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Create – My Word of The Year for 2018

Every year, around this time, I think about what I want to focus on over the next 12 months and choose a “Word of The Year” that encompasses what it is I am hoping for. This practise has served me so well over the past few years: in 2015 my word was “Surrender”, which came in handy when I lost my job and relocated; in 2016 it was “Healing”, which was hard to remember when I spent most the year battling with increasing health issues – but it was still an important reminder than even the smallest step can have a healing effect; and in 2017 my word was “Courage“.

Word of the year 2017 – how did I do?

Well, first it’s important to explain how these past 12 months have been some of the hardest, most challenging, and often soul destroying ones I have ever faced. I couldn’t have picked a better word of the year, as courage was something I needed in absolute abundance. And, do you know what? I found it, I truly did.

Despite an awful year, which saw both myself and my husband unable to continue in regular employment (due to health issues), and in which my Nan died, my Grandma ended up in ICU, and 4 other members of my extended family were diagnosed with cancer, we’ve somehow survived. The stress for us in our own personal circumstances (health and financial insecurity) has been met with anxiety and concern for those around us who have been fighting their own unimaginable battles. I feel like the most highly strung person ever right now.

And yet, despite all of this, I’ve managed to go completely freelance (and work with 6 different clients this year), which I could never have imagined this time last year. So successful has this been, I have decided to focus on bringing that same entrepreneurial spirit to my blog by setting specific goals for the coming year (more on this later).

I also stepped out of my comfort zone and created a whole video series for Advent, which was incredibly daunting for someone with as little money and energy as I have. But more than anything, I feel like I have finally found the courage to be myself, to share my work with the world, and to know my worth. I’m choosing things which set my heart alight with passion, rather than trying to “fit in” with what I think the world expects of me. And in doing so, I have rediscovered the power of creating for the sheer joy of it.

Which leads me beautifully to my chosen word of the year for 2018 – Create!

Create – my word of the year for 2018 – what does that mean?

When I first chose this word for 2018, I initially thought it would simply relate to my writing. Back in October, when I first decided to close down Spirit Kid Network (another courageous decision!) and bring everything here to The Family Patch, I wasn’t quite sure how to package everything under one roof (so to speak). It wasn’t until Tim suggested the tagline, “Feeding the Creative Spirit” that it truly clicked for me. That’s what I am – I am a creator.

I use the word creator (as opposed to creative) for a specific reason. When I think of a creative, it brings to my mind writers, artists, crafters, people who create works of art in their own field. And that is something I do – I can create whole worlds with my words, and I love it. But I also create a world around me by the choices I make and the things that I do – in essence, I create the life that I live and experience. We all do.

This year has taught me that more than anything else – when we’re hit with challenges in life, we all experience them in different ways based on who we are and what we do in response to such challenges. We even create different experiences for ourselves based on the unique circumstances we face – for instance, my health is really poor right now because I can’t do the things that I used to do to protect myself from burn out (e.g. getting plenty of sleep, taking time off at the weekends etc). Those simply aren’t options for me at the moment, and until I learn to create new ways of protecting my health, it will suffer. But I have hope that by creating new experiences, I can begin to heal. I’ll never be “cured” of my health issues, but I know I can live well with them, because I’ve done it before. And that’s why I want to focus on creating this year.

18 Ways to CREATE more Health, Happiness, and Better Income in 2018

18 ways i want to create a new experience for myself in 2018

Because it can be very easy to fall into the trap of keeping things very vague with a word of the year, I decided to write out a list of 18 ways I can create a new experience for myself in 2018. I’ve split them into 2 categories – blog/business (work) and lifestyle (home), because we all need a bit of work/life balance!

blog/business

1. Write 50 Blog Posts

I know that this sounds like a lot – but actually it’s just short of one post per week, which is nothing compared to what many bloggers create. I know I can do this, as The Family Patch is will have been going for 8 years in April and I’ve got 369 posts on here (that’s an average of just over 46 posts per year). So why set it as a goal, then? Well, in the past year 26 of the 45 posts published were added as part of my Advent series – so that means I wrote fewer than 20 posts during the first 11 months of the year! So regular content is a big goal for me this year!

2. Focus on Seasonal Content

Not only do I want to write more posts, I want to make sure that they are more seasonally appropriate. I have loved creating an Advent series, and I want to make sure that throughout 2018 I look ahead to holidays and awareness days and take part in them by both creating my own content and helping to share the content of others.

3. Produce 12 Videos for YouTube

Again, I loved creating videos for my Advent series (as exhausting as it was to do a series of 26 videos!) and so I would love to create some more video content through the year. 12 videos works out as one per month, and will work beautifully with my desire to create more seasonal content.

4. Publish 10 Chapters for The Brethren

I already have original drafts of more than 10 chapters of my Young Adult novel, but to be honest they all need a lot of reworking. I really want to make some headway with this during 2018 and would love to write far more than 10 chapters. But I’m also very aware that goals need to be both specific and achievable, and 10 chapters feels like it is both of those things.

