There’s no doubt about it that the past year has exerted a lot of pressure on a lot of people and a lot of different industries.
Perhaps I’m in good company in being blessed to be able to work from home (albeit using my own devices at present) and have some job security. I am very thankful for this as I know that there are others who are having a hard time, and I know that my work is a gift.
If you are in a similar situation, perhaps you notice that there are certain expenses that you haven’t had this year that you might have previously. For example, in pre-pandemic times I would have a daily commute which meant buying a train ticket on a daily basis. I’d have to buy lunch if I hadn’t had enough time to meal prep in advance, and there were probably other things that I also ended up spending money on. Of course, some of these savings are offset by spending in other areas such as electricity bills if you are working from home. However, if you do have bit of disposable income, then perhaps you can think about supporting local businesses when you do make your purchases. This isn’t always possible, but I do like to be of the mindset that every little bit does help in some way or another.
For example, as it is still the first month of the new year you may find yourself in need of new stationery, diaries, planners and such like. Why don’t you support some local businesses such as those that you can find on Etsy? As a Christian, I also personally like the UK based Christian version called ‘Cheerfully Given’ where I sometimes buy Scripture inspired stationery and gifts.
This post is completely of my own heart and initiative and I’m not sponsored by anyone, but I do feel that perhaps in addition to buying local from time to time, spreading the word can also help people in sectors that might otherwise be struggling or finding it a bit harder than usual to make ends meet.
I’ll leave the links below, and maybe you too can ‘pay it forward’ by recommending some local businesses to friends. We can’t do everything to help everyone, but let’s have faith that the small gestures we make also matter.
And if you yourself are a local business then I hope you find some encouragement that there are still people out there who want to support you in these difficult times.
Happy new year once again, friends. I’m thankful that we’ve all made it safely into 2021, and I know that some of us have experienced losses along the way and my heart goes out to you if you are suffering through grief, loss or trauma of any kind.
We recently looked at how to maintain habits individually as well as the positives of communal habits. I was reading a verse in Scripture in the book of Hebrews today where we are instructed to ‘encourage one another daily’. This is in terms of our faith in The Lord Jesus and so that we are not hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, as there are so many negative influences in the world. However, I think that even for those of you who don’t share this faith, there is something important in thinking about how we can encourage each other daily.
I’ve written in previous posts about how to keep focused and maintain a faithful and positive mindset especially at this time of year, i.e. post Christmas and New Year. People often talk about the ‘January blues’ when there may be a slump in mood after all of the celebrations, after the novelty of new things and new resolutions wear off, after we’re back to work and the weather (at least in this part of the world) is still gloomy and any travel plans or adventures are still a while away. I think this can be compounded by the messages we receive in the media, as the ‘January blues’ are definitely not inevitable or inescapable.
This year, however, we are faced with additional factors that may be threatening our courage and faithfulness and hopefulness and positivity, especially with the year 2020 has been.
I’m not sure where you are in the world, but in the UK we’ve entered another Lockdown (Lockdown 3.0, I think) which is almost as strict as the initial lockdown we faced in March 2020. There are some exemptions for essential purposes and taking into account people’s mental health they can still have an extended household, but other than that we are under another STAY AT HOME order. It is important to take such advice seriously so as to ease the immense pressure that our health service is facing and help to stem the tide and spread of the virus, and the new strains of the virus.
This also comes at a time when many of us will be going back to work. Most will be working from home, but for some whose livelihood depends on people turning up to their premises, such as hospitality providers, this comes as another blow.
We’re back to hearing those same familiar terms that we first had to grapple with in our realities in early 2020: stay at home, furlough, extreme measures, and so forth.
It’s all enough to get anyone down. I truly believe that the only True Hope is in looking to Jesus Christ and allowing Him to hold our lives together. Yet, I also feel that it is important to encourage each other daily.
It could be so easy to allow ourselves to fall into a ‘slump’ with everything going on, and although it is ok to have ‘off days’, to take time to grieve and to take time away to heal from traumas, it is also important to keep going. To persevere. To never give up.
We need a Source Greater than ourselves to do this, we need God, our Creator, and we need to ask Him to help and rescue, to forgive and cleanse and heal and show us the way. However, on our part, we need to maintain an attitude of daily preparedness, daily disciplines, daily encouragement. When we fall down, we at least have some temporary ‘props’ to help us get up again, and to take the next step and the next and the next.
For example, if we have been working on creating and maintaining those new habits, and if we have been seeking to do this communally in some ways too, then when we have a bad moment, we will be more likely to be able to forge through and press our way out of that into the next moment which we can make more positive rather than giving up and allowing everything to fall in on top of us.
