Category Archives: Identity

What Is Within Us Is Who We really are. 

Over the past two years whilst my body has not been working properly, I have had to learn that what’s inside me, who I am within, is far more important than what is seen on the outside. 

On the outside my body is currently broken and debilitated by my spinal fluid leak. But I am increasingly learning that it’s what is on the inside that truly counts. 

So even though I am currently struggling to change the limitations of my physical body, I know I can still develop the person on the inside of me, whatever is happening on the outside.

This means focusing on feeding what is inside of me with good thoughts, words, inspiration and ideas. Having the wisdom to know how to cultivate the good parts, then allowing the positives (as well as the stark reality of the difficulties) to break out through my writing and in my communication with others.

That is why words are so precious to me. 

That is why writing is a wonderful gift, because it allows me to try to express the inexpressible. It allows something of what is on the inside to break out to speak and connect with others.

Last night, I was trying to describe to my husband Matt how, whilst my body is stuck lying flat nearly all day, it feels like what is deep inside of me keeps intensifying. Even the pain and struggle of this season fuels this ball of passion inside of me, a force that I want to be characterised mostly by love, compassion and grace, and yet still have the rawness and reality that comes with our natural human weakness. And I have certainly become more aware than ever of my weaknesses over the past two years.

I believe suffering brings a whole host of deep feelings inside of us. Some are good; it can develop more humility, more understanding of others pain, more compassion for those hurting, more personal resilience and strength. But on the not so good side; suffering can also draw us inside ourselves, we can easily become self absorbed and left sinking into a pit of self pity and despair that becomes extremely hard to climb out of.

All extremes of feeling and thought come at me daily. Some days and sometimes it takes all my might to redirect the negatives. Sometimes it feels almost impossible to stop them overcoming me. I can have many moments of tears and emotional/ mental exhaustion.

Yet I know I have to fiercely guard my heart and mind and protect what is inside of me. Every day I have to choose carefully what to fill my mind with. Every day I have to be ruthless in taking control of my thoughts. Every day I must make myself see the beauty and wonder that is still always around us.

“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” – ‭‭A Proverb‬*

I must keep choosing to see outside of myself and look at how I can contribute positively to the world around me. I must stir up the wonder of what is inside of me, until it breaks out in and through my words and actions in the form of love, grace, compassion and fighting with, and for justice for, other people.

For me what is inside is intrinsically linked to my spiritual faith. You cannot separate the two. That is what inspires my many words!

It is through spiritually inspired words, thoughts and ideas that I feed the good parts of what is within. It is only in and through my love for God and other people that I personally can and will find a way to live like this, for as long as I have to. It is God’s Spirit that lives on the inside of me, that is at the heart of the ball of passion and love that inspires and creates the words that I speak and share.

It is God who leads me through this dry and desolate land and helps me to change the way that I think. Through His words, truth and other people’s wisdom, kindness and love, I can cultivate what is on the inside of me so that the good stuff can grow.


Some people must wonder how I can still love and trust in a loving creator God, when I am stuck with this cruel debilitating physical condition. But for me, I just don’t know how to live without him. I have wrestled through many questions and thought through the whys, as I wrote about in Why Me? The Soul Destroying Question.  And yet sometimes we have to just let go of the whys and instead focus on what we do know.

I know more than ever that God is alive within me and that he fills me with his peace and love. Even while there is seeming desolation on the outside….

Deep within me there is a whole other world. 

I want to discover more of the incredible beauty of that deep potential within me. A place that has been made raw and real by suffering and pain. And yet a place that is made beautiful and tender by unconditional love. So that I can dive even deeper inside me to find what can touch another deeply inside of them as well.

I don’t want to settle for just surface connection with others. Instead, I want to reach out and connect with another’s heart. I want to honestly meet them there, in their deep reality of both joy and pain.

So I need to do all that I can to keep being filled with inspiration. One way I do this is to read various ‘devotions/ inspirations’ on my You Version Bible app each day. Those words of inspiration by various authors, when added to the truth and beauty of Biblical words, feed my spirit and soul and re-balance my thoughts and emotions.

Some days when I open my Bible app to read God’s words, I am like someone who has not eaten for a while, desperate for some sustenance, craving more deep satisfaction.

I can often wake up in the morning and suddenly remember the reality of my current life and discouragement and despair can begin to try and seep into my mind and heart. It’s then more than ever that I know I need some deep inspiration from God to hang my perspective on again, as I start my day.

“But if I say I’ll never mention the Lord or speak in his name, his word burns in my heart like a fire. It’s like a fire in my bones! I am worn out trying to hold it in! I can’t do it!” – ‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭20:9‬, The Bible

When I take the time to invest in filling myself with good words, they increasingly burn within me. They are like fuel that keeps the inside aglow. It’s only if I put the right inspiration within me that the right inspiration will come out of me.

I really do love and value words so much.

  • Because words are what connect us all together.
  • Words are what communicate from what is within us.
  • Words are what encourage and inspire us in the hard times.

So I have decided that whilst the never ending battles continue on a physical level, I want what is on the inside of me to tell a very different story. An adventure that probably won’t be seen much from the outside. But if you listen carefully you will still hear something about it. As I use words to attempt to describe to you what is truly going on deep within my soul.

