Tag Archives: family

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

close up of christmas decoration hanging on tree
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Winter Survival Guide (18) ~ Plan Ahead.

It’s 12th November 2019 as I write this. We’ve already heard it so many times now: “I can’t believe it’s November already!”. People tend to say things like this a lot, commenting on ‘how fast’ the year has flown in. It’s all a matter of perspective, I suppose, but we’re undeniably bedded in now in the latter part of the calendar year, and before we know it people will be saying “I can’t believe it’s 2020!”.

This means that ‘before we know it’ we’ll be in the midst of the Christmas, festive, holiday, New Year (and other, depending on what this time of year means to you) season.

It’s a good ‘survival’ tip to plan ahead a bit so that things don’t unexpectedly creep up on you and you find that anxiety is knocking on the door of your heart.

Let me break this down a little, just to give us all a bit of perspective, and help us to visually see what and where we might gain from a little bit of forward planning. Keeping it simple, here is a visual representation of the next few weeks ahead:

November 2019:

Tues: 12th November (today), 19th, 26th

Wed: 13th Nov, 20th, 27th

Thur: 14th Nov, 21st, 28th

Fri: 15th Nov, 22nd, 29th

Sat: 16th Nov, 23rd, 30th.

Sun: 17th Nov, 24th

Mon: 18th Nov, 25th

 

December 2019:

Sun: 1st, 8th, 15th, 22nd, 29th

Mon: 2nd, 9th, 16th, 23rd, 30th

Tue: 3rd, 10th, 17th, 24th, 31st

Wed: 4th, 11th, 18th, 25th

Thur: 5th, 12th, 19th, 26th

Fri: 6th, 13th, 20th , 27th

Sat: 7th, 14th, 21st, 28th

 

January 2020:

Wed: 1st.

 

Maybe you float through your days, and planning isn’t much of a priority, but personally as someone who has anxiety (and who also incidentally can be a bit forgetful), planning is pretty essential for me, and I like to break things down into smaller more manageable ‘chunks’. Together with the fact that I’m a bit of a perfectionist, I like to make the most of the time I have and to do things well, and encourage other people, so that’s another reason I need a bit of an idea of what’s ahead of me, and what I need and want to do, as well as how this fits in with the needs and expectations of others, and my general obligations.

I’m not sure what the next few weeks ahead look like for you, but here are some of the things that I personally will need to factor in and begin thinking about and preparing for:

Work:

  • Finish up work projects (I’m usually ahead of schedule as I am just now, so I can relax with this one, considering nothing new or major lands on my plate) and tie up any loose ends before the office closes for Christmas.
  • Complete my personal work review which is just something I do for myself and is not a requirement, as it helps me to see just how much I have been involved with, what I have learned, and how to go forwards. Sometimes we fail to realise or appreciate just how much we have accomplished in a year, and it’s good to review that at the end of the year.
  • Support colleagues / team with anything we collaboratively need to accomplish / tie up.
  • Take annual leave that I have remaining from mid-December.

 

Social:

  • End of November, early Christmas work lunch out with colleagues.
  • Mini reunion with friends visiting from another part of the country, but just for the day.
  • Christmas dinner out (mid December) with a couple of close friends.
  • Catch-ups, exchanging gifts and doing some fun Christmassy things with various friends before we head our separate ways for the holidays.

 

Charity:

  • Plan and carry out some acts of kindness to help those less fortunate, and encourage others with ways we can all help.

 

Personal Devotions, Church and Fellowship:

  • Only six more Sundays before Christmas, so it would be nice to spend some time in advance really preparing myself spiritually, thanking God and reflecting upon the year gone by, and prayerfully looking at what is ahead. The Centre of Christmas and of Life for me Is Christ, so it is important that He Is my Focus throughout this whole season, filled as it is with distractions aplenty.
  • Connect with friends, encourage others who are struggling this season, and participate in the many beautiful events celebrating Christ, as He leads me.

 

Prepare for Birthdays, Christmas Presents, gifts for God-children, friends’ kids, and prepare / recycle things to create Environmentally Friendly Packaging:

Pack and plan for a short holiday to see Christmas markets in Europe – finances, clothes, etc. all to be prepared.

Hospitality and Home:

  • Decorate, have people over for festive fun.

Pack and prepare for visiting family.

Reach out to support friends who are grieving or struggling this year.

Other bits and bobs: plan some crafts, use up coupons before their expiry dates, send things in the post on time, and create a photo book of memories for 2019.

red ceramic mug on white mat beside notebook
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Winter Survival Guide (15) ~Revisit Your Hobbies and Make Better Use of Your Time.