We need a few ‘go to’s’ so that when our minds are overwhelmed we can go to that positive activity or habit we’ve been working on.
I had my first day back at working from home today, but with the news I could easily have felt like crawling back into bed after work. However, I have been working on those habit lists / trackers that I encouraged you with the other day and managed to turn those thoughts towards positive actions. Instead of allowing myself to be discouraged I spent a bit of time exercising. I did some daily reading. I prayed and committed things to God. I did a few minutes of work on a creative project. Some of my inner struggles resurface, yet I know that I have tools and disciplines to persevere through them, and moreover can look up in faith for supernatural help from The Lord.
We don’t need to give in to the so-called ‘January blues’. I’ve been reading biographies and listening to podcasts of people who overcame immense adversity, to help me to overcome some of my personal traumas and struggles. These people have experienced severe loss, abuse, and challenges that would push any human being to the limit. They’ve had tough times and even rough years, they’ve had long processes of recovery, and yet they’ve managed to push through all of that, defy the odds, and refuse to give in to defeat.
They’ve found encouragement from the stories and testimonies of others, and they’ve also gone on to encourage other people. This is something I seek to do. Every time my pain threatens to derail me, I look up to Christ and know that He has the victory over all thing, and will accomplish His plans for my life. I know the calm and peace of His Spirit within and around me and feel that tangible Peace and Healing. And I know that I can take the next steps in life. I know that the things that hurt me can actually be turned around and used for good to help someone else, perhaps even to help you I hope. And I know you have it in you to do the same.
So if the voices of others are getting you down, if the news is defeating you, if your spirit feels low, then look up, and look also to the examples of people who pushed through difficult times, take one day, one moment at a time, and commit to a vision for something better. Don’t give up. Be encouraged, and encourage others. Daily. Even while it is called today.
I believe in you. Look how far you’ve already come. And don’t give up. Have faith, take courage, and press on into victory…even if it is just one shaky step at a time. x
Yesterday, we looked at how to effectively track habits, and I hope some of you got something helpful from my post.
Today, I thought we could take a step further and look at habits in terms of things we can do collectively with other people.
For example, there might be something you want to build into your daily life, or do more regularly but perhaps you lack a bit of motivation, or maybe your motivation dwindles from time to time. Or maybe you just would find the experience more enjoyable if you could share it with other people of a like mind.
In my own experience this has been helpful at certain times, although it also helps if I don’t feel too ‘tied down’ to any particular commitment with it.
For example, for a couple of years, I participated in an online Bible reading plan that was organised by someone in my church and it was on an ‘app’ called ‘You Version’. It’s something that I’ve used before on my own, but it turns out that you can also do reading plans along with other people. I didn’t actually know most of the other people doing it, but that was fine. There were a few daily readings and then the chance to share comments, reflections and thoughts about the passages. It was really helpful and insightful to do this and to also read about other people’s perspectives and learn together with other Christians. I did this in 2019, and completed it by playing ‘catch up’ towards the end of the year as I didn’t manage to do all of the readings on the particular day set, but I gained a lot from it as well as my own personal study of Scripture. I also started it last year in 2020 but only continued to about half the year as although it was helpful it no longer quite fit with where I was at and I felt a bit constrained by having to ‘keep up’. I have other studies on the go now but I do them at a pace that I am comfortable with and I feel like at the moment that works better for me even though the communal habit of reading daily Scriptures together online was a beneficial one.
Another hobby that I enjoy is adult colouring in. It’s beautiful in that because there are certain books that are quite well know it is easy to find images of what other people have done with the same pictures and to be inspired with them. There is so much to learn and be inspired by and there are colouring groups that connect people with like minded others. I personally love many of Johanna Basford’s books and on her website she has a ‘colouring gallery’ where people can upload their work – it’s lovely, even if from a distance and not knowing the people personally, to know you’re part of a community of sorts and that you can inspire and be inspired by others and develop your skills together in a way.
Since moving back with my family after lockdown alone for most of 2020, there have also been a few opportunities for us to turn the TV off and just sit and read quietly together. It’s only something we’ve done a few times, but I think it’s been an encouragement when we do.
There’s something about feeling ‘spurred on’ by other people on a similar journey or with similar interests to you.
I know people at work, who in the good old days pre-pandemic wanted to get fit and formed running groups. There are other people I know who used to go to weekly or fortnightly craft groups where they’d meet together, chat, have a cuppa and do whatever craft or hobby they were interested in such as knitting, crochet, etc. and share skills and tips with each other.