 “You cannot kindle a fire in any other heart until it is burning within your own.” Eleanor Doan


*Proverbs ‭4:23‬ ‭The Bible

To read more about my story of living with a chronic spinal CSF Leak click here.

Here is a brilliant 2 min animation about Spinal CSF leaks.

For more information about spinal CSF leaks please see the UK charity website at www.csfleak.info or the US charity website at www.spinalcsfleak.org.

Who is the REAL you?

“As a face is reflected in water, so the heart reflects the real person.”– A Proverb*‬ ‭

Who are you?

Do you ever ask yourself that question?

Who is the REAL you?

I am not talking about the social media you, the work or school you, the church you, the you you display for the benefit of others, or the you you wish you could be.

I am talking about who you really are?

When you are alone.
When no one else is watching.
When it is just you and your thoughts.
When you do not have to pretend anymore.

I really do believe that a big part of contentment comes from knowing who you REALLY are and what you believe about life, and then having the courage and integrity to be that person in EVERY part and place of your life.

Duplicity is exhausting.
Authenticity is freeing.

Authentic integrity comes when your boundaries, ethics and morals are the same in EVERY context. There is no need for lying, acting or pretense. You are not different with different people.

Because you know who you really are!!

“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do. “– Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Of course we need to learn what is required of us in different contexts. We will not be as relaxed with a group of strangers as we are with our families at home. And yet I believe that we can still be authentic in every situation, without telling people EVERYTHING! 

Authenticity is simply about being ‘REAL’ and genuine. It’s doing away with pretending. It’s linked to humility which is being honest about our reality – whether good OR bad.

You do not need to make yourself appear better or make yourself look worse. You are not trying to ‘impress people’ or trying to get them to like you. It’s just being honest in all you say and do …. however that makes you look, regardless of how others treat you!

from darkness

I have learnt a lot about humility since I started this blog! I really do believe some people think that people like me start writing publicly or similar, assuming they are good at it and that people will want to read what they have to say. Or out of pride – to get their ‘name’ out there in the world and share their opinions.

Of course that might be the motive of some!

But I have learnt how much humility and vulnerability it can take to write and launch it into the public realm. Particularly when you decide to write with brutal honesty about both the good and the bad times, the pain and the moments of celebration, your strengths and your weaknesses.

Writing has been a humbling journey for me. When I post my writing online the ‘insecure me’ whispers…. ‘why do you bother, is anyone actually going to read it, what if they don’t like it, will it really help someone else, are you actually achieving anything here or wasting your time?’ But the ‘courageous me’ tells my insecurity to keep quiet and says… ‘I am going to post it DESPITE all of the above. If it helps one person then it is worth it and if it helps me to work through my own thoughts, then it has purpose there too!’

You soon realise people who ‘put themselves out there’ to write, produce music, create artwork, go on TV or publish talks etc, ALWAYS do so facing the challenge of ‘public opinion.’ Sometimes it’s actually easier to stay quiet and hide in the background, than it is to put your name to something and post it for all to see. Particularly when you are revealing very real, and sometimes very raw, information about your life journey.

“To put our art, our writing, our photography, our ideas out into the world with no assurance of acceptance or appreciation – that’s also vulnerability.”
– Brene Brown

But if we want to truly connect with others, we need to share our WHOLE story, even when it makes us feel vulnerable or uncomfortable. The story of the REAL us. And that will always be a challenge in a world of ‘opinions’. It is hard to share your heart when you are unsure of others reactions, or if you fear rejection.

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” – E.E. Cummings

It certainly takes courage to be bold in who we really are!! Regardless of what others think. To be the same person whether alone at home with our family or writing publicly for anyone to read.

And yet,

Sooner or later our true hearts will begin to show and be reflected through our actions and words. People around us will begin to see who we truly are anyway.

So why try to hide it?

Why cover it over and try to present a ‘better version’ of me! It’s better they see the ‘real me’ early on so it doesn’t instead creep up on them when they least expect it. If I pretend to be someone I am not, people will just get disappointed in the end – when they discover I am still full of faults and weaknesses.

I want to be known as a person of integrity. Someone who is solid and unchanging in every context. A person who’s true heart is openly displayed for all to see.

The good AND the not so good.

So that there is no duplicity, there are no unwelcome surprises for those who are getting to know me. If I am being kind – I really do mean it! I am not then going to say ‘unkind things’ about you when you are not around to hear it.

It is only then that I can know a depth of relationship and human connection with others that comes from allowing myself to truly be KNOWN. A love that allows itself to be seen and shown, regardless of how it is received. A grace that accepts and opens it’s heart to who others really are – regardless of their weakness too.

A heart that is tender and open. And welcomes others to freely join with me on our challenging human adventure through life. An honest journey of…

Up’s AND downs.
Joys AND pain.
Failures AND victories.

So that we can learn, encourage, cheer one another on and grow together. Because it’s in the TOGETHER that we will find our true strength!

Especially when our together, allows us room to be our true ‘exposed’ selves as well – and chooses to love and be kind regardless….. Whether we always agree with one another or not!

There is such beauty in our unique human diversity anyway?

“Art finds its deepest value when it is the authentic expression of a deep human experience. Art becomes profound when it exposes us, explains us, or inspires us.” – Erwin McManus


*Proverbs ‭27:19 from the Bible. 