We all say it from time to time: “If only I had more time, then I could do more of the things I really enjoy.”

black and white photo of clocks
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If we’re honest with ourselves and each other, we probably all have a lot more time than we make proper use of, and especially so during the winter and holiday seasons when we have a ready excuse to stay indoors and relax.

clear glass with red sand grainer
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How many of us who go out to work during the day, come back in the evenings and have something to eat and then spend the rest of the time slumped in front of the TV, or some other electronic device? One click leads to another, and before you know it you’ve whiled away the hours and it’s time for bed again, and that’s another day in which you wished you had ‘more time’.

photo of cup near flat screen television
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Now, what if the solution wasn’t having ‘more time’, but making better use of the time that we do have?

personal organizer and pink flowers on desk
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I have this little game I play that helps me to get things done and avoid feeling overwhelmed. I have these ‘daily challenges’ on my computer in the form of various card games, word games and mind puzzles of different degrees of difficulty. If I’m feeling overwhelmed by the things I need to do around the house, I’ll solve a puzzle and then do a bit of work (and within that I break things down further like I’ll put 5 things away, or do x amount of something, etc.) and then go onto the next puzzle, and go on alternating between doing the things I need to do and relaxing / brain training and for me this ‘system’ really does work and keeps me calm, focused on my tasks a little at a time, and efficient. Doing this frees up time for me to have more spare time as well when the environment and living space I’m in is conducive to relaxation, rest and creativity.

person playing mini fig
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Sometimes when we think of revisiting hobbies that we’ve maybe laid aside for awhile, we can feel similarly overwhelmed as when we have a lot of housework etc. to do. But we can make this manageable for ourselves too, and make better use of our time.

photo of man reading book
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Think of your indoor hobbies. What would you ideally do on a cold, cosy winter’s evening? Now think of the amount of time you spend with your devices not being particularly productive. By this I don’t mean blogging, because this is a creative outlet and I think can be a very good use of time in connecting with other like minded creative people, and sharing our encouragement and insights with the world to make the world a kinder, more loving and supportive place online. But instead think of the amount of scrolling you do, comparing your life with someone else’s, looking at the latest celebrity gossip, going from one funny cat or baby video on You Tube to another, or binging for hours on your favourite box sets. I’m guilty of all of the above just like most of us probably are, but the problem is if it becomes a habit that interferes with us living our real and best lives for ourselves. It’s fine to every now and then ‘switch off’ from the world and look at things online, but it really shouldn’t be what we spend most of our free time doing, and I know that I am making changes to make better use of my time as it’s all too easy to get lost and entangled in this inter-web isn’t it?

Winter time is the perfect time to reignite your enjoyment of your indoor hobbies. And you don’t need to spend hours at a time doing them if that isn’t practical. For example, I enjoy playing the violin, particularly using it as an instrument to worship God with. It brings me joy, but it can for a long time sit in its case, untouched in the corner of the room, because I think ‘I’ll get back to it someday.’ But shouldn’t every day of our lives be that someday in some way? What I mean to say is that everyday should be the day to do something meaningful and worthwhile. And so maybe I’ll play my violin for ten minutes one night, but that in itself is a beautiful gift to be able to do.

acoustic art blur bowed instrument
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I also love adult colouring in, and have taken this up as a hobby which I do not just for enjoyment but also to develop my skills in art and creativity, and there is a whole community out there of people who display their wonderful creations online, on forums, on YouTube videos, and whatever you may think of adult colouring in, believe me, there are some fantastic artists out there (‘colourists’) who create masterpieces of the highest quality, and this is something that I aspire to. And notwithstanding that, it is a beautiful way to relax. Instead of thinking that I need to spend hours pouring into this hobby, maybe I can spend 10 or 15 minutes working at it in the evenings before turning the TV (or in my case, ‘laptop’ as I don’t have a TV) on. Doing a little of what you enjoy everyday, over a life time all adds up, and it can bring joy to others as well as you share your gifts.

pencils in stainless steel bucket
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What about crafts? Isn’t this the perfect opportunity to put your talents to use and make some homemade cards or decorations or whatever craft you do, to give as gifts to the people you care about, as well as exploring the possibility of selling your home made items to raise money for charity? A few years ago I had my first ever craft stall at work around Christmas time. I decided to use the money raised to give to a homeless charity in the city. Last year I decided to try out a new hobby, making jewellery particularly beaded bracelets and necklaces with charms, and I spent the wintery nights preparing a good collection of these which I later sold to raise money for the same homeless charity as well as a children’s charity. Now, this wasn’t anything extravagant, or needing a great deal of skill, but it was a fun way to try something new, to use my time (even while watching my favourite programmes – don’t you just love hobbies that allow you to multitask?! 🙂 ) and to encourage other people and do something helpful at the same time.

Some of our hobbies can be just for the sheer joy they bring in and of themselves, of honing our skills, learning new techniques, connecting with other like minded people, or even passing on what we’ve learned to our friends, family and the younger generations.

My God-son and his dad enjoy spending time together doing wood-crafts. Some of them are quite simple, but turn out beautifully like little model rocking chairs crafted out of wooden clothes pegs glued together. Think of the wonderful memories you could make, as well as the wonderful gifts, from spending time connecting with people or even on your own giving yourself time to grow, learn, improve and contemplate.

black and white boy child childhood
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What are your favourite indoor hobbies that you’d like to pick up again? Could this wintertime be the chance for you to rediscover them? I’m curious to know what people enjoy doing – painting, music, reading, writing, arts and crafts, model making, jewellery making, pottery, embroidery, quilt-making, baking, making Christmas decorations, knitting, sewing, weaving, photography, scrapbooking, wood-carving…..? I’m sure there are so many more that I have overlooked, and many more that I may never even have heard of.

If you’d like to share, I’d love to hear about what your favourite hobbies are, and I hope you have and create the time, even if just a little time at the moment, to get back into the things that make you feel that enjoyment and creativity! 🙂

 

person holding white sneakers
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person fixing green christmas tree
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