sound ‘clinical’ or ‘strategic’ by using the word ‘investing’. However, think about the things that are important to you and that you prioritise in your life. You certainly plan and set aside time and resources to nurture these things, to enable them to grow, don’t you? You invest considerable amounts of time in your job or studies or main occupation. You invest time planning financially. You plan and save for holidays, travel and other experiences. Perhaps you have a set ‘routine’ to enable you to spend quality time with your family – such as ensuring you read your children a bed-time story after your work. I know some people who have ‘date nights’ (although the term makes me cringe somewhat, perhaps because I’m single! 🙂 ) with their spouse, or time when you will eat together as a family, or visit elderly relatives. You are investing your time, care, and attention in all of these life areas. Last year I set a goal to visit my family at least once a month, and apart from one month when the weather was particularly stormy and I couldn’t see them (which I made up for with two visits on another month), I stuck to this and we have all reaped the benefits as a family of this planned and regular time together. Perhaps you have time when you will intentionally invest in your family, in spending time with your spouse, your children, your parents or siblings so that you can keep in touch and connected to each other. So why not so with your friendships? Are you intentional towards the time and attention you give to people in your life who you care about but who are not necessarily directly related to you? Or do you just ‘let things happen’, and ‘go with the flow’? How much time, care and attention we invest in things is a reflection of the importance we place upon them in our lives.

I love that friendships can be ‘organic’, changing, growing, evolving over time, often serendipitously, and I don’t like to put constraints on things that do have such a natural aspect to them. However, how many times have you heard someone say (or have you yourself said) ‘we used to be close, but we just drifted apart’?

When married couples stop being attentive and intentional in their time with each other, when they just let things happen, chances are they are more likely to ‘drift apart’ over time, and maybe you yourself know the devastation that this can bring, impacting upon not only your marriage, but wider connections such as family, friends, and most particularly if you have children. Do people not advise married couples who are struggling to be more attentive, to invest time in each other, in marriage counselling, in paying attention and communicating with each other in order to survive? I’ve personally never been married, but I have sadly seen friends whose marriages are ending or have ended in divorce. It takes work. It takes being intentional and investing our time and care in someone that we value.

Why then, or perhaps it is just my perception, do people feel less comfortable with the idea of ‘investing in friendships’? Why do so many people find that meaningful friendships have fallen by the wayside, to which people respond that they’ve simply ‘drifted apart’?

Experience:

I personally pray into and am intentional with my friendships. There are a couple of people that I knew only as acquaintances that I invested time praying for – for them in their lives with things I thought they needed help with, not necessarily for us to become friends – and these people have become very close friends. All of the friendships that I have prayed into have borne fruit and brought blessings in my life, whether for a season, or for many years. Of course, some people drift away, but for those where there is a mutual interest in staying connected, it takes intention, care and love, and making time for each other. People rarely simply ‘drift’ unless circumstances are so impinging upon that friendship or one or both people lose interest.

Perspectives, and a view from my window:

As a single woman, I highly prize friendships and some friends have become like family to me. I have also learned, from where I am looking, that friends who are married find an outlet in their friendships that they can’t find in their marriage. They find the need for other connections and often find solace in friendships when they and their spouse are struggling to communicate or are going through difficulties or issues which in that type of relationship are always more intense, and it helps them when they have a friend to talk to, to cry with, or to offer an outside and objective perspective. Married people and those in relationships need other friends too to stay healthy and ‘well-rounded’, and possibly sane! 😉

I have also learned that people who spend all of their time with their partner or family can be left feeling very isolated if or when things breakdown, or if one falls ill, or if they face bereavement.

‘Friends are the family we choose for ourselves’, so perhaps we need to really give time and attention to this valuable aspect of our lives.

It is also important in friendships to have a balance, a give and take and to not expect too much from any one particular friend, because they too will have their own commitments and other priorities and responsibilities and life issues to balance. Develop a few good friendships so that you don’t leave any particular friend feeling overburdened or overwhelmed, and so that you don’t put strain on the friendship. Learn to know each others needs for space and for connection and find out what works best in those unique relationships whether one to one or in friendship groups.

In a world where family structures are sadly not as stable or as secure as they could or should be, a network of trusted friends can be that ‘extended family’ of sorts that can prove to be mutually beneficial, practically supportive, satisfying and life enhancing.

