Thank you God for little mermaids

The other day as I was out on a run I passed two ladies arm in arm, one was younger, the other older. I presumed they were mother and daughter. They weren’t walking particularly quickly, they just seemed to be enjoying each other’s company, as they walked together through the woods. I am not sure why but watching them made me tear up. I just sensed a preciousness in that moment. Maybe for them it was a very ordinary day and maybe their conversation wasn’t anything particularly special but there felt like there was something holy about it. I had a desire to be able to hold that moment in time for them. I wondered about how they would long for those walks and those conversations when the time came, one day in the future, when they could no longer walk or talk to each other. I have a slightly morbid outlook on life at times.

It was a moment that stirred my heart to want to learn to engage with and savour those precious moments more. Time is racing by so fast I don’t want to look back and regret missing things that really mattered.

Last week at the weekly children’s swimming lesson, aka being tortured in a very hot building full of lots of small people, who are tired, hungry and pretty hideous, there was a little girl sat on a bench. I would guess she had just turned 3 and she had really round cheeks covered in freckles. On the bottom half of her body was a long tight bright green skirt in the shape of a mermaid’s tail. The sight made me happy. Again a small child in dressing up clothes is not that unusual but she made me smile so much I had to say to her mum how the sight of her had made my day. She explained it had been her birthday the day before and she refused to take her new mermaid costume off. The mum went on to unzip the top her little girl had on to reveal a little pink bikini mermaid top. The little girl then stood up to leave and I couldn’t stop myself laughing out loud because the skirt was so tight she could only move her legs in the smallest of movements. It was one of the funniest, happiest sights I had seen in a while and kept me laughing for a good few hours afterwards, to the point Lucy kept asking “you are laughing at that little mermaid aren’t you?”

I love photos. John used to ask me whether it was really necessary to have photos on the wall of every person I had ever spoken to. That’s a slight exaggeration but there are a lot of photos in our house. Something has changed this year though because the photos on my phone used to be of a whole mixture of people and things but this year there is one subject which has taken over. My little nine month old niece – I get sent photos of her on a near daily basis and I cannot get enough of them. Her little face is one of my favourite things and fills my heart. Every now and then a video gets sent and I watch it over and over, her little nonsensical sounds and her laughter are often the best noises I hear all day.

As God has been challenging me to learn to rest he has also been challenging me to see beauty in the small things, as well as in the very special people and moments I so often take for granted. I don’t want to be so busy I don’t have time to properly stop and really enjoy the things and people around me but I know I do. So often I end a conversation and I know I haven’t engaged as fully as I should because my mind is on what I have to do, or something I am worrying about.

In the summer my friend, John, told me I spent too much time on my phone. I know how much it frustrates him as I know his wife, Rach, drives him crazy for the same reason. It left me with a horrible feeling I couldn’t shake because I knew he was right. Last Friday night I had dinner with John and Rach, and as I arrived I put my phone in my bag and left it there for the evening. We had such a lovely evening, really properly talking life, love, work, children, faith – it was the sort of conversation I love – real, vulnerable and engaged.

I want to find my way to a simpler life. I want to learn how to slow down. I want to learn to put the phone down more. At the moment I feel such a longing for more vulnerability, more depth and more adventure rather than racing from one thing to the next and rarely going below the surface with people or being so busy or tired that I fail to see the amazing people and moments in front of me.

I wonder whether if by learning to see and appreciate those small moments more, like a chubby little mermaid, we will find more of a peace and a stillness. That actually if we stop racing around to get more and do more we will find more. I dare to guess that probably it is those small seemingly insignificant moments combined with those moments of real engagement with those around us, of having time to be real and available that lead to a greater connection with our maker and each other, which makes us feel more alive than any full diary, or great career, or big bank balance ever could.

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Let yourself rest….

img_5176A couple of weeks ago a friend challenged me that I needed to learn to rest. Not just physically rest but to take some rest from all the stuff that fills my head, all the things and people I carry around up there and worry about. I don’t take challenge well, in fact I felt annoyed because I didn’t feel like I particularly needed to rest, and I told them so but they remained firm. This particular friend is always full of challenge, you seek wisdom and come away with a fair share of that wisdom but with more questions to work through and process than you had to begin with and that is just the way they intend it to be. Whilst sometimes I hate it I couldn’t be more thankful for that wisdom and challenge.