While we’re in the pandemic and isolated from one another a lot more, it may not be possible to have a ‘book club’ in the conventional way, especially if you are living alone. But there are other ways of cultivating community habits with other people online, or even by phone, or whatever way works best for you. A couple of young ladies in my church wrote each other letters during lockdown in a Jane Austenesque style and posted them to each other, giving that something special to their day to day goings on by putting it into an old fashioned style letter which can now be a keepsake.
If you feel like you don’t have friends or family you can do such things with, but would like to do something with other people, I’m sure there are plenty of online opportunities out there, you just need to start looking, but be discerning about this too. Maybe you want to feel like you have ‘company’ or an encourager with your habits, but you don’t actually want the stress that sometimes comes along with connecting with people, in which case there are plenty of people on You Tube with inspiring content that you can look to as a form of ‘mentoring’ or who can feel like they are spurring you on with your habits, even if it is just watching their videos and not interacting with them.
We all have different personalities and different things we want to glean from forming habits and from doing so collectively. Take a moment to think about whether this is something you are interested in and then get creative with ways to take it forwards with whatever interests you. Maybe you are learning a musical instrument and can find an online tutor? Maybe you want to connect with other bloggers, in which case you’re in a good place, and commenting on someone’s posts might be a good start or following a blog that inspires or encourages you to take your next steps forwards.
There are so many things we can do once we start thinking creatively about it. Just look at what some people have done during the pandemic and lockdown to be inspired!
Take care, stay safe, and keep taking those small yet productive steps forwards in 2021. God bless. x
I hope the first two and a half or three days (depending on which time zone you are in) of 2021 have been kind to you.
We left off with instalment 46 of this series having briefly reviewed the year of 2020. I ended the post with letting you know that I’d share some guided prompts on how we can all take positive steps to move ahead. I realise that I have a lot to share, so instead of trying to condense these various points into one post, I’ll give them their due and treat you with an entire post per point. How’s that for forward steps in 2021? 🙂
So for this post, let’s think about effectively tracking our habits.
The weird and wonderful world of habit trackers:
I personally have my own evolving systems for keeping on top of things in my daily, weekly and monthly life, and I have a yearly planner. I’ve never had a BuJo (bullet journal) myself, although I do incorporate various elements of the bullet journal world into my own planning.
If you are a BuJo-er (is that a word?) then you’ll probably be able to share your advice with me. But if you don’t know what a bullet journal is then there is plenty of information on You Tube regarding how this system started and how people have incorporated the idea to make it personal to them, and there are some very creative approaches out there to bullet journaling that go beyond a method of staying on top of things in your life to making it an art project of itself. I’ll leave it to you to explore some of the inspiring videos out there on You Tube (simply type in bullet journaling and see what you find!).
One of the elements that many people incorporate into their bullet journaling or other planning systems is the habit tracker. Again, some people like to do this quite simply as a list, while other people create more ‘ornate’ as it were diagrams, wheels and even pictorial designs and trackers. Each to their own, I suppose.
What makes for effective habit tracking?
Sometimes looking at what other people track in terms of habits, becomes a bit overwhelming for me. Some people have a habit tracker for almost everything they can think of. If it works for them, that’s fine, but personally, I try to think of what is an effective approach.
The purpose of habit tracking and what not to track:
The purpose of tracking your habits can be very individual. Some people may find it gives them a sense of accomplishment, direction, or maybe even the very act of doing this helps them to slow down and reflect on their day. I personally prefer the good old analogue method of putting pen to paper (in a cute notebook, of course) rather than using a spreadsheet or online tool, but some people are a real whiz at the electronic versions and are super efficient.
The main point here is to find your own style, system and what works for you.
In terms of the purpose of tracking habits in the first place (the very ‘why do it?’ behind the action) for me is to help me to develop and maintain certain actions that I want to incorporate into my daily life.
I therefore am not a fan of trying to track ‘everything’. If I am already in a daily habit of making my bed then I don’t have a particular need to track that in a habit tracker. If I drink a glass of water every morning, then I don’t particularly need to track that. What I’m saying is I don’t feel the need to track already well established habits.
However, if there are new things I want to do then a tracker is helpful in encouraging me to create a habit or to strengthen or maintain habits that might be at risk of falling by the way side or being over shadowed by competing demands. At the moment I have 8 key habits that I am tracking in January and these include Scripture study and prayer, exercise, reading and studying as well as few others.
My habit tracker is very simple. I have a notebook and I have divided it up so that I have four pages for each month of 2021. Each page is divided into two headings, and I have a list of dates running down the page so that I can make a note each day of what I have done against that particular task or life goal that I want to form into a habit.
You can of course be as elaborate as you like with designs, colour coding and whatnot, but for me the list style in this regard is simple and effective and gives my brain some guidelines to follow.
