Cramming everything in!

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I recently was waiting in the car park of IKEA.

We’ve all done the ikea juggle, we head up there for just a couple of bits and end up not being able to fit everything in the car. Maybe even contemplating leaving a family member behind to fit everything in, yes you would have to make the trip back again to pick them up, but at least it is sorted for the time being!

This is such a problem that IKEA now rents vans by the hour.

Is your life like this? That suddenly you look around and everything is being crammed in? You only intended to do a couple of things, but actually it is all too much? And you are constantly looking at your diary and wondering what you can leave behind, before deciding that you really can’t, so you cram it all in and your husband is left squished against the window like a cartoon?

Simplicity is the power to reclaim our lives, but it sure is difficult. Not only do you have to really think about what is important to you, but also your family too.

What makes a big difference to all of you?

My main focus is my creativity, that takes different forms in different seasons, but is focused at the moment on writing and music. At one point I was also learning to paint and draw, sewing, knitting and trying to make many things. I realised this was silly as I don’t even enjoy the last two. I finished up my husband’s Star Wars, man sized quilt for his Christmas present and that’s it, no more sewing. I have decided that and I have given away the majority of my fabric stash, although I am still trying to figure out what to do with my Nan’s cast iron (that maybe an exaggeration) sewing machine. All my knitting stuff is going to head off to a local knit and natter group.

I quite like knitting, but I realised that I don’t have the precision required for it, and also I was knitting when I sat down to watch TV- it was a way of staying busy. I don’t need to do that. I don’t watch a lot of of TV, so it is nice to focus on in when I do so. And also, I can’t do everything – I have to make a decision and this is where I have decided.

I need to stay fit and healthy, otherwise my illness creeps up on me, so I have focused on walking, tai chi and swimming, mainly as these are low risk of injury, but also because I have a dog, walking allows me to think and be in nature, which always feeds my soul, and I have always been good at swimming and it is nice to do something that makes me feel strong. Tai chi makes me very happy, it’s a moving meditation. None of these have very little in the way of equipment and are easy just to get on and do, it doesn’t need a huge amount of set up.

At all of these stages I have had to decide what I want to focus on, I just can’t cram everything in.

There is a part of me that believes that getting closer to God means stripping back on things, getting to a simpler life. I have started so far away from that it is going to take me quite a while to get there, although I am quite minimalist in terms of physical stuff in the house, clothing etc. But all the things I am interested in? Wow, oh so many. My someday maybe file is huge.

But for now I am focused on writing, photography and music and developing a closer relationship to God.

Fear and trust in God

Squirrel!

Squirrel!

Once again its been a while since I posted. And there is a very good reason for this. It’s fear.

I even have a stack of posts ready and waiting to go, and yet I still don’t actually post them. Fear again you see.

So, what can we do to counteract this? Well, I guess as this is Christian blog, the answer is of course to trust God. To trust that he has given me the words, and that I need to share them.

Of course that is also much easier to think, then to actually do.

As someone who lives with: a) chronic illness and b) depression it can sometimes be quite hard to keep my face turned towards God.

When I do, life is oh so much better. Trusting that God has my back, that this is the right thing to do. That’s what I need to do. I’m not so good at doing that.

I started this blog, because I wanted to share my journey as a new Christian, to provide a sort of path I guess to other newbie Christians, or to those who are thinking about becoming a Christian. But of course it makes it even harder to write and share, because I’m just a newbie to all of this, who am I to talk about God and His plans?

I really believe that I am a communicator. That’s my gift in this world. And that primarily takes the form of writing, photography and music. And yet every day, I struggle to put my focus on those creative gifts, I know that God wants me to be doing these things, because I’m fairly okay at them. I guess letting the fear win is saying to God that I don’t trust him. That the fear is stronger than my belief in him. My worries that people are going to point and laugh at me, or ignore me, or silently mock me are stronger than serving God. Doing His will and doing what He created me for.

I hadn’t really thought of that until now.

Every day, that I do not work on my gifts, I am insulting God, telling Him I don’t trust him, and that other people’s opinion of me and my work is more important than Him.

Wow. I really hadn’t thought of that until now.

I’m not sure that blogging is the right outlet for my writing. But it’s one that doesn’t require a gatekeeper aside from me. I will make an effort to blog more here, and on my other blog to. Trusting that God wants me to be doing this work.

Dare I make a public commitment? I will work on my writing, music and photography every day. I will serve God by practising my gifts.