Do you think it is worth ‘investing’ in any of your friendships today?

Be blessed. x

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Do you live too much ‘in the future’?

The start of a new year can bring with it fresh hope and vision.

Having dreams and vision for the future is an important if not essential part of life.

For most of our lives we are taught and encouraged to consider the future, the ‘what next’ of our life. When you were an infant perhaps the people in your life talked about and imagined what you might become when you grew up. I remember when my friend who is a few years older than me had her first baby and she asked me to be his God-mother. I was fairly young myself at the time and hoped and prayed that in a few years time I would know how to be a good God-mother. We delighted in him as a baby, and then in his younger sister when she was born, enjoying the lovely baby and toddler stages that they were in.

Yet we also talked about their characteristics, their likes and dislikes and imagined what they would be like as they grew up. Would they be musical, artistic, good at sports, kind and caring, studious? Would they be like their mum or dad? We all in our hearts wonder ‘What will be?’ for ourselves as well as for others. Many parents have big dreams for their children, while others say that they just want their children to grow up to be happy and healthy and kind people regardless of what they do or who they ‘become’. In all likelihood when we were little ourselves the adults around us would have made similar comments as they wondered who we would turn out to look like and what our likes and dislikes would be.

By the time children can walk and talk and play, adults begin to ask them ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’.  Sometimes the child will reply with a confident answer such as a doctor, an astronaut, a fire-fighter, a ballet dancer, pop-star or an artist, while others may not be so sure. Adults may then say something like ‘you’ve got a long time to think about that’ and so the child will go back to playing and having fun in the moment.

Most of us pass through stages of teenage angst when there are so many questions we ask of ourself and of our identity at a stage where we really begin to make decisions that may in fact shape the future direction of our lives at least in the short term.

We choose subjects to study at school and are asked what we hope these will lead to. We need to consider the practicalities of the next stages of our lives such as passing exams, going to university or college or starting an apprenticeship or job. We need to think more and more about the adults that we will be in society and questions about the future are almost constantly asked of us at that stage of life. ‘What do you want to do?’. There is an expectation that we will soon need to figure out what kind of contributing members of society we will be and we may have to put some previous dreams aside such as those of being an astronaut or a pop-star.

As we move through the next stages of life, for example making our way through university as one possible life choice, we are then faced with more exams followed by questions of what we will do next. Soon we will need to be thinking seriously about passing all of those exams, graduating and finding a job.

Inevitably we will need to think about other practical things such as getting a job, supporting ourselves and perhaps other people in our lives, paying bills, renting accommodation, getting a mortgage and the list goes on.

In our younger days we might dream of what we will do as a ‘grown up’. Perhaps these dreams will involve achieving certain goals, traveling, having a career, finding love, getting married, having a family of our own and so on. I imagine very few children and young people will be thinking so far ahead as to dream about their retirement and what life will be like then but maybe I’m wrong. We like to think about the years when we are ‘in our prime’ and able to do all the things we dream of doing. However, perhaps in retirement people come to appreciate the ‘here and now’ a bit more.

For some people I know, their early twenties were characterised with ‘achieving’ or being blessed with passing those milestones that many of us long for: finding love, getting married, going on adventures, achieving goals, starting a family.

My life hasn’t been so straight forward. I have dreamed of all of those things but finding someone and having a family of my own are still in the ‘someday’ or ‘maybe if’ realm of not yet. I have however done well in school, obtained two first class degrees, graduated, gone through the difficulties of finding a job and renting accommodation to now being in the stage of life where I am settled in a job I enjoy, with good friends, having travelled a bit, and with a home of my own. That’s a very short version and it certainly hasn’t been an easy or straightforward process but I’m glad to be where I am now.  I watch my friends’ children grow up and I watch other friends getting married and starting families. And one thing I have learned is that people always seem to be thinking of the ‘what next’ and when they finally ‘arrive’ there it isn’t necessarily quite what they had imagined.

I have friends who when they were single longed for the ‘next’ stage of life. When they got married they found challenges that they had not expected and spoke of how they sometimes missed their more ‘carefree’ single days. Friends who longed for babies when they finally became parents then talked about how they were always tired and busy. So soon they take for granted the things they once only longed for, things that some of us still don’t know if they will be part of our lives, our ‘what next’.