While there are certain things I do everyday on autopilot that I don’t need to track such as making my bed, brushing my teeth, having a shower, getting dressed, there are other things that I may do more occasionally or sporadically (such as reading or studying a course or exercise) that I am now able to have visual queues for to do everyday.
Your takeaways from this post can be fairly simply.
You don’t need to track everything you do (unless of course you want to).
Focus on the things that you don’t already do every day that you want to do every day or more regularly and choose a few key areas (I have 8) to work on for the first month of the year so that you can review whether this works for you or whether you need to ‘tweak’ your system here or there.
Seek out what other people are doing for inspiration, but make it your own – you’ll know what works best for your way of thinking and personality. If habit tracking isn’t for you, feel free to ignore this post and go with the flow if that works better for you 🙂
Think about your purpose for tracking habits – is it something you enjoy in and of it itself to slow down and reflect? Does it help you to organise your mind and life? Are you focusing on building into your day to day life new actions that will eventually become habits that you do on autopilot?
Experiment and figure out what works best for you whether digital or analogue, simple or ornate, and enjoy the process. It will help you to see the progress you are making as you give yourself a visual opportunity to take small yet steady steps forwards.
All the best. A new year is a great time for fun new stationery – perhaps you can buy local and support small businesses, artists and creatives. Enjoy taking those next steps forwards this January 2021 and beyond. x
If you’ve been enjoying my ‘Self Care in a Pandemic’ series (I think we’re on number 40 something already!), don’t worry, this is just a momentary pause in the proceedings while I share a book recommendation with you.
Today I finished re-reading Katie Piper’s very helpful book “Things Get Better”, for the second time.
I’m inspired and uplifted by Katie Piper’s input into the world. You may already know her story and journey of recovery from victim to survivor to thriving overcomer, as I see it, but if you don’t then I’ll leave it to you to do a little internet search to learn more about the woman in her own words.
I first read her autobiography, “Beautiful” a year or so ago, and I then read the continuation of that “Beautiful Ever After”. These are autobiographical accounts of how she suffered after extreme attacks, and how her experiences of life from rock bottom to receiving medical and psychological help, then finding faith which she mentions briefly, and finding in herself a fighting spirit to recover and then to set up a charity to help other people. She thought she would never have any kind of life again, but now is thriving doing work to help other people and even has a family of her own.
This book, however, “Things Get Better” is one which could probably be classified in the ‘self care’ genre. If you are struggling with anything in life, you are bound to find inspiration and practical advice to help you take the next steps forward, and know that you are not alone.
It has really helped me, as Katie starts out the book with a chapter on her experience of ‘Rock Bottom’ in life. Can anyone relate? She describes her recovery journey, and how to overcome set backs and plateaus and keep moving forwards.
If you are facing recovery of any kind, or have issues in your life that you are trying to overcome that you need some help and direction with then this is a very accessible book that may just help and encourage you to find and take your next step in your healing journey.
Even if you don’t think these things apply to you, it might be a fascinating read if you are trying to relate to someone else who is needing some help or support in hard times.
So, that’s my first book recommendation of 2021. I gained from it so much that I read it twice, and so I thought I’d share it with you as well in case you are also able to benefit.
Take care, and keep an eye out for the next blog post in my ‘Self Care in a Pandemic’ series. x
I stopped at the point when the United Kingdom went into a full lockdown on 23rd March 2020.
It was a drastic situation that caused for drastic measures and decisive action. I’m not sure that we saw decisive action from the government throughout the pandemic, unfortunately, but I did find myself feeling more grateful for living North of the border in Scotland where Nicola Sturgeon seemed to tighten restrictions more and quicker than in England. That said, perhaps we should have gone into lockdown a lot sooner with what we were seeing in and learning from other countries not too far from home, such as Italy and France. Even with hindsight, the decisions being made were challenging and difficult for all concerned.
The drastic measure of lockdown meant that there was an inevitable but unplanned for knock-on-effect on other important issues. For example, people who suffered from domestic abuse were in fact trapped within their own homes, non-covid related operations and hospital visits had to to be postponed, rescheduled and deprioritised because of the huge pressure upon our health service as numbers of cases rose.
I kept a notebook, a ‘quarantine journal’ as it were to make sure I wasn’t succumbing to the negativity all around me and seeking to see progress in my own life and learn lessons along the way. It’s a keepsake journal that I am still working on, but one of the pages I included is titled “Vocabulary of a ‘new normal'”.
Vocabulary of a ‘new normal’:
It’s interesting looking back on things that were new concepts to our daily lives that have now become common place, everyday things that we hardly think about as much.