Learning To BE

Walk with me
Let’s forget the what-might-be
And slow to now.
– Speak Brother (Slow to Now)

These beautiful lyrics are a reminder that we sometimes have to slow down enough to live in THIS moment. To not let life rush us by. To make the most of every experience and to enjoy sharing those moments with others. Forgetting the ‘what-might-be’s’ and learning instead how to ‘slow to now’ so that we can be fully present;

Today
Now
In this moment.

The challenge of learning to BE, is just that. It’s about being present now, today; whatever today may bring. To not be defined by what we do or the titles we own.

Instead it’s about being:

ME, simply me, NOW.

This is probably one of the main lessons I have been learning over the last 18 months.

To be fully present TODAY, not distracted by fighting the limitations I currently face or the unknowns of tomorrow. But instead choosing to embrace THIS MOMENT and making the most of the opportunities I have HERE.

It’s not been easy. In fact, I have probably found it harder than any other point in my life. Because when you are dealing with difficult circumstances it is so easy to miss the wonder of the small things that still surround us. And yet, I have set out to learn and change for the better. To learn how to ‘let go’ of the unknowns, even when it’s so hard and when the future can seem so uncertain.

It’s a journey.
I am still learning.
I face the daily battles everyone else faces in their minds. (Particularly those of us fighting serious/ chronic illness or other turbulent circumstances).

And yet I hope that in sharing what I am still learning that we might learn together and in that way my journey might just help someone else.

Learning to Be copy

So how do we learn to BE?
It all sounds deep, but what does it really mean?

LETTING GO

Recently I have learnt a lot about the need to ‘let go’. To realise that there is so much I can’t control that I can only let go of. To choose not to allow worry and anxiety to take over and constantly dictate my mood and behaviour, overshadowing all I do.

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of it’s own. – Matthew 6:34*

Worry and anxiety are usually caught up in our fears of the future and the ‘what if’s’. When we allow them to take over our thoughts they pull us to a place where we feel out of control and where the future feels beyond what we can cope with. That is what happened to me during the dark days at Christmas 2015 that I write about in ‘Breaking Through the Darkness.’

Letting go is often challenging, because you feel like you are letting go of everything you can’t control one minute only to find yourself taking it back the next. It actually takes learning new disciplines of the mind to learn to replace negative thoughts and learn how to redirect them.

It can often feel like an exhausting battle. But I do believe it is possible to find ways to replace negativity with positive thoughts and perspective.

On a practical level, deep breathing & relaxation can be a good outward form of letting go that can sometimes help us to deal with the inner things. The physical action of breathing in deeply then breathing out slowly can help us to let go of some of the tension and anxiety in our bodies.

BEING GRATEFUL AND THANKFUL

“It is not happiness that makes you grateful. It’s gratefulness that makes you happy.” David Steindl-Rast

These words are from David Steindl-Rast’s TED talk; ‘Want to be happy? Be grateful’. He talks about how we can learn to be grateful in EVERY given moment. It’s about a thankful perspective; CHOOSING TO SEE what we DO have instead of focusing on what we DON’T.

This is so important. Especially when we are dealing with difficulties in our lives. The storms in life have a tendency to pull us into them so that we can’t always see what we DO still have and the things that we CAN still be grateful for.

For me, gratefulness is often directed towards God. I daily try to thank Him for all the wonderful things in my life. We can learn to develop a daily habit of being thankful – practically we can write things down, pray about them or just choosing to focus our thoughts on them.

“I think that many times we let what should be extremely special to us—things we should be extremely grateful for—become too commonplace”. – Joyce Meyer

LEARNING TO SEE WHAT IS AROUND US

Learning to BE allows us to open our eyes to SEE more of the wonder of the world around us. To notice the beauty of nature and the joys of human relationship. We can become more aware of our surroundings. Taking time to look more deeply and discover new things.

I have walked a lot in our local area over the past few months and discovered so many new places I had never been before. Sometimes there can be beauty all around us but we miss it because of our busyness or the distractions in our mind. Some days we need to be intentional about looking to SEE what is ALREADY around us.

REDISCOVERING PURPOSE

I believe that we are all designed to have a purpose; a role in this world that only we can fulfil. Endeavours that help us to feel alive and make our mark on the world. However, ask anyone who has faced having to ‘give up’ what they love to do due to injury, illness or other circumstances and they will probably tell you how hard it’s been.

Our identity is so caught up in ‘what we DO’ that when we can no longer DO those things we can feel purposeless. It feels like our life is of little value anymore.

Scott Dannemiller writes:
“… we are defined by what we do. Our careers. What we produce. It’s the first question asked (of us)…. The implication is that if I am not busy doing something, I am somehow less than. Not worthy. Or at least worth less than those who are producing something.”

I have definitely grappled with this over the past 18 months and wrote about it in Is Busyness A Choice?.

WHO AM I WHEN I CAN’T DO ANYTHING?

It is actually these seasons that draw out the deepest questions about our identity. Who am I really? We have to search for new meaning and purpose because it is not always obvious.

