For five more minutes on the dance floor…………..

So this is something I have been thinking about a lot recently and have started to write about a few times but have ended up distracted or not feeling like it sounded quiet right.

In the last 24 hours I have spoken to 2 of my closest friends who were both exhausted, where life right now just feels too much – they are trying to juggle kids, careers/work, run a home, be a great wife, have deep and meaningful friendships, and throw in bereavement and illness and unsurprisingly it feels like their heads may explode.

I have been there myself – this time last year I was at breaking point and to some degree I did break a little. I had a job that was incredibly full on and stressful, the inheritance of a father and grandfather of unresolved issues and problems, and at the same time was trying to be the perfect mum, daughter, sister and friend. I got to the point where I couldn’t sleep, where I had no peace, felt constantly sick and I wasn’t being a good anything to anyone and in fact spent a large part of each day in tears as I felt totally overwhelmed – I usually have a high capacity and can cope but I had reached a point where it was all too much. I knew as I reached the end of 2014 that I wasn’t enjoying the things that really mattered, the people in my life – I wasn’t properly engaging with my child because in my head I was totally tied into work and worry about my clients, or the outcome of a case, or meeting a target. I knew I had to make changes before I made myself really ill.

God in his mercy stepped in and pulled me out and put me in a much more restful place with time and space but I am still working through that 8 months and the impact it has left.

Recently there has been a video on social media which shows older ladies reflecting on what they see of the younger generation of women who are following after them. This video is incredibly powerful in its simplicity – what these women reflect on is that with all the opportunities and technology we have available to us it should lead to pleasure but what they see is that the younger generations are bowed down by pressure, pressure to be the perfect wife, mother and friend, to be successful, a boss, a leader. They see burn out. That instead of having a “to do list” we should have a “don’t do list” – that if they had their time over again they would extend those bedtime kisses, that they would cuddle their babies more before they are too old for those cuddles, and that they would spend more time on the dance floor whilst their legs were still strong enough to allow them to keep dancing. These gorgeous ladies with all their wisdom and experience were saying to the generations behind them, my generation, learn to be and to let go!

Tied into this issue is comparison and the pressures we put on ourselves – I have this conversation over and over again with friends. We need to have children who are always perfectly turned out, who are impeccably mannered, thriving at school and socially capable. We need to have a house that looks like it should be in “Homes & Gardens” and always immaculately clean. We need to be producing gourmet meals and an amazing social life. To always look perfect. To be creating picture perfect happy memories with friends and family – again the curse of social media. We measure our work success by the size of our wage packets, by our promotions and our achievements in the workplace.

I think we hear a lie that we should always be busy and productive because in some warped way that is a measure of success. I know I listened to that lie for a long time.

For me personally what I have learnt this year is that I have a choice – that it is about being intentional in pursuing the things that matter, even if that is hard. Sometimes, like for my 2 friends, there will be stages in life when everything does come crashing down at once, and there doesn’t feel like there is any choice in it and often there isn’t and during those times we need to survive and get through – for me it was about crying out to God and asking him for a way out, asking him to help me. I made some hard choices this year and I do not regret them one bit but I often still wrestle with them – did I commit career suicide? How will I be able to pay for Lucy’s wedding (my brother pointed out that in all likelihood that was at least 20 years away and I needed to chill out)? Am I not as worthy or successful because of the choices I made? Maybe not in the society’s eyes but I am happier. I am more content. I am enjoying my people more, my child more, and have met amazing new people this year. I have had more space and rest to work stuff through and meet with God. I may not be as financially comfortable and secure but I feel freer and more hopeful.

What can stay? What needs to go? What decisions are being made out of a financial motivation or what other people think? Where is fear holding us back?

Where do we need to ask for help? Asking for help is hard – my mum spent a week in intensive care this summer with severe pneumonia. My mum does so much for me – my childcare, cooks me meals, does my ironing – she makes my life easier and suddenly she was out of action and once the panic over whether she would survive or not had passed I started to panic about how I would cope, as the doctors anticipated her being out of action for 6 months. Who would take Lucy to school? How would I juggle it all with full time work? Within an hour of that panic setting in friends and mums from school were offering help. It felt hard to show weakness and accept that help but I knew that if the shoe was on the other foot I would happily help and so I had to suck up my pride and get on with it.