What about you? What are your gifts? Do you let fear stop you from working on them, from practising them even keeping going when it gets really hard? Or do you keep your face towards God and know that you are serving him by working with the skills he has given you?

Jesus feeding social media?

When Jesus feeds the five thousand he does it in a calm, measured way, he took the bread from the discilpes, looked up to heaven and gave it back to the disciples to distribute (Matthew 14:19). To us today, in our hyped-up world this seems rather like he is underselling himself, surely he should be making a big deal out of this, he should be proclaiming from the rooftops that he had just fed 5000 men (plus women and children) from five loaves of bread and two fish.

There should be Instagram shots, and lots of Twitter noise and a hashtag where everyone can share their experince collectively.

Or at least that is what we would expect today.

I love how Jesus does this, he doesn’t exclaim or push his sleeves up to show that there are no tricks, he just quietly gets on with it.

For years I had been wanting a clear ‘divine revelation’ that my life is on the right tracks, that I am doing the right thing. For a lighting bolt or voice from the clouds, something BIG and DEFINING.

I am slowly becoming to realise that isn’t the way it is. Following Jesus is more like tuning into that small still voice and letting it speak through you. Looking for the tiny daily miracles and the small things that are happening around us.

Living with Jesus is not a big showy thing to be flashed around, but a gentle and quiet Way to be walked alongside Him. With Him guiding us along the Way, if we can show others the path too by the way that we live then so much the better.

Buying less

One of the good outcomes of wanting less stuff in my life is that I am not wasting my money on things that I don’t really need. As much as I would like to say that I totally have this sorted out and never make a bad purchase, that just isn’t true.

However, I am getting better. It means I am assessing everything that I spend my money on, and when I do override my decisions I realise quite quickly that it was a mistake. And so, after overruling my gut I now have to make another trip back to the shops to return something. Frustrating.

The almost unconscious spending has stopped. What this means is I have money to spend on the things that I really want to do, like have music lessons, or go to see live performance. I am slowing getting stronger again and this means I am now able to go out in the evenings and I am very much looking forward to going to the theatre next week.

Quite often these things do not cost as much as we think they do, when we are justifying spending our money on silly things I used to say, oh yes, but I could never afford that. Actually I managed to get tickets for the ballet at £15 each. My music lessons are £15 for half an hour. Yes, this is a spending, but both of them are spending on something which makes me deeply happy, music lessons contribute to my happiness on a daily level as I practice, and even more when I perform or practice with my band. Going to see live performances inspires me. I can’t say the same for another t-shirt or item of clothing or useless ornament in the house.

I really believe that as Christians we should be living a simple life, that in order to get as close to God as possible we need as few distractions as possible, that includes clutter and stuff, as well as the time we spend thinking about stuff.

This is a big positive point of buying less things for me, I am able to spend out on experiences. Have you found the same? Is this something that works for you too? Are there things you are able to afford now that you never used to be able to, because you have cut back?

Following God’s will – music

Following God's will...to music?

It’s funny, I spent so long resisting Christianity and when I finally accepted it all these things fell into place.

I remember when I was thinking about becoming a teacher I thought I had to do another degree, so I could teach music. My sister in law asked me what my degree was in, I said Theatre Studies and she said I could teach that. So I did my PGCE and became and theatre and English teacher.

But I wanted to teach music! Even though at the time (this is eight years ago now) my highest grade was four in the drum kit. But that didn’t prompt me to go back to having music lessons and learning music.

I was in denial.

Over three years ago I read Sir Ken Robinson’s book Finding your Element* (I love Ken Robinson, and I lecture on his thinking) and I distinctly remember writing about how I wanted to make music and play music and write music. Did I do anything about that?

No.

I have always loved music, as soon as I started earning my own money I spent a lot of it on books and music.

It took getting sick, to then focus on music as a way of building my health up again, so that I had a bigger identity than just being sick. I joined a concert band and in just over a year have done two grades on my flute – and bear in mind that the first six months of so of playing I was still really sick and could only really play fifteen minutes of day.

When I gave myself to God, immediately I started having tunes and songs come into my mind and other things started to happen too…

I’m working towards my music theory grade five at the moment, and teaching myself to play the ukulele, go to the occasional djembe drumming session, and I am going to be getting a piano very soon and having lessons on that too.

I have just won a contract that means I will be working at a very prestigious music organisation focusing on research and writing a report for Arts Council England. I am so excited, I will be in a room with high level music students for a week, I am going to learn so much! I will write more about that project when it gets over way on my other site. I would never have won that work without my experience of playing in a concert band.