Can you relate to any of this? Practically speaking, life keeps moving forwards and we all need to consider the ‘what next’. Yet, could it be that we do this in the wrong way or to our detriment? Some people have found their ‘sweet spot’ in lives where things have worked out just as they hoped or dreamed and they are enjoying ‘the good life’. For many of us it isn’t quite so straight forward.

So the question I’m asking of both you and I is that although we practically need to prepare for the next step and the next as we move through life, do we ‘live too much in the future’?

Do we miss the fact that the stage we are in may have been one we had previously only hoped or dreamed of? Do we fail to realise that there is something inherently special about this time of our life right now even with the contrasts of light and shade? Do we always have to know or think about the next stage of our life? Do we enjoy and appreciate what is happening in this season? If like me you have had some notable tough times in life you know that sometimes life has you pressed hard up against a wall, so to speak, and you can’t think of the future. You can only do everything you can to get through the day, the moment. You’ll someday see the lessons in your trial, but in the midst of it you don’t even know if you’ll make it, and your dreams feel somehow crushed, an impossibility.

I’ve been there, I know how disappointing life can feel. And so I appreciate being out on the other side at last. Sure, I haven’t had all my dreams come true, but what about the here and now?

When you’ve been through some tough times and the future seemed uncertain as to whether or not you would even make it, when you eventually do weather those storms and the sun begins to shine you appreciate the ‘little things’.

That’s my challenge to you and I today. While we may have dreams and visions for the future, while we may be working on plans, let us also take the time to appreciate the good things in our life right now, things that we otherwise might just take for granted if our heads are always in the ‘not yet’ or in trying to figure out and make sense of the past.

We are all on a journey, it doesn’t stand still, so while we might have hope for the future let us also have appreciation of the Gift of the present.

x

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Being intentional with our time over the holidays…

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I don’t know about you, but it is a rare treat for me to have an extended period of time off from work. Sometimes I’ll have this time over the summer, but this year I only had a few days off here and there, and I therefore have my longer break from work in the wintertime this year.

It’s nice to not have to get up early in the cold and dark weather to go to work, and to know that for many other people, especially for those of us who are fortunate enough to have office closures over the Christmas and New Year period, we are having a collective rest and break from the normal day to day routine. Of course not everyone has time off and I am especially respectful of those who work over the holidays to keep our communities going, particularly those who work in the emergency services and frontline crisis and care work.

Yet, for many of us, we’ve been long awaiting the Christmas break and are looking forward to a good few days to rest and relax and maybe even ‘hibernate’ a bit.

I’ve already had a couple of weeks off, which has been spent tidying up, organising, decorating, preparing for travel, going away for 6 days to enjoy some Christmas markets, coming back home, catching up with sleep, unpacking, washing, tidying, preparing for Christmas, going to church, preparing myself spiritually and generally trying to get organised. For many of us, the lead up to Christmas seems to bring with it seemingly unending things to do, and the household tasks seem to just keep coming, until we can finally get things all settled, cosy and prepared so that we can have actually have the rest that we have been hoping for and preparing for.

It is easy to get lost in this hustle and bustle, and by the time we do get to ‘put our feet up’ we are more than ready for a rest.

Sometimes Christmas and the holiday period involves spending time with friends and family, and maybe even a change of scene. Once we have prepared and got things suitably ready, had some festive events, and done some charitable acts of kindness, we may find that we are blessed with some quieter days ahead, which will be spent mainly indoors.

Ahead of me is a stretch of 11 days from today – 23rd December until 2nd January 2020 where I’ll be away from my home and spending time with family. We all say it so often, that the time just ‘flies by’ and before we know it we’re in another new year and back in the ordinary routine of things, and feeling stressed again. We sometimes look back and wonder whether we made the most of our time, or whether we ‘frittered away’ our time sleeping too much, eating too much, lazing in front of the TV, and letting days flow into each other in an unproductive blur.

There is a time when we need to rest and relax and just ‘chill out’ but I’m also aware that the holiday season is precious and that I’d like to use my time wisely. However, it is hard to really use our time wisely without knowing what our priorities are, or without having some kind of structure or routine, plan or list of things we’d like to do. It’s nice to be spontaneous, and we don’t always need to plan, but sometimes without any structure we risk wasting time, and for those of us who have suffered from depression and anxiety, some form of a routine is essential for our mental and physical health and wellbeing.