When we went into lockdown in the UK, I was in my own flat / apartment where I live alone. I went through the first stint of the lockdown on my own with no human contact (IRL – In Real Life) for around a total of 6 months (give or take a couple of occasions where I was able to visit my family after the easing of Lockdown 1.0 in July, and a socially distanced meet up with friends, or seeing a delivery person or concierge).
I learned a lot during that time, and I see that time as precious in terms of the healing that I was able to focus on for past issues, the reprioritisation and insight I gained into friendships and the lack of awareness and understanding people had of someone in my situation living alone in a pandemic, and the value of daily conversations with my family over the phone.
However, I digress. 2020 brought with it a vocabulary of a ‘new normal’ and some of the key terms that came to the fore during that time that I noted down were as follows:
-Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives.
-Daily Walk / One form of exercise only once a day.
–Virtual Meetings / Zoom / Teams
–Furlough / Extension Period
–Covid-19 / Coronavirus / Novel Coronavirus
–Covidiot / Covid warrior
–Shop your wardrobe
–Toilet roll hoarding
–Hand sanitizer / disinfectant / PPE
–WFH (Work From Home) / Home Schooling
-Antibodies Test / Asymptomatic / Incubation Period (14 days).
Honestly, the list goes on…..and on….over two pages. I think I drew a metaphorical line under it because of how much I could have kept on listing.
But you get the picture; things that were not part of our everyday lives – such as facemasks – have now become part and parcel of ‘normality’ as we’ve moved through this pandemic and continue to do so.
I have to say that my favourite new term has probably got to be ‘Clap For Carers’. Do you remember when we used to clap for our health care workers, our delivery drivers, supermarket people, and frontline staff at the height of the first wave (first wave, there’s another term!). Perhaps in some countries you still do.
We’ve seen so many heroes throughout this rough year, and I am so grateful for each and every one of them, and perhaps some of you reading this are among those heroes. We’ve also seen people in all different walks of live reaching out to help communities.
Community Blessings and Struggles:
As mentioned, our communities have at times come together for the greater good. We’ve seen the NHS staff and other health care workers in other countries going above and beyond to help save lives. We’ve seen people helping out with food bank initiatives, charities, reaching out to lonely people, checking in on their neighbours. I’m personally grateful to have had the chance to do a bit of research work with my job around public health and safety at work for reintroducing services and also to be a ‘shielding helpline volunteer’ to help get essentials to residents who are vulnerable because of underlying health conditions. I’ve been grateful to be able to use my writing to encourage other people far and wide as well throughout this year, even if these efforts are a small offering amid much greater sacrifices of others. There is value in all of us playing our part and doing our bit.
However, we’ve also seen tensions and unrest in our communities, from the racial issues coming to the fore of mainstream society (things that minority people like me have had to deal with and suffer through in some form or another throughout our lives) and we’ve seen brief ‘moments in time’ of awareness, activism and insight that should have been there decades ago. We’ve seen tensions in our local communities and have watched divisions in America or perhaps some of you have been living through those, with the recent presidential elections. There have been a whole host of other issues in individual countries, communities and even families and yet we’ve made it through somehow, some with losses and pain along the way, and others with less of a struggle or even opportunity for growth.
There have been so many opportunities for lessons this past year of 2020. Now that we are in the first day of 2021, perhaps we have renewed momentum as we collectively face and embark upon a ‘new year’. Perhaps we have gained greater insight into ourselves, our own lives, our priorities and purpose, or perhaps some have barely made it through and have struggled. Either way, the pandemic isn’t over just because we’ve reached a new year, and there is still work to be done, responsibility to be taken and lessons to be learned.
I’m hopeful for the future, but I also think we need to live diligently day by day.
I’d like to take these reflections to a next stage with my subsequent posts as we move from global and local to individual and as we together see how we can reflect upon the lessons we individually have learned and how to move forwards with hope and strength into 2021.
I am considering sharing some guided reflections and journal prompts and ideas for goal setting, so stay with me as we forge ahead, stronger and more courageous as we embark upon these new days together.
We’re on the cusp of seeing out 2020. What a year it has been! As I write this blog post, I am thinking of ways in which I can use this space to encourage you. In doing so, I feel it is an opportunity for me also to gain insight into this year, and how to move forwards.
2020 – A Year Like No Other:
Regardless of where you have been in your personal life journey, the events and happenings of 2020 will have had some sort of impact on you.
I wonder if a ‘recap’ is in order, of if many among you may just wish to forget what the past year has brought.
I’m pretty sure we all just faced our first pandemic. I still remember the early days when the coronavirus was an unfortunate news story of an epidemic outbreak in China and a few other parts of the world. I don’t know about you, but living in the UK that seemed pretty far away from me and my daily life.