I have had to learn that I am valuable without having to DO anything. I have a place in this world just being me. And whatever the limitations are, there are still so many things I CAN DO:

  • I can love others.
  • I can hold my family and speak words of love and encouragement to them.
  • I can use my words to encourage and help others going through hard times.
  • I can choose to be grateful for every blessing, big or small and communicate that to others.
  • I can keep enduring through the trial so that we can all learn through it and that those coming behind me can have an easier path.
  • I can broaden my mind by listening to other people’s thoughts and ideas.
  • I can go deeper in my faith by spending time listening to and speaking with God in the quietness and allowing His words to shape my heart, heal my hurts and reignite my hope and purpose.

FINDING PEACE AND REST AMIDST THE STORM

Is it really possible to learn how to find true rest and peace in any moment, even when those moments are stressful?

I believe it is. I write about it in this post.

We can learn to manage our emotions rather than allowing them to manage us. –Joyce Meyer

But I also believe that we have to learn new ways to deal with negative circumstances so that they don’t pull us into a cycle of negative thoughts.

The fact is physical rest is NOT always good for our minds. We DO need to rest and we certainly DO need quietness. But sometimes the silence can be deafening, especially when rest is enforced. This is because rest can cause our minds to go into overdrive. Our thoughts take over and if they are more biased towards the negative, silence can make them worse. (Think of times you couldn’t sleep because your thoughts were ‘so loud’).

So we need to have resources that help us to be still and restful and yet simultaneously focus on more positive things. Music and meditations are good. I also love listening to inspiring talks like TED talks, other people’s stories of trials they have faced, as well as teaching and inspirational messages that encourage my faith. These help me to focus my mind and gain a better perspective through prolonged rest.

Learning to Be be still and know copy

So I am again choosing to ‘learn to Be’. I am not yet fully recovered from my CSF leak journey. Whilst some of the symptoms linger I have no choice but to learn a new way of living in which I cannot DO everything I would like to do.

But instead of fighting this season and getting worn out as I did at Christmas, I have to ‘let it roll’ to a certain extent. Yes, there are many things I can do and can change that will help my situation and I need to celebrate those. But I also have to realise that there are also many I just cannot change myself. So instead of frustration consuming me, I have to learn, each and every day to ‘let go’ of the ‘what may be’s’ and ‘slow to now’ so that I can savour;

Every
Beautiful
Moment
That STILL exists HERE.


Please do comment below and share some of the things you have learned about ‘living in the moment.’ You never know, it might really help someone who is struggling.

You can listen to Speak Brother’s song ‘ Slow to Now’ here.

*Verse from the NIV translation of the Bible.  (The verse in image from Psalm 34:14 is from the NLT translation of the Bible)

To read more about my story of living with a chronic spinal CSF Leak click here.

Here is a brilliant 2 min animation about Spinal CSF leaks.

For more information about spinal CSF leaks please see the UK charity website at www.csfleak.info or the US charity website at www.spinalcsfleak.org.

The Beauty Revealed Through Brokenness

There are seasons that come in our lives that challenge us to the core of who we are. Times when, for all sorts of reasons, it feels like a light is being shone into the depth of our hearts, revealing the extent of our human frailty and weakness.

We can feel exposed and vulnerable. 

Our confidence is slowly chipped away, as our lives feel like they are being rigorously pruned. We can see all the branches being chopped off and lying on the ground around us.

It’s hard. 

There are moments when we feel so exposed that we wonder how much more we can take. 

The thing is, pruning is not a bad thing. Any gardener knows that you have to prune a bush for it to be healthy and grow better. Sometimes the pruning process leaves the plant looking bare and weak. But we know that actually it is making the plant stronger.

Following my relapse 3 weeks ago I have had to wait a lot. In fact, I am still waiting for treatment (an Epidural Blood Patch) for a recurring CSF leak, which keeps being delayed due to logistical problems in arranging this at our local hospital.

The longer the wait, the more you feel challenged. Patience gets harder over time, especially when you are unwell. Our patience can be short lived and we soon find ourselves in a place where endurance has to take over.

It takes a lot of strength and courage to stay positive during challenging times, particularly when they stretch out and do not appear to be resolving. 

When you know exactly how long you have to wait, you may find it hard, but you know you only have to keep going for a time. When the waiting becomes open ended, it gets a lot harder to maintain a good perspective.

Each new day requires new perseverance: your frustrations grow, negative thoughts and attitudes increasingly knock at your mind – coaxing you to let them in.

In these times perspective matters a lot. We have to see the bigger picture or we will become consumed by the daily challenges.

Something that has helped my perspective recently, is seeing my own journey in the light of the process an artist used to sculpt a work of art.  

A lump of stone or wood has to be crafted. It is the artist’s canvas. He carves into it and shapes the strong and solid material.

He strips back the strong material to reveal its hidden beauty. A design so intricate and detailed that it will draw people to its workmanship. It will speak and connect to people far more than the original block it was carved from.

The sculpture is a message or a gift given to the world by the artist who created it.

The artist reveals the true beauty hidden within the strength of the solid block of stone or wood. It always existed but it had to be foreseen before it could be revealed. 

The block first has to be broken and shaped to reveal the creator’s vision. 

This is the process I choose to believe is taking place in my life at the moment. I believe my injury was an unfortunate accident, but I know it is and will be used for good. 

It is painful but it is not without purpose. 

When your health is challenged over a long period of time, you inevitably feel weak. But the weakness isn’t only physical. It effects everything. It challenges you mentally, psychologically and spiritually.