For me, getting back into blogging after almost two weeks away doing other things, provides me with the opportunity to quieten my heart and mind and reflect on how I would like to use my time over the next 11 days.

A simple routine:

Without being too prescriptive, one thing I’d like to maintain is a simple, yet flexible daily routine to add structure, meaning and joy into my Christmas holidays, prioritising what is most important to me. My brain likes to see things written down as this helps me to be wise with my time. So, this is what I’m hoping my days will include:

  •  A healthy dose of rest, relaxation and sleep, incorporating a morning routine where possible, but not putting any pressure on myself to do this.
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  •  Focusing on the True meaning of Christmas, and keeping Christ central to my thoughts, and taking time to truly be amazed that God came to earth to be with His people, to save us, to save me, and to deepen my relationship with the God Who loves me.
  • Having a daily time in Scripture and prayer to God, seeking Him, praising Him, and praying for the needs of others and myself.
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  • Being intentionally grateful on a day to day basis, and taking the time that I don’t usually have to reflect more deeply on the blessings and lessons in my life and to give thanks for them.

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  •  Being present and slowing down enough to appreciate the special moments and time spent with family and friends. Appreciating how precious the time we have together is, and enjoying each other’s company and being there for each other.
  •  Taking time to stay in touch with and reach out to friends who I know are struggling in this season due to various circumstances.
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  • Being helpful so that everyone gets a chance to rest and relax over the holidays.
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  • Enjoying food and holiday treats while being mindful of what I eat and not to overindulge.
  • Keep moving and doing a little bit of exercise, even if just five minutes, everyday, and where possible go out for fresh air and walks so as not to stay cooped up in the house all day every day.
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  • Reflection on the year gone by, on blessings enjoyed and lessons learned, goals achieved, and seeking direction and wisdom for moving forward.
  • Time spent figuring things out, working through my thoughts, issues and continuing to become stronger mentally and emotionally, and considering my priorities and how I will achieve them going forwards.
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Enjoy having time to do things that I find creative or relaxing such as playing Christmas music on my violin, writing more, reading, listening to audio books, watching films, playing games with the family, arts and crafts, selecting photos from the year gone by for creating an album, and taking time to enjoy the cosiness of the season.

Plan for what’s ahead, so that the transition into the new year will be as seamless and enjoyable and productive as possible.

What about you? What kind of holiday routines do you have that help you make the most of your time? x

 

 

Surviving Winter ~A Beautiful Wintertime Diary (continued)…

Recently, I wrote the following post in part 45 of my Winter Survival Guide regarding the importance of reconnecting with the people in our lives. So, I thought I’d give you an update of some recent opportunities to reconnect.

It’s nearing the end of the year, and maybe we have let things slip in our friendships and relationships, and we didn’t even realise that it was happening. Time just seems to have passed and somehow when thinking of the people we used to be closest to, we realise that we have lost touch, or […]

via Winter Survival Guide (45) ~ Reconnect. — Life as it happens to be

Reconnecting with Travel Friends:

A couple of years ago I went on a coach holiday by myself to Budapest, Prague and Vienna. You’ll be able to read up on my adventures in my ‘Travel’ section. It turned out that traveling on my own led to me having the opportunity to connect with new people, and as a result I made some new friends, two of which have visited my city a few times, for various events they were going to and also to see me.

Last weekend, I had the chance to reconnect with these two friends once more and we ventured around Christmas markets, had some festive hot drinks in a café and chocolate shop, and then went out for a late lunch together.

It doesn’t often happen that I make friends via my travels that I will keep in touch with face to face rather than just by the occasional message or email every now and then, so these particular connections have turned out to be quite special, and may continue for years to come.

Sometimes we travel solo because we love the freedom, the independence, we might be wanting to get away from it all and have more time to ourselves, or we may want to travel with others but find that no one else is available. For me I really enjoy solo travelling now, although it initially took a bit of getting used to. Either way, the chance to connect with these travel friends is a fresh reminder to be aware and attentive and to make the most of every opportunity – I almost didn’t take the opportunities on holiday because I was enjoying the time by myself, my independence and indulging in my passion for photography. Funnily enough it was the teenage girl who thought I was only nineteen that drew me into conversation and company, even though I am closer to her mum’s age – I and others thought they were friends, so I guess we all had that youthful glow about us! 🙂 The opportunities I almost didn’t notice actually turned out to be open doors to new friendships, and so it was nice to recently have the time to reconnect with them once more.