And, I have something coming up tomorrow (Friday) that could be very very exciting in terms of music and work. I can’t even bring myself to write it as it is early days yet and nothing may come of it.

Once I had stopped resisting Christianity and resisting God this torrent of music has been unleashed in me and now there are new opportunities opening up for me too. I am hoping and praying that this is part of God’s plan for me, I get the impression from my prayer time that it is, along with writing about my travels on the Christian way.

If you could hold me and music in your prayers, to find out if it is God’s will for me and for me to get out of His way (something I really am not very good at I would be very grateful.

Things marked with an * are affiliate links

#AprilLove2016 Dear reflection..

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There’s a ghost there
A shadow of her former self
Grey of face and of hair
The reflection has faded over time.

substance…substance-less…smoke.

Less true, less real,
The grey transmuting to a level
Of transparency.
Solidity fading to a distinct lack of
Realness, personhood or being.

substance…substance-less…smoke.

Not just a lessening of vitality,
A lack of vibrancy, but robbed of
The innate strength of self
The soul fading, slipping away,
Leaving a ghostly husk,
a insubstational reflection
of who she once was

substance…substance-less…smoke.

Testimony!

On Easter Sunday I was christened at my Church, St Marys of Little Thurrock.

You can hear a recording of my testimony (made a home, not the actual one sadly) here. 

Below is the text – the two aren’t exactly the same as I spoke from bullet points, rather than read it verbatim. It was also written to be spoken, rather than read, so it may not read that well !

 

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This is me, with Christine Williams, and the aforementioned Sarah and Gareth.

 

 

 During my twenties I was living and working in London. I spent a lot of time Trying desperately hard to fill the gaping wound inside of me.

I was working in marketing and PR in the IT sectors. I hated being part of an agreesive sales team and I would frequently drink a litre bottle of vodka at night, before going into work the next day.

I was making the most out living in London and as we are in a church lets just say I was really. partying hard. .

But I was working even harder, striving for the next goal, the next pay rise, the next promotion. I was desperate to succeed and be acknowledged.

Life takes its turns and I moved to Grays about eight years ago to live with my now husband I met Sarah and Gareth, as Sarah was my mentor during my teacher training. I knew that she was a Christian and it formed a vital part of their lives. Over time we would have occasional conversations about Christianity, but I would write it off. I couldn’t be a Christian

I was a Pagan. I had been involved in Wiccan covens and Druid groves. I was the general secretary of the pagan federation and I had trained to be a prison minister.

I really couldn’t be a Christian. Besides Christianity is really boring and I’m alternative and cool! And what would my friends think.

My striving continued hard, I retrrained as a teacher, I trained for marathons, triathlons, outdoor swimming events. I kept on pushing. It wasn’t enough. I did a Masters, I set up my own business as a Creative Freelancer running festivals, consultancy projects and more on my third career by my thirties as I was trying to find what it was that I was supposed to do.

I always knew that I was supposed to be doing something and I was always desperately trying to find it.

I started to get ill, but denied it and just kept on going through sheer stubbornness.

But I was still deeply unhappy

Because of Sarah and Gareth and a few people I followed on the internet I started to read Christian books. And I realised that the more time I spent reading Christian books the happier I was.

A couple of Christmases ago Sarah gave me Yancy’s What So Amazing About Grace on the advice of her friend Tim. And this was a revelation – I didn’t have to earn God’s love – it was there as a present. Hmmm.

But no! I can’t be a Christian, don’t be stupid.

One of the books I read prompted me to write in my journal how incredibly envious I was of Sarah and Gareth and their faith. It gave them a steadfastness in their life, a solid base that everything else stood on. I desperately wanted that and yet I couldn’t see that it was available to me, that I just had to ask.

Then I got really sick. I was utterly exhausted. Unable to read or even concentrate on a Disney movie. It got to the point where one day my legs just stopped working, I physically couldn’t have walked another step. I had to use a wheelchair to get everywhere.

I had to rethink life and dramatically cut back on the amount of work that I did. In fact the amount of everything that I did. I had time to think. I had time to be, rather than do all the time.

When I was well enough to read I started to read a few more Christian books, I started going to churches, and then running away again. I can’t be a Christian!

In the end I went to a charismatic church, mainly because I loved the music and the people. But I ended up crying at every service.

I still couldn’t give myself to God, even though he makes all of these people so happy

Because why would he accept me?

There are things in my past that I would think about – the ways that I have treated people, bad choices, things that I have done to myself, abuse of various sorts across the years, including having to be sewn up in A&E after a some self harm went very wrong.