If you wish to look back at my blog archives to around this time of year, earlier in December 2019 I actually went traveling to the Black Forest in Germany and enjoyed the snow covered mountains of that beautiful region. I enjoyed the hustle and bustle of festive European Christmas markets in Germany, and also in Strasbourg, France.
The Year In Which Our Plans Changed:
Heading into the new year, January 2020, my mind was busy brainstorming potential travel plans for visiting the European countries I had not yet had a chance to go to, before Brexit and the UK’s Exit from the European Union finally took hold. Well, today is the day, folks – from 11pm tonight GMT, the UK will no longer be under EU law. It has been somewhat of a chaotic few years politically to get to this point, but here we now are, and in a very different world.
Who knew that all of those potential travel plans for 2020 would evaporate in a puff of smoke?! I remember meeting a couple of my female friends for coffee in January to catch up after Christmas and New Year, and they were telling me that they had already booked trips away to France and Italy and were looking forward to ski trips and summer holidays. ‘The best laid plans of mice and men…’ and all that!
I remember being concerned for my friends as one of them had booked to travel in late February, and by that time I’m pretty sure Italy was taking quite a hit from the coronavirus. Suddenly things felt so much closer to home!
The First Lockdown and a New Vocabulary:
In the UK, news of the coronavirus soon overtook what we thought would be the big news story of the year – Brexit – as cases began to rise in Italy, in France and in other European countries.
Words that we didn’t use much in general conversation suddenly became common parlance. Suddenly there was talk of ‘quarantine’ for people traveling back to the UK from abroad, and as the virus spread, this worked both ways with other countries quarantining travellers going to and from the UK.
I am a bit of a ‘clean freak’ as it is, and in normal pre-pandemic times at work I would always be taking extra care to avoid germs, and would use a handkerchief or tissue to open doors, especially when touching those door handles outside the ‘restrooms’ or communal toilets. Gross. Most people didn’t bother, and I don’t think hygiene was uppermost in everyone else’s minds. I guess I’m just a bit more aware of things like that, and I even joked with some colleagues about how I’d take my own bedcovers and cleaning supplies when staying in hotels or traveling so that I could ensure cleanliness! You can’t be too careful, after all….
What might have been a joke to other people, gradually became part and parcel of daily life. I remember talking with a friend at work about our concerns about the virus, and she said that her colleagues were making fun of her for taking it so seriously. Sadly, the virus proved them wrong, and quarantine, lockdown, and hypervigilance to cleanliness has become part and parcel of daily lives.
I was concerned and expressed my concerns with my boss prior to Mother’s Day in the UK in mid-March when I wanted to visit my family. At that point in time the public health message was that coronavirus mainly affected only older people or people with underlying health conditions, and the tens of cases that we read about in the news were mainly only of people aged 65 and over.
Long gone are those days now. The older age group were expressing concerns over being locked in and made to stay at home, but it wasn’t long before we all had to. Boris Johnson, the UK Prime Minister declared that we all had to stay at home, protect the NHS, and save lives, and on 23rd of March 2020, the United Kingdom went into its first full lockdown.
Suddenly, the word ‘unprecedented’ also became part of our daily conversations and newscasts, as nothing like this had ever happened in recent history during peacetime. People who remembered the Second World War knew all about lockdown, rationing and quarantine of sorts, but most of the rest of us had never experienced anything like it. We have it easier than previous generations who had to deal with real rationing, shortages and the threat of death from a perhaps more frightening enemy, yet the coronavirus was still having a devastating impact upon our country and across the globe.
This has been one of the strangest of years many of us have lived through in terms of world events. While many among us have faced our own challenging times previously in terms of our personal life journey, I’m too young to be able to remember anything quite like this pandemic that reached into every part of the globe. The older generation that lived through the second world war, will have many more stories to tell and the things they faced were probably far more frightening than what we are facing today, but nevertheless 2020 has been quite a year for us all in terms of the pandemic!
It’s been a year that has prompted us to make changes, slow down, speed up, take action and think more deeply. One of the things we may have been made to think more deeply about is our friendships, relationships and the company we keep.
As someone who is not white, and who has suffered from racism in my earlier years particularly as well as sporadically in adulthood, the issues that came to fore with some of the BLM movements opened my eyes to the sheer lack of awareness of racism among those brought up with privilege, as well as ongoing prejudices. I’m aware that some friends sought to become allies. Other people let go of former friendships or loosened ties with certain people whose opinions were brought to light as prejudicial and unacceptable.