Tried and True:

I mentioned in my Winter Survival Guide post that many of us are blessed with those ‘old faithfuls’, those friends that are ‘tried and true’, friendships that feel more like the bonds of family (you know that saying, “Friends are the family we choose for ourselves” ! 🙂 ), those who we have grown to know, love, laugh with, support each other through the hard times and challenges of life, and who we hope will still be part of each others lives in the years to come.

I am blessed to say I have quite a few ‘old faithfuls’ in my life, and this has probably been due to the reciprocity of both parties being faithful and investing in the friendships. However, most of these friends don’t actually know each other, so for the most part my ‘old faithfuls’ and I tend to be groups of twos, threes or fours rather than a big group of long standing friendships.

One such ‘party of three’ is myself and a couple of guys I met through work. We’ve been there for each other through the challenging times of life, and it’s most likely, God-willing that we will continue to be. We don’t necessarily have everything in common, but we do have that connection that makes us consider each other as family in a way. And we laugh together…and eat together!

We’ve tried over the past couple of years, especially as one of these friends no longer works with us, to continue to meet up and reconnect in person once a month. Obviously, this can fluctuate and some months we aren’t able to, other blessed months might see us meeting more than that, but we tend to go out to dinner, to chat and to stay involved with each others lives and have a healthy dose of laughter in poking fun at one another! 🙂 You know you’re in a good situation when you can eat and laugh with your friends as well as have those more serious chats.

Our most recent culinary adventure saw us visiting a Russian restaurant, which was a novel experience at least for me – a tasty one though,  followed by a wander around the Christmas markets.

There’s a song by Sara Groves that I like, that includes the following lyrics:

I am long on staying, I am slow to leave, especially when it comes to you, my friend. You have taught me to slow down and to prop up my feet, it’s the fine art of being who I am…”

When we have the blessings of real friends, friends who mutually care for each other, who are genuine and sincere and who give as much as they take, friends we know we can be ourselves around, and with whom we mutually feel supported, cared for and respected – when we have the chance to reconnect with them, despite however different we may be, the lovely thing is that we are also able to reconnect genuinely with a part of ourselves.

Wishing you all some happy times connecting and reconnecting with loved ones and friends old and new, as well as with yourself, and if you are spiritually minded, with God, this winter season. x

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Winter Survival Guide (28) ~ Acceptance.

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Your life is unique, wonderful and perhaps at times ‘kaleidoscopic’. Like a snowflake, each of our lives are intricate, distinct and although in many ways similar, each is completely original and incomparable. We see the design, the pattern, the variety if we would but look at the snowflake up close. Our fingerprints are one of a kind, and like no other, even those of identical twins are completely unique and distinct from one another. The design, the form, the pattern and uniqueness of our DNA is another stamp of our uniqueness. You are one of a kind, irreplaceable, incomparable, uniquely, wonderfully, beautifully you, not to be compared with any other, and not to be replicated. One of a kind. That’s you.

So why, friends, do we too often feel that our unique and incomparable selves have to lead ‘picture perfect lives’ according to someone else’s or society’s designs?

We see the greeting cards in the shops at certain times of the year, and we watch the films that tell us how things ‘ought to be’ if our lives were our own ideal replicas of those portrayed to us in the media, airbrushed as they are.

How many Christmas and holiday films begin with two lonely hearts each seeking their own ways in life, making it through the holiday season and muddling through somehow, facing heartache only to finally find each other, fall in love, be whisked off into the romance of the season and live ‘happily ever after’, or at least until the end of the film?

How many pictures, postcards and greeting cards have designs on the front showing happy families gathered together, eating Christmas dinner and enjoying the glow of a warm fire, under the dazzling beauty of twinkling lights adorning a picture perfect Christmas tree? Everyone is happy, no one has fallen out with anyone else, there are no family feuds, rifts, or even fights over the remote control and arguments over who gets to choose which film to watch.

There are no pictures of single mothers struggling to decide how to manage their finances while at the same time providing a special experience for their children so that they don’t feel like they are missing out.

Where are the greeting cards that feature you, and me, in our unique, incomparable, kaleidoscopic, often broken yet beautiful lives?