You can feel stretched beyond what you have ever known. 

You don’t understand it and can’t seem to fully break free from it.

It’s easy to give in to the flood of self pity. Refusing it is hard. You have to learn how to fight and stand your ground from a place of peace and rest. You have to fill your mind with better things and feed on truth that strengthens you.

It is not easy.  

But! 

If we can embrace the journey of brokenness we actually become stronger. The process can shape us into something more beautiful, if we let it.

As we are stripped back and stretched, our true selves are unveiled.

We won’t always like what we see during that process. 

Our vulnerabilities and insecurities are exposed. We become more aware of our emotions and thoughts – both good and bad. Particularly, when also you have to rest a lot and don’t have a busy life to distract you.

Your thoughts are louder in silence. There is less to distract you. 

If we can learn to see and face these, we become more self aware and can work through them. That is what makes us stronger. That is the beauty of brokenness.

For me it’s an ongoing journey of grace. 

I know I am being stripped back. I know my identity is being challenged daily.

But I choose to embrace this process of brokenness, of being stretched and stripped back, because I know it is breaking through to who I really am and who I am meant to be.

I see that a storm that has tried to destroy me, in various ways, is being turned around into something beautiful. 

I am being crafted and designed into something more meaningful, more unique, with more depth.

My creator is taking my life and using everything that comes into my life – for good. Regardless of whether that thing comes to bless or hurt me – He will use it to make something more beautiful in the end. 

I am not talking about physical beauty. 

I am talking about the inner beauty of purpose and character. The beauty of being broken and yet in the brokenness discovering who you really are.

The beauty that comes when we surrender to the creator who has envisioned and seen our potential since the beginning of time.

The one who takes the same human mould we all have, but each time creates something unique, unlike any other. He can then take our past, present and future and shape it into something of value, something that makes a difference.

The creator didn’t stop creating when we were born. He had only just started.

Brokenness is painful. Being stretched and stripped back hurts. Facing our weakness is humbling.

But I know it is not without purpose. 

I know it will be always be used for good. Even that which attempts to destroy us can be used and crafted into something more beautiful. 

A masterpiece, like no other, that will reflect the awesomeness of the one who created it. A work of art that will always have purpose and value.

Even in times of pain. 

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well… How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them!” ‭‭- Psalm‬ ‭139:13-17‬ ‭(The Bible)

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. -Ephesians 2:10 (The Bible)

To read more about my ongoing story of living with a chronic spinal CSF Leak click here.

Here is a brilliant 2 min animation about Spinal CSF leaks.

For more information about spinal CSF leaks please see the UK charity website at www.csfleak.info or the US charity website at www.spinalcsfleak.org.

We Are All Messed Up!

Do you ever wonder:
If other people are like you?
What their ‘real’ lives are like?
Who are they really behind that mask or behind those closed doors?

Do others really struggle like you do?

Over the years I have learnt that people are more similar than we might think. Although our lives and challenges are, in many ways, unique.

We ALL have struggles.

Life brings all of us both joy and pain.

Even those people who might want you to think that they have it all together. The ones who seem like life always goes well for them – the beautiful couple down the road and the perfect family next door.

Yes; they struggle too.

Their challenges will be unique to them and you will often never know they exist.

But I assure you – they are there.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” – Plato

from darkness

Over the years I have had the privilege to connect and build relationships with people from all different backgrounds and cultures, both here (in the UK) and abroad.

I love people. I love discovering who they really are and then helping them to reach out towards fulfilling their potential.

One of the things I have learnt is that although the world is full of diversity, which is wonderful, we are ALL actually more similar than we might think. Things are different outwardly for us all and yet inside we often face the same challenges, temptations and battles.

I recently watched an episode of a series called ‘The Tribe’ on Channel 4 about a native family living in rural Ethiopia.

It was fascinating.

Obviously their lives were completely different from ours. They lived in mud huts, kept animals, were self sufficient, had arranged marriages and yet as you watched it and listened to the translation you realised that families face a lot of the same issues.

Fear,
Worry,
Anger,
Insecurity,
Struggles,
Pain,
Rebellion (yes teenagers in rural Ethiopia like to push the boundaries of tradition and etiquette just like Western kids do).

In the episode I saw, one of the teenage girls used to love going to the market in the town to look at & buy new items of clothing. On this one occasion she ran off with some of her family’s money to go and buy colourful bras (even though the traditional dress was that women usually went topless). The argument that took place upon her return was so similar to arguments in many teen homes in the West!

We are ALL more similar than you might think.

FullSizeRender

There is a song by Lecrae, featuring Kari Jobe that really spoke to me following its release a while ago. It is all about the fact that we are ALL broken, messed up and in need of grace.

“Broken pieces actin’ like we ain’t cracked,
But we all messed up and can’t no one escape that…
… Ain’t a soul on the planet
That’s better than another
And we all need grace in the face of each other” – Lecrae

I love this concept.

We are ALL messed up in some way and in need of grace (undeserved kindness, understanding and forgiveness).  

Grasping this stops us believing there is a hierarchy of ‘goodness’. That some of us are just ‘good people’ and some of us simply ‘bad’.

The revelation that people are more similar to you than you think, is actually empowering because it makes us all more equal. It demands that we treat one another with grace rather than judging one another with faulty or hypocritical principles.