We need to be helping each other, we need to get over our pride and accept help – because without doubt as much as we may need help at certain points we will have many, many opportunities to give that help back. As we open up to our safe people, and say this is all too much can you help me, we will be blessing them with the chance to help, building deeper relationships – we all get there at some point and we will all get there again and we need each other to get through. Vulnerability.

And last but not least we need to be encouraging each other. I am passionate about loving people – I want people to know how special they are and I try to tell them that whenever I can. I have been accused of being a little intense at times but I don’t care. We need to be kind to each other, to pick each other up, to be hope when people feel hopeless, to believe in people’s futures when they can’t see the way out. To pray. To listen. To push each other forward when there is no strength left. It was my friends who spoke truth into my situation last year, who pushed me to make changes and who loved me through it.

As those wise old ladies said it so perfectly we need to learn to be, to let go and to dance more!

Sucking the marrow out of life!

So I have not written for a while because whilst life is good in so so many ways there has been a big wave of grief in the last few weeks – all I have wanted is John and my dad. Quite frankly I am pretty sick of these waves – they make me angry, they make me sad, they make me feel like a failure and I end up lashing out. I am not always sure why they come when they do – sometimes there is a trigger sometimes not. I feel misunderstood and I feel very alone. To put it bluntly I become a little irrational because the pain just feels too big.

As always there are angels in the midst of it– one of my besties who sat outside in the cold with me on a Sunday morning and cried with me, my friend in another country who let me rant over text, didn’t preach at me and told me she will always be there even if I need to rant in 10 years time, my lovely boss who listened (and is probably thinking he has recruited a nutcase) and told me it was ok. I am so thankful for those who don’t judge me, who love me and hold my hand (literally and metarophically).

This time there was a trigger – this time it was going back into one of John’s environments and him being remembered by his people – it is rare he is talked about these days especially by people who were part of his life and whilst it was lovely it made me think what could have been and what might life have looked liked. That and the processing of my mother being hospitalised in intensive care and receiving one of those phone calls you never want to receive telling you to come quick (fortunately this time all ended well).

In my head I know God loves me but in my heart I am not so sure right now. I know that I have a call to the broken and hurting to love them but I personally feel a little forgotten and a little abandoned – again a sentence full of contradictions but grief often doesn’t make much sense.

Alongside all of those struggles this last 6 months have been incredible on so many levels, experiencing some amazing experiences – skydiving, career changes, travel, running a race – they have been life giving, exciting and I have loved every moment – well maybe not that final hill of the 10km!

Life is flipping weird, I feel I have lots of questions again, – the amazing sits along side the struggles but I am not giving up – tonight I have sat writing a bucket list, from big things to little things – I want to go and dance in the rain, I am going to get that tattoo, I was to stargaze, I want to turn up at an airport and get on a plane to wherever, I want to sing more, to make a difference to people’s lives, to skydive again, to write more.

So whatever your battles, your struggles let stand together and not give up- lets keep loving, and as one friend recently said to me keep sucking the marrow out of life.

Do I only matter because of what I do?

The other week I was at a party and was introduced to someone I had never met before – I immediately saw their eyes go to the rings I wear on my right hand and they commented that obviously I was married and so was my husband at the party – they certainly didn’t get the response they were expecting. Now some would say I should have taken my wedding rings off years ago but I have never quite been able to bring myself to do it partly because I like my rings and they were made from a ring I had inherited from my grandmother and partly because I also like the fact that they symbolise a really important part of my past.

It got me to think about how we classify people in our minds and make judgments so quickly about people without really knowing very much about them, based upon external factors.

I am sure that person’s question was completely innocent and asked with the best of intentions but it made me think about the questions I ask people and my motivations and thinking behind those questions. Obviously it is important to ask such questions in order to get to know a person, and to express interest in someone and their life shows them you care but how do I use the information I am given – if someone says they are married do I automatically think about them differently than if they say they are a single person, or divorced or widowed – I think if I am honest sometimes I do and then I rationalise that response and always come to the same conclusion that I am being completely ridiculous and such a response is all about my insecurity. I massively struggle with feeling like a failure because I am widowed, that I am not as worthy or have not made it like all the happily married couples I am surrounded by, because I do not have anyone in my life or dare I say it, because in my harder moments, I feel like I am not as important to God – again that is a total heart response, a lie, because as my head tells me that is a totally irrational thing to think, but the world, the church, society tells us that marriage/relationships/true love is above everything else and it very wrongly plants those seeds that if you are not in that place you lack something, you are not as important or valuable.