Maybe you do have somewhat of a picture perfect greeting card life at the moment. You know you will have happy family times together, you have your ‘true love’ by your side, you have enough money to enjoy the season without worry, you’ll see your friends and enjoy good times together, you may even have a beautiful Christmas tree, and enjoy some snowy scenes while you stay wrapped up warm, cosy and loved inside.

But even if you do, it’s likely that it has not always been that way for you, and even if it has, there are no guarantees that your life will be ‘picture perfect’ in the future. And even if it is ‘picture perfect’ on the outside, I can almost guarantee that you, as unique as you are, also share in the common human frailties of stress, worry, anxiety, and self doubt.

Truth be told, none of our lives fit any of the designs that society often airbrushes and presents to us. You are unique, and so too is your life. So don’t fall prey to the ‘comparison trap’. Don’t feel like you are missing out on life simply because it is so far from ‘perfect’ for you right now, this year, even if what you are going through is really, really tough. There are lessons for you in even the darkest of seasons, and I know that I have had to go through some dark seasons I rather would not have, but we sometimes make them harder for ourselves by not embracing the uniqueness of our lives, our circumstances, the opportunities to rise up against the challenges, get stronger, grow and not keep wishing that we had what someone else had, or that our lives looked different.

It’s great to aspire to better things, to be a kinder person, with the kind of character you would want your children to have. There is nothing wrong with wanting to improve your life circumstances either. But the thing is, the way your life is right now, is the way it is right now, and you have to start from a place of acceptance rather than wishing it away. Whether you are in a happy or sad season of life this winter time, live your life, not someone else’s idea of what your life should be, or your idea of what you wish it could be. You are here right now, and you have to make the most of what you are working with right now. Learn the lessons, embrace them, grow from them, and move forward. Be uniquely, wonderfully you, live your unique, wonderful and messy life, and don’t complain or grumble about where you find yourself, because you can’t make things better by dong that. Accept what is, and have faith in something Better, and do what you can as you take the next steps to live your best, unique, wonderful life – which is a gift, one of its kind, unique, and given to you. x

 

Winter Survival Guide (25) ~ Offer to Help.

Helping others is often very good for us too. As the winter season draws in, it is not uncommon with the drop in temperatures, the low light levels, and shorter days for out mood to also drop.

We can become sluggish, lethargic and inwardly focused if we are not careful. Offering to help someone else can help us to keep an outward focus, think about the needs of other people, feel more productive and be more active.

You don’t need to overstretch yourself, but if you are in the position to, why not offer to help someone else with something?

Does your mum need help to organise a family event? Would your wife appreciate your help cooking dinner? Can you pick up some things from the shops for your elderly neighbour while you are doing your own shopping? Can you help a younger brother or sister prepare for their nativity play? Can you help with organising a particular event in your community, or babysit for a friend so that they can get a bit of a break?

Helping others ‘survive’ and thrive this winter can also go a long way to helping ourselves too. x

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Winter Survival Guide (23) ~ Start a New Tradition.

Maybe you grew up enjoying some beautiful festive family traditions. Maybe you didn’t, but you longed for them. Either way, why not start a new tradition, whether you are single, in a relationship, have family of your own or will be sharing your time with friends. Regardless of your past or your circumstances now, you can always start anew.

A few years ago, I decided to start a new ‘tradition’ of my own, if ‘new tradition’ isn’t too much of an apparent contradiction that is! 🙂 I went to Berlin and Potsdam and visited the Christmas markets there, and I bought some tree decorations to hang on my Christmas tree. Since then, I have gone to Christmas markets more locally with friends, and each year I try to get a new decoration to hang on my tree. A few of these are beautifully carved, unique, wooden decorations, and on the back I can write in very small handwriting the date and place so that in the future I can remember where I got them. I like to add one new decoration to the tree each year, and I like it to be meaningful, and from an event or experience such as from somewhere I’ve been with friends or family (or by myself as was the case with the one in Berlin).

The decorations don’t need to be from a Christmas market (I also have some hand made ones I made myself the year I had my first Christmas craft stall), just one new item each year, and it’s nice to see these personal touches adding up, and hopefully if or when I have a family of my own I will be able to continue this on and share it with them.

What ‘traditions’ do you have, or what new things would you like to start? x

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