When we can accept that we ALL have weakness, vulnerability and struggles; our selfishness is challenged and we can actually become more compassionate.

It changes our pride into humility.

We stop rating ourselves as better or worse than others but instead recognise that we are all ‘messed up’, in some way, and in need of grace.

It levels the playing field.

As I wrote in Surviving the Storm Six months on, I have been faced with my own frailty and weaknesses this year, possibly far more than any other year.

This year has challenged my identity and chipped away at my confidence. Physical weakness can also challenge us mentally and emotionally.

You have less energy for life.

However,

I am learning that I need to embrace this process rather than fight it.

We must allow our own struggles to build in us authenticity and a deeper compassion and grace for others.

It’s a painful process.
It’s a humbling process.
But it’s also a beautiful process if we let it run its course.

In A Year Ago Today: A Journey Through Grief (about my Mum’s death) I wrote:

“Suffering can, if we let it, unite and draw us together in a way that nothing else can. It strips us of our titles and crafted exteriors and touches the heart.”

Suffering causes different things to happen to different people: Some people can become hard and bitter, consumed by their own pain and need. Others learn to direct their pain into compassion and empathy for others.

It is these people that find new purpose within their suffering. They have other people to think about and focus on which helps to heal their own wounds.

It changes our perspective.

Self pity; destroys us. It makes us miserable and angry.
Compassion; fills us with positive passion. It moves us to see others needs and make a difference in their lives.

Feeling compassion, for others, in the midst of our own struggles, brokenness and pain, builds bridges that helps us to identify with all sorts of other people.

from darkness

We are ALL messed up in some way.
We ALL have flaws.
We ALL get stuff wrong.
We ALL make mistakes.

Most of the time we will never know what has happened in someone’s life to make them like they are.

We ALL have a story;
Things that shape us.
Things that break us.
Things that heal us.
Things that strengthen us.

We are ALL more similar than we think and; “We all need grace in the face of each other.”

“It’s incredibly powerful- life changing- to be in a relationship where we can be totally vulnerable without fear, when the person knows the worst about us and still accepts us.” -Samuel Chand

Who could you show grace and compassion to today?

Is Busyness A Choice?

Just stop and ponder this question for a moment.

Is busyness a choice?

What if we make it personal:

Is how busy I AM a choice?
Or is it an unchangeable fact of my life?

I have been thinking about writing about busyness for a while. At first I thought about adding it to my ‘Breaking Free!’ series and yet the more I thought about it, the more I kept coming back to these questions:

Is busyness actually choice?
How much control do we have over it?
Can I really ‘break free’ from it?
Do I want or need to ‘break free’ from it?

These are the type of questions I have been pondering and have asked myself on numerous occasions, especially since having kids.

Will this overwhelming, exhausting busyness ever stop?
The relentless do, do, do, go, go, go of life.

For years I have both thrived and have been exhausted by busyness.

My husband Matt and I are very driven and passionate about life. We live life with purpose, get involved with a lot of things, connect meaningfully with a lot of people and do not shy away from responsibility.

It’s in our nature to have a full life.
We love living life to the full!

But in at the start of 2015 things changed. I fell off a ladder and sustained a minor brain injury. And busyness began to happen around me rather than to me.

And
I struggled.

Enforced rest is hard. And it wasn’t fun rest either:
I couldn’t watch that movie.
I couldn’t read my favourite book.
I couldn’t listen to my favourite album.
I couldn’t go out for a meal with friends & family.

For about 3 months.
I mainly just had to lie there in a dark and quiet room feeling unwell.

Comparatively (to normality) I couldn’t DO anything.

Now if you know me personally, you will know I am a DOER. It’s in my nature to DO a lot of different things at the same time.

But suddenly I couldn’t

DO

And it was hard.
Really hard!

And at these moments the question flies around your head:

Who am I when I can’t really DO anything?

An interesting question in itself and something I will come back to later.

Even now, 5 months on from the accident, I am so much better and improving each week, but I still cannot rush about as I did before without feeling the impact. My head begins to get cloudy and dizzy and everything takes much more energy.

I cannot DO busyness, like I used to and it’s a challenge to me.

A couple of months ago, I read an article called ‘Busy Is a Sickness’ by a guy called Scott Dannemiller. It said a lot of what I had been thinking about for a while.

In it Scott discusses two types of busyness.

1. Busyness we can’t control: Which he writes primarily affects the poor because their economic reality simply does not allow for downtime. They have to work 2 or 3 jobs just to make ends meet.

2. Busyness we can control: Self-created stress. He writes, “Most of the time, I manufacture urgency in the hope that it will create urgency in others. Instead, it only creates anxiety, resentment and spite. Which is absolutely counter-productive. And even in the cases where the urgency is real, it’s often due to a packed schedule I created.”

Why do so many of us get caught up in a cycle of busyness that we can control and yet can often feel out of control?

Scott Dannemiller writes:

“… we are defined by what we do. Our careers. What we produce. It’s the first question asked (of us)…. The implication is that if I am not busy doing something, I am somehow less than. Not worthy. Or at least worth less than those who are producing something.”

He goes on to make the case that many of us can use busyness because ‘we are afraid of ourselves’. True quiet time can be a challenge and also very revealing – as we come face to face with ourselves and our own thoughts.