All of that aside, 2020 may have also prompted us to look at the deeper things of life and whether our close connections are meaningful or detrimental or toxic in some way. I’m blessed to have many good friends, but even then I realised that some of them are wrapped up in their own lives and could not begin to understand what it was like to live alone in a pandemic for several months. I also realised that as an empathetic person some of my friends take advantage of me and use that side of my nature, perhaps not intentionally but they do it nonetheless, without asking if I’m ok but just taking advantage of my kind and caring nature.
Going forwards, I find myself asking where I should be spending my time and which people to focus on in terms of building relationships. Sometimes friendships just drift apart because of different life stages although this is not always the case. For several years I’ve been the friend showing up to my other friends’ occasions from engagements, weddings, baby showers, births, birthdays, children’s parties and so forth (and I’ve had none of these occasions myself, other than birthdays, and no one ever thinks of celebrating or acknowledging their single friends in such a way). I’ve been a very giving person but at times feeling like I’m on the sidelines of my own life it has caused hurt, emotional fatigue, pain and burnout. Not to say that my friends haven’t been there for me through ups and downs, they have, but in this pandemic, many of them shared with me that they were really enjoying their lives and times with their families and just didn’t stop to think or really care what I might have been going through alone. Being alone (with God) strengthened me, but it also awakened me to rethink some of the dynamics of my friendships. There have been probably three or four key people outside of my family where from a distance we have been able to support and encourage each other and that has been a great help. Yet, it does lead me to think and ask you whether it is a good time to consider our connections, going forward and as we approach 2021?
Friendship dynamics change:
Friendships, true friendships are a blessing. They also take work and commitment and effort on the part of both parties. Sometimes friendships change as life changes or as we change. Rarer still are those friendships that last a lifetime through different seasons of life and through the ups and downs.
So, how do we know whether to hold on or to let go?
I find myself considering whether a friendship is one in which I am able to encourage someone to think about or draw closer to Christ, one in which we are able to mutually encourage each other in our faith, or where we believe different things, one in which we can enjoy fun, share our thoughts and build each other up in some way and share life (even if socially distanced).
If a friendship is toxic, then am I able to provide a good influence, or is that person simply dragging me down? Am I being taken for granted or made to feel miserable? We may not always be meant to let go of people, but perhaps we should be lessening the time we spend with certain people, and reconsidering our boundaries. Even when a friend is not a toxic person, perhaps something in their life triggers something in ours. Maybe they are always talking about or sharing something good in their life that makes us feel sidelined, overshadowed or alone – maybe they share their struggles and overburden us just because they can and we are good listeners.
As we approach 2021 we need to find a healthy or healthier balance between nurturing our friendships and relationships and taking care of our own wellbeing.
Sometimes this will mean considering whether to reassess our boundaries, let certain toxic people go, or move on. It may involve putting in more effort to strengthen bonds, to exercise forgiveness, commitment, love and compassion or to open up conversations to the ‘blind spots’ they or we may have and to seek to make things better. It may even mean taking a bold step to reconnect with or apologise to someone we have lost touch with or hurt or to forgive someone who has hurt us.
Where do you find yourself at the end of this year?
Has the pandemic affected your relationships or highlighted a need for change, for forgiveness, reconciliation or for stronger boundaries?
I hope you take your time and act from the heart with love, forgiveness, and wisdom and take care not only of the people in your life, but of you as well.
Well friends, we’re well and truly at the last leg of 2020, and what a year it has been! While things may not miraculously improve (or perhaps they will?) in 2021, we can take steps to helping our mental wellbeing and outlook as we approach a new year.
It is understandable if many of you are feeling fearful, anxious, apprehensive or deflated as we approach a new year. After all, so many of us had high hopes for the perfect sounding ‘2020’ at the start of the year, and at the end of last year, expecting visionary things and grand new beginnings for the start of a new decade. While some individuals have done really well this year, on the whole, the world has taken a bit of a beating with this pandemic. It can leave us feeling in a negative mindset as we move forwards.
One thing that sometimes helps me, in fact it often helps me, is to ‘theme my months’. It gives me a sense of focus, purpose and direction for each month and helps me with setting targeted and manageable goals.
While I don’t envisage any time soon any of my months to be themed with ‘travel’, there are things that can help me focus on the positives in my own life and set goals accordingly and keep moving forwards, even with everything else going on around us in the world.
With life being so uncertain in terms of what we will and won’t be able to do in 2021, I think if I do decide to theme my months, or some of them at least, then I will focus on personal projects that I can do from home. I even managed to do this for some of the time during lockdown this year, including a ‘May theme’ of ‘Summer holiday’ where I decorated my room to look like a beach house (I must have posted pictures earlier on if you want to see if you can find them) and listened to holiday music, and even went on ‘virtual walks’ in different parts of the world via You Tube.