Ever since that discussion the challenge of rest has been going round my head. How do I rest? Do I rest enough? What should rest look like? How do you rest when you have so many things and people needing your time and care?

My child hates that I make our lives so busy, I am someone who needs people and activity to fill my life, in contrast she is more than happy to be at home, playing and just being in her own space. So about a week after said challenge/discussion/cross words (all on my part!) about learning to rest she asked me what the next few weeks looked like in terms of what we had on and the levels of busyness and as I went through what was a manic month she groaned and pleaded with me to stop filling up every spare minute of time.

As always when the same thing comes at me from different angles I know probably God is trying to say something to me.

I don’t think I am on my own either. I look at the majority of my friends and peers and see exhausted faces looking back at me, so many of the conversations we have are about how tired we all are. And so I have been wondering and reflecting on whether there are lessons I need to learn about how to rest well, and making intentional choices around rest.

Why do I find being busy so much easier than being quiet and still? Why is rest so difficult for me? I have realised I am not very good at resting and I think it for a number of reasons.

  • Years of living at break neck speed, in a culture that tells us we always need to be achieving otherwise we are showing weakness and failure have set patterns in my life that aren’t particularly healthy. In some twisted way I think I see a full and busy life as some sort of mark of success and achievement, that actually if I have a day ahead with nothing in it then there is something not quite right. I think we are told that we need to be working hard to achieve something, and in our spare time we need to be running marathons or climbing mountains, as well maintaining lovely homes and having an active and fulfilled social life, and somewhere in the midst of that you need to be parenting children well, and maintaining good relationships. I guess its no big surprise that we end up exhausted.
  • A much more personal reason for me is that actually resting and let time and space fill my head and heart is often a reminder of what and who is missing from my life. From the moment John died it has just been easier to fill life to the brim because it made missing him that bit easier but those habits have followed me into the future without him and I am not sure that they are particularly good habits.
  • And when it comes to resting in my head, that is a whole different ball game, and probably a lot more complicated. When said friend challenged me to set down the things I normally hold so tightly for just a week, to let God have them, well I realised that I hold so tightly because actually I struggle to trust God has them, that he is in control, that he loves the people I love much more than I do.

I am very good at reflecting but putting those thoughts into practice not so good at. On Wednesday night I was waiting to pick Lucy up from a group and a text arrived from a friend saying that she would be at mine in 20 minutes as we were meeting some other friends to go out for dinner. I responded with a swear word (a bad habit of mine!) saying I thought dinner was at 8pm and not 7.30pm, that I was a good 20 minutes away from home, that Lucy had not been fed or showered and that the babysitter was not turning up until 7.45pm, that she should go ahead without me and I would be there when I could. I ended up rocking up to the restaurant half an hour late, my food having been ordered for me, with a stress headache which meant I hardly said a word all evening.

I would love to say that such incidents are one offs but they aren’t.

I am realising that without proper rest I don’t enjoy life as much, I disengage, I am grumpy and irritable, I don’t listen as well and am just really tired a lot of the time.

I think God has been very clearly saying to me slow down, be intentional in how you spend your time. Only yesterday we were talking at work about living simpler lives, lives with more room for joy and laughter, lives with more room for generosity and that challenge came at me full force all over again.

I need time in my week in good solid blocks to take myself off and be with God, I need time to run and I need time to properly engage with people. I need to learn to say no. I need to learn to be happy with space and quiet time. I need to learn to make wiser choices. I need to learn to enjoy free days.

There are so many things I want to do, dreams I want to pursue, relationships I want to invest in but it has been a revelation to me that actually I am not going to be able to do any of those things well unless I rest, unless I stop. For me creativity is not going to flow out of stress and exhaustion. Being able to care well isn’t going to be within my capacity if I am not even caring for myself well. Good decisions and rational responses are not going to flow from my manic, crazy days.

So here’s to the challenge of rest, of learning to slow down, of not losing the things that really matter and bring us life in the sea of everything else, of precious friends who aren’t scared of standing up to us and to the wisdom of children.