So busyness is very linked to our identity.
1. It helps us to feel like, and let others know, we are DOING something useful or important.
2. It can keep us distracted from facing ourselves and our thoughts.

Perhaps Busyness is a sickness of epidemic proportions!


“We are defined by what we do.” – Scott Dannemiller


So many of us often feel crazy busy. The irony is, we complain about it and yet we can simultaneously wear it as a badge of honour. We mention it to empathise with others, but it can then quickly become something we compete over.

It can be a reality.
But also an excuse.

Busy, busy, busy…. Rush, Rush, Rush!!

No wonder people want to:
Escape it.
Get away.
Drink it away.
Eat it away.
Medicate it away.
Self medicate it away.
Run away.

The pressure of life.
The realisation that life and responsibility is not easy.
That it involves a lot of hard work.
That it never seems to end.

The stress.
The worry.
The exhaustion.

Of all I need to DO!

The modern world we live in demands more and more of our time and attention as technology invades every part of our lives. Until our lives can feel out of our control.

It can feel overwhelming!

Yet do we have more control over it than we might think?

This is something I have increasingly thought about and my answer is, of course: Yes & No!

After 10 years of having children I know full well that having kids makes life hectic. You have these little people dependent on you 24/7 however tired, exhausted & in need of a break you are. When you have kids busyness is often an inevitability. Even holidays can be exhausting.

But there is still a lot of choices I make each day in how I use and view my time. Often:
I chose it,
I agreed to it.
I took on that job.
Said yes to that appointment.
Agreed to that meet up.
Answered my phone.
Took on that new responsibility.

So I must either accept the consequences of my choices, do it with a humble heart and increase my capacity – which is a good thing to do and something some of us need to learn to do more.

Or I have to decide to somehow change it, whilst maintaining my integrity and honouring my commitments wherever possible.

There is no point in complaining or getting bitter about the choices I have made.

If my busyness is out of control maybe I need to think carefully about my life and make different choices. Change may not be possible over night but there are always ways forward.


What about the times when busyness is not a choice?

Life will always bring seasons that feel uncontrollable. Things happen that we did not expect in our personal lives and jobs and the balance in our life quickly shifts to ‘unbearable’. Sometimes we just have to manage and find a way through a particularly exhausting season.

Matt and I faced this, at the start of the year. We had to quickly make a lot of changes when I was ill. Matt couldn’t DO it all on his own as I wrote about here.

It showed us that we could scale back when we needed to. We can say no and reevaluate what needs to change. Lessons I hope we will apply more in the future.


I have realised that I need to ‘break free’ from a busy mindset and its hold on my identity and discover a rhythm of life that works for me and my family.


Much of our busyness is a choice. We can get frustrated by it and yet we often choose it. Sometimes we can end up blaming others and get angry about it. And yet we have agreed to it or allowed the people around us, or our own mindsets, to influence it.

I know Matt and I will always live a ‘full life’ even amidst challenging seasons. But I have realised that I need to ‘break free’ from a busy mindset and its hold on my identity and discover a rhythm of life that works for me and my family.

A life rhythm that continues to thrive on a ‘full and purposeful life’ which will inevitably include a lot of hard work, generosity of time, sacrifice, commitment and responsibility. But one that does not pull us into a place that is consistently overwhelming and potentially damaging to our health, faith, marriage and family.

Busyness will take everything if we let it!

To end I wanted to again use Scott Dannemiller’s words because he says it so well.

“So my prayer today is this. That I stop defining myself by my doing, and start defining myself by my being. That I stop measuring time by the clock on the wall, and start measuring it by the experiences I share with those around me. And that I stop seeing my life as “busy,” and instead, see it for what it truly is.
Full.”


Do you think busyness is a choice or do you think of it as an inevitability?
How could you bring a better rhythm to your life and see busyness a different way?

I invite you to discuss or comment below, or on my social media links, I would love to hear what you think.

The Insecurity Of Others Opinions

“What are they thinking about me?

The question goes through your mind again and again, sometimes in the forefront and sometime as a nagging whisper in the back of your thoughts.

“What are they saying about me?”
“Do they like me?” …

The insecurity of others opinions returns to rock our security again.

This is my second blog post on the subject of insecurity and how many of our insecurities come from both comparing ourselves to others and listening to and speculating about others opinions of us.

I know in my own life these are the two main issues that can leave me feeling like I want to hide under a rock, shut myself away from the world and never come out.

It’s these two issues that can end up consuming our thoughts, feed our anxieties and stop us in our tracks.

Even people who act like and say “I don’t care what other people think about me,” whilst holding on to their mastered, controlled and perhaps hardened exterior, cannot deny that it does reach, touch & affect them at times.

The wondering,
The thinking,
The questioning,
The avoiding,

“What’s going on in their thoughts?”

There are a few ways in which we are affected by what others think and say about us:
Firstly, when people openly talk about us, either to our faces, or indirectly on forums like social media.
Secondly the usual gossipy ‘behind our backs’ opinions. (which women are of course very prone to).
Then finally, although sometimes less discernible; through our own speculation about what others might be thinking and saying about us.