Maybe for you it isn’t about marital status but rather work – maybe you are a stay at home mum and have at times been made to feel not as worthy as the mum who has a career or maybe, like me, you work full time and feel the guilt of not being there to pick your kids up or go on school trips. Or maybe it is parentage, looks/weight, cultures, a person’s history, the size of houses or cars or holidays or maybe it is education or lack of it. I think deep down we can probably all identify with those types of judgments about others and ourselves. Often they feel too ugly to admit but I think they are probably in all of us to some extent or other.

A few days after the party incident I read an article entitled “Do I only matter because of what I do?” In the article the writer talks about going on a retreat where at the start of the retreat they strip you of your mobile telephone, you are not allowed to tell people your surname or what you do for a living, i.e. all the things we use to impress other people. He reflected upon how difficult he found it at first but as the retreat went on he found himself going deeper with these strangers than he ever normally did with people. He went on to say how much better our world would be if we as humans did not feel the need to throw our ace cards out as soon as we meet people – our careers, our accomplishments, who we know and our marital status but rather look to who people actually are as people.

Similarly a teacher friend of mine was saying the other month how he was really glad he taught in a secondary school where they wear a uniform as he prefers that the kids all look the same as rather than make judgments about them based on the clothes they wear he is truly able to see them as a person with their strengths and weakness, likes and dislikes, that their personalities and characters can come through. He felt that it made him a better teacher.

How often have I found my identity in my job, or my education, or in where I grew up or in the people I know? I am ashamed to say far too often. Is my head turned by a fancy career, or an impressive business achievement or an attractive face or personality or a nice car or house? Again probably far too often.

Last week a colleague was talking about how we respond to people – do we respond to them in the framework of our own values, culture and experiences or treat them as a child of God and respond to them as God would do. Do we treat ourselves as children of God or do we judge ourselves by human standards? It really, really challenged me. It made me realise that along the way my values/mindsets had become skewed.

Whilst I totally believe God has a plan for our lives, that he blesses us with good things, and that he uses us in the jobs/situations/relationships we are in they are not the priority for him – he does not love us anymore if we are a High Court Judge or a brain surgeon than if we were homeless and hungry with not a penny to our name, if we are big or small, loud and outgoing or quiet and shy, black or white, gay or straight. He sees our hearts, he loves our characters, he loves it when we are kind and generous, when we forgive, and overcome, when we love as he loves us – he sees the things that matter.

My experience is that God always uses the other stuff – the relationships, the job stuff, the material to shape my character. I am loving being in my new job but there is a wrestle going on inside of me about my law career – I know I am in the right place but for so long, as sad as this sounds, a big part of my identity has been tied up in the law, and so there is a part of me that is grieving that whilst at the same time knowing that probably God is doing a work in me through all of this, a work in my character and in my attitudes, as many people have told me re-shaping my identity.

As I have been thinking about all of this I have been thinking about my John. I have written about this before but on paper John was not what I would have gone for, in fact we were extreme opposites , and my guess is had he still been here we would never have been rich or super successful, these were not things that motivated John in any way, shape or form – John was the most unmotivated by money/status/success of any person I have ever met. God has a sense of humour because actually John was just what I needed, the opposite to all the stuff I would battle with and for. John would go in search of the underdog, he was kind, he was about as good and real as you could hope to be – he was forgiving, patient, gentle (I never heard him raise his voice, and he refused to argue – very infuriating to a feeler like me), generous and joyful. I am so glad God allowed me to see past all the other stuff as I had the privilege of 3 and ½ years with the most amazing man and I get to love and parent his child.

I want to learn again to be a child of God, to love myself as God loves me and to see myself as God sees me – to know although so much of the time I see widowhood, a career left behind, many mistakes and struggles, he sees me as his precious daughter, and he loves me despite and because of those things. I want to respond to people as God does – I don’t want to judge by the other stuff but I want to love people unconditionally whatever their circumstances, because of their hearts and because they are the most precious thing to God. I know it is those places that there is freedom, true love and real satisfaction.