When I thought about these things I would feel sick and guilty and awful for days. Possibly tipping into depression for a period of time.

I met up with Gareth and told him I wanted to come to God but I couldn’t and explained why. And he smiled and said that was the point. We don’t have to have it all sorted out before we come to God. God helps us sort it out.

Oh!

I don’t have to be utterly perfect

I don’t completely understand all of the Bible? I don’t have to have a compete understanding of Greek and Hebrew?

I don’t have to earn a qualification?

I don’t have to earn the right amount of money?
I don’t have to be totally sorted out and not a complete screw up?

Oh!

After that every time one of those painful memories would come up I would sit with it and then hold it up to God’s light and ask for forgiveness. And He would take it off of me. Leaving me lighter and lighter. The burden of my past no longer crushed me.

Since I have given myself to God that deep, suppurating, festering wound in me has been cleansed and healed. I am content as I am. I don’t have to achieve. Jesus died for me, for the complete mess that I am as I am. He loves me. And I don’t have to earn it.

That is what I had been searching for all my life.

This has left me with a deep resonant and grounded sense of peace

I had to surrender first though. My ego and pride. My worries about what other people thought. I had to surrender to my illness and stop fighting it so that I could start to get well. And I had to surrender to God.

I have a feeling there is a lot more surrendering to do

God’s Grace is a gift to me. I just had to accept it and now, be open to where Jesus is going to lead

#AprilLove2016 Dear Kindness…

KnowingTheLight.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like a soft silk scarf
Flowing through the world
until it catches
on a thistle, splinter, jagged edge.

Threads are pulled, marring
the gentle weave, leaving
an indelible mark, a rough spot
staining the smooth.

Easing the splinters,
softening jagged edges, flattening the weave
and picking out the burrs, kindness flows,
leaving the soul to flourish and finding its way.

Perhaps it’s the most important
thing in the world, kindness, gently spoken
or thought, easing the world’s
hardness, sharpness and pain.

This is part of the April Love Letters project.

#AprilLove2016 Dear legs…

Dear legs.

It’s not so long ago that we were literally running around the place, doing adventure races through London, horse jump courses at night and the Olympic mountain bike course. You were so strong and bringing me huge amounts of adrenaline through racing, running half marathons, training for a full marathon and doing triathlons too.

Dear Legs, you have taught me so much- patience, kindness and focusing on the tiny thing s in the day

Then things started to go so wrong, but I kept going. You started to fail until one scary day you refused to work at all. I literally could not take another step. Someone had to go and find me a wheelchair to get me back to the office.

I had taken you for granted for so long, abused and pushed you and you weren’t taking it any longer. This caused a serious identity crisis….not least because along with you failing all of my energy seemed to have disappeared and I was in constant, unrelenting pain across my whole body.

It took a huge amount of swallowing my pride and fighting to get a decent wheelchair, and then fighting even harder to get rehab.

I remember going to a park and taking forever to stagger, with two crutches to the first bench. And then resting for half an hour and doing it all again. Over time building up to making it a quarter of the way to the next bench and turning around again. Over the course of six months going from bench to bench around the whole park. And then the day when I could skip a bench and keep going onto the next one.

You have taught me infinite patience and kindness to myself. There was no space for that in my old life where we were literally running around all over the place. This has been a hard lesson, but one that was desperately needed.

Now, after a year of steady, patient, continuous rehab, physio, yoga, swimming and gentle walking I can rely on you again for the most part.

I am able to venue out into the woods, and I take so much pleasure from this. I search for the tiny things, the minuscule changes from one day to the next as the seasons change.

And of course, this is the secret to a good life. Paying attention to the tiniest of things, actively searching for things to take delight and joy from. The light in the day.

We have to focus on this present moment.

It is so difficult to stay present, there are so many calls on our time, but we must stay here. We might not be able to see it tomorrow, we might not be able to venture here again.

Legs, I have worked so hard to get you to the point where I can trust you where you won’t just give way or refuse to work and leave me stranded.

Yes, I’m still kind to you and use a wheelchair if I am going to be out at an event all day long, or if I am heading to a museum or gallery. You really do not like standing still at all, buckling and complaining. You don’t cope at all well with hard, unforgiving surfaces, or having to be on the move all day long. But I know this and can work with it.

The most important thing is heading out to nature together, with Buster, looking for the small things to take pleasure in.

So, legs, thank you for the lessons you have taught me, they have been painful to learn. But let’s face it, I probably wasn’t going to learn any other way.

Love Jen

This is part of the April Love Letters project.