I think it’s the final one that is more damaging than it first appears, because our speculation means that we try and read people by the way they act towards us. This actually opens us up to potential misunderstandings because we read actions as related to us, even though they may just be related to someone having a bad day, their mind being on on other things or even due to that persons own insecurities.

How many friendships and relationships have broken down due to these type of misunderstandings?

This speculation is one of the greatest challenges I have to overcome in my own thought life.
It constantly nags at me trying to pull me in to an insecure way of thinking.
It attacks my confidence.
It attempts to stop me being myself and doing what I am built to do.
It feeds my fears.
It paralyses my purpose.
It tries to shipwreck my relationships with others.
It questions my identity and challenges the core of who I am.

It whispers in my ear….
“What are they thinking about you?”
“Do they really like you?”
“Maybe they find you annoying.”
“Maybe they pretend to like you but then talk about you behind your back”
“Maybe they don’t like what you say and do.”
“Maybe you offended them (even though you might not know why).”
“Maybe, Maybe, Maybe….”

Tell me that those thoughts are not enough to make you want to hide away under a rock, out of sight and not face anyone.

from darkness

People can be nasty and we know it!

We have all experienced it and have all done it. Especially if we are having a bad day or two, and if we have had a bad week – oh dear!

It’s all around us;
criticism,
gossip,
negativity,
hate,
trolling,
bullying.

It’s enough to make anyone cynical & even fearful of others.

It’s not surprising that we feel insecure.

So how do we battle through the insecurity and find more freedom in our thoughts?

As I have already said I still don’t find this easy myself. I daily take on the challenge to reign in my insecure thoughts. Some days it’s easier than others. But I have found some keys to freedom and they really help.

The best way I have learnt to overcome my own insecurities about what others are thinking about me is by choosing to relate to other people with GRACE. Now grace is one of those words we often either relate to girls names, meal time prayers or religion. But grace is actually an amazing concept. Grace basically means something described as ‘unmerited favour’. In the context of relationships I would put it like this: it’s not relating to others in response to what they think, say, act or what you get back.

It’s choosing to treat people well regardless.

In the context of faith; it’s loving people whether or not they deserve it.

And yes…. it’s a radical concept!

How is that even possible you might ask?

Well I only find it possible because I know that’s how I am treated. I know that God loves me regardless of what I do. He does not love me because of how good I am (that wouldn’t get me very far anyway because I miss the mark all the time). He loves me by grace and to understand that is so freeing. I no longer have to try and get everything right to get God to love me. He just does and nothing can change that unconditional love.

So from the security of knowing I am loved unconditionally by someone unchanging, I have found I can choose to offer it out to others.

“When we know we are loved we find it easy to love other people”. – John Sentamu

I can build relationships with others from a secure place. I do not need the other person to like, love or think highly of me to feel secure in myself, because I know that my security ultimately comes from God.

When you have to try and work out whether or not someone deserves your love or friendship you start down a confusing and rocky path. The outlook is changeable because one day they do and the next they don’t, which is why so many people have turbulent relationships.

It’s a stressful process!

If you no longer have to go through that process and you choose to approach all your relationships and those around you with grace; you decide to love others regardless.

And it is so freeing!

The challenge is that it takes a lot of humility. Which is why we have the battle in our minds & thoughts. We get angry, hurt and offended and our anger can often be rooted in our pride. We shut people out because we fear them getting close and hurting us. We get offended because the other person said or did something that we didn’t like. So we retaliate with criticism and even hate.

Humility on the other hand says:
I am going to choose to love this person regardless of what I get back.
It puts the other person first.
It chooses to try and understand rather than misunderstand.
I gives people the benefit of the doubt.
It realises everyone makes mistakes
It knows that everyone is fighting their own battles.
It does not stereotype, but sees everyone as worthy of love.

It forgives.
It reaches out.
It is constant.
It is never fake.

“Behind all strife you find ego. Humility always promotes peace”. – Jarrod Cooper

This doesn’t mean I want to spend and invest my time with people who have taken a dislike to me or want to hurt me.

That wouldn’t be healthy.

But it does mean that I can reach out a hand of kindness and friendship to others, regardless of how they respond. And if they choose not to like me that is up to them – you can only build a relationship when two people both want to invest in it.

So if this is the case, I have to let it go, I do not need to hate them or get them back for their dislike of me. It does not need to eat away at me until bitterness takes hold of my heart and I end up taking my anger out on everyone else, including those who love me.

Instead, I can rest in the security that I am loved. With a perfect love from the author of love. A love that is consistent, unfailing, stable and unconditional.

That security always overrides the insecurity that come from others opinions.

from darkness

Yes I still may have to face and overcome the hurt, the pain and embrace my vulnerability and fragility.

But when those insecure thoughts knock at the door to my mind and attempt pull me in, I can retreat to that secure place:

A place that is constant.
Where I know who I am.
A place of safety.
A place of love.
Where I am again built up.
Where encouragement gives me the courage to get back up.
To face the world around me.
Not to be rocked back and forth by the opinions of others.

A place where I realise that others opinions are just that – opinions; that often say more about them than me. Where I can stop being tossed about by the waves of speculation and instead be secure and anchored in the fact that other peoples opinions should never define me or stop me from being the person I really am.

The person that is truly me.

“Lead the life that will make you kind & friendly to everyone about you and you will be surprised what a happy life you will live”. – Charles Schwab