What are some of the themes that you or I could set for ourselves in 2021 that could help us to keep positive, focused and moving forwards?
I thought I’d have a bit of a brainstorm here, but your own list might be something completely different:
Potential Monthly Themes for 2021:
– Self Care
-Connecting with Friend and Family
-Learning Something New
-Staycation – learning about new countries without leaving home!
-Exercise or fitness
-Charity / Random Acts of Kindness
-Developing existing skills
-My True Identity
-Overcoming obstacles or personal issues
-Mentoring or being mentored
-Singing / Dance
-Learning how to use a new piece of technology that you haven’t used before.
-Encouraging other people
-Rest and reflection
-Gratitude / Thanksgiving
-Going outside for a walk everyday or most days (if you are permitted to do so).
-Health and wellbeing.
-Decluttering / tidying
-Home or garden projects
-Learn a new creative venture
These are just a few ideas off the top of my head, but perhaps you have some of your own that are totally different to mine. I’d love to hear what they are if you feel like sharing. In the meantime, don’t be discouraged by everything going on in the world. Take a moment to think of the positive things that you can begin to build into your life going forwards as we approach 2021, even as we head into the unknown. We will adapt and change as we go but we will seek to do so with love, hope, faith, joy and peace.
There is something beautiful about the festive season, despite everything else going on. We find comfort in the cosiness of fairy lights and warm colours during the long nights. We collectively get busy decorating and then hopefully carve out space in our ‘new’ surroundings to slow down, enjoy, rest and reflect.
I realise that sadly, not everyone has the chance to do so, and this year perhaps even more people are struggling during this season.
However, we have now passed the shortest day and the light levels for many of us are beginning to be just a bit brighter, for just a bit longer. Nature demarcates the changes of seasons. It was not so long ago that I wrote of the vibrancy of the autumn colours in my parents’ garden and posted pictures of bright red Japanese Acer leaves. Yesterday, here, we had a very brief snow shower that soon gave way to rain, and now today the day is dry once more.
We write as the seasons change, and something in our hearts tells us that we must change with them. There is no standing still for long in life even when we reach a season of ‘Pause’ as some of us may have done in the pandemic.
Christmas Day, the day celebrating the Birth of Jesus Christ, has passed, but the reality of this significance is eternal. Boxing Day has passed, New Year’s Eve (or Hogmanay in Scotland) is not yet upon us, nor is New Year’s day, ushering in the anticipated ‘new’ of 2021 that we wait upon with baited breath. What changes, good or bad, will this next year bring?
As many of us spend our time at home during the pandemic, with increasing restrictions post-Christmas day, at least in the UK, due to rising case numbers of coronavirus, and added pressure upon the NHS, some people find their days just merging into a ‘blur’ of time, especially during the Christmas and holiday season.
Yet, as the seasons change, how do we demarcate change for ourselves, in our day to day lives?
A mental shift, and an external change:
I personally like to leave the Christmas tree up for as long as possible, at least until after New Year’s day, even though I know some people like to take their tree down on 27th December or as soon as possible. Especially this year, when we are at home, and the world is an unsettled place, it is nice to have that sense of cosiness and homeliness if we can.
Yet, I find myself preparing mentally for the new, and perhaps you do too.
Small external changes:
Perhaps we begin making mental changes with the changes we make to our surroundings. It might be replacing Christmas decorations with new décor, or rearranging things a little. Maybe it is taking out a new notebook or using different stationery, or putting away Christmas jumpers and wearing something different if not new. Some of these small shifts externally, gradually if you like, or all at once if that’s your preferred style, can help us usher in a change of mindset as we approach the new, and unknown.
While things change, I take comfort in the Eternal God Who does not change, and His Word that stands firm forever.
One shift I am making is putting away my Christmas adult colouring books and taking out new ones that were gifted to me this Christmas, one which is meditative pictures of the Psalms with nature illustrations, and another of famous travel destinations to colour, while I can’t physically go anywhere far just now.
My mind is anticipating the new, and the new may be the learning, growing and thinking that I will do right where I am.
The pandemic marches on, as do efforts to combat it, to stand against it, while doctors, nurses, scientists, and public health workers, shop staff, frontline and council workers all do their bit, and as each of us in our jobs, our families, or personal lives and decisions do our bit.
Let’s not grow weary or discouraged, but let’s keep moving forwards together, with hope and seeking to make wise decisions so that we live our lives in the best way possible with what is available to us, and in a way that will uplift and help others.
Stay safe, and let’s keep moving forwards together, one small change at a time. x