5. Launch 1 Saleable Item

As my hope for this year is to begin turning my blog into a business, I need to start thinking of how I can make that work. One way would be producing an eBook that I could sell via the blog. At present I have a couple of ideas, and shall explore both of them over the coming weeks to work out which is more achievable, and will work on that. Not only will I be creating content with this goal, I’ll also be starting to create more income. So this is a 2-for-1 type goal!

6. Work with 5 Brands

So this is the big one for me – I would love to be able to create some income by working with brands here at The Family Patch. I’ve done the odd review in return for products in the past, but have never made any money through my blog itself (that has always been achieved via freelance copywriting or VA work elsewhere). The idea has always terrified me somewhat, but having worked with clients this past year I suddenly realised I was underselling myself and what I can offer here at The Family Patch too. So I’m going to try and build up working relationships with PRs and Brands this year, in the hope of working on 5 campaigns through the year.

7. Improve My SEO

I am aware that the best way to increase my chances of working with PRs and Brands is to have a decent sized, well-engaged audience. I have the engaged part pretty well sorted out – my audience may be small, but it is a wonderful one. However it is very small compared to a lot of other bloggers, and some of that could be rectified by sorting out the SEO on my site, to help others who are interested in what I share here at The Family Patch find us via search engines.

The Family Patch has been going since 2010 – that’s a lot of posts with very little SEO (which I knew nothing about until recent years). Even my latest posts need a bit of a tune up. So that is a big goal for me this year.

8. Develop a Pinterest Strategy

Another way to increase interested traffic is to use Pinterest, which works like a search engine. I have known this for many years, and yet my Pinterest account still looks like a personal pin board. So another very practical aim for this year is to create and implement a proper strategy for Pinterest.

9. Leave More Blog Comments

Finally, as I am wanting to get back to the heart of blogging by producing more content, I want to make sure I am reading lots of content too. I have found that in recent years I have lost so much time to social media and, in turn, missed out on some amazing posts by some brilliant bloggers. One of the things I want to focus on this year is the blog content, rather than the social media updates. So I shall be adding lots of blogs to my Feedly and reading and commenting on as many posts as I can throughout the year.

Lifestyle

10. Read 10 Books

There are some people who do an amazing 52 Books in a Year Challenge, which I am in awe of. Honestly, even at the height of my reading days (when I was a teenager) I don’t think I read quite that many books in a year! But just because I can’t read 52 books, doesn’t mean I don’t want to challenge myself to read more than I have this year… and this year has been shocking! So I’ve set myself the goal of reading at least 10 books this year. I received almost that many from my parents for Christmas, so I have a good stash to work through….

11. Work Through The New Testament Together

Another thing I want to make time for, is reading the Bible regularly. I go through phases of reading some each day followed by phases of not reading it at all. I have a Daily Bible* which I tried to use to get through the Old Testament this year, but honestly I got lost in the middle of it and kinda gave up! This year, Tim and I would really like to work our way through the New Testament together, not just so that we can finally read the bits we’ve always seemed to skip over, but also so that we can discuss how we feel about it and how it relates to our lives now in a way that makes faith feel more a part of our everyday lives again.

12. Practise Yoga 3 Times Per Week

Both Tim and I would love to be more active, but our health makes things so difficult at times. However doing some yoga 3 times per week feels manageable. There are some amazing yoga videos on YouTube, some aimed specifically at people like ourselves with limited energy and flexibility. So we’re going to work through some gentle, regular practise in the hope that it really begins to make a difference.

13. Make Time For The Cosmic Kids Yoga Course

Following on nicely from this is the Cosmic Kids Yoga course I signed up for earlier this year. I am so excited about this, as Little Man loves the Cosmic Kids adventures and I want to be able to understand more about why they work and how I can integrate that into our yoga practice at home. Little Man often asks if he can join in with my yoga practice, but he finds the videos I watch too boring. I, on the other hand, find the Cosmic Kids ones too energetic to join in with some days. So I’m hoping to learn enough to merge the two together somehow, so Little Man can join in our weekly practice too.

14. Go Swimming Once Per Month

Swimming is another activity that Tim and I both know would be good for us. And yet, we haven’t managed to make it swimming yet, despite saying we’d do so for at least 3 months now! So starting in January we want to make sure we go at least once per month.

15. Use Duolingo Daily

Over the past few weeks I have really fallen in love with the DuoLingo app for language practise. I am a linguist at heart (my degree is in German and Russian) and I am amazed at just how many amazing apps there are these days to help you learn and master languages in a far more immersive way than flashcards and grammar books! Already I feel my confident growing and I feel like daily practise throughout 2018 will help me explore worlds I have long forgotten, worlds which inspire and encourage me. Words are my friends, remember, so languages are as much a part of my creative spirit as anything else!

16. Spend More Time With Family and Friends

This is something we have really struggled with over the past year or so, as health issues have taken a real toll. I cannot count the number of times we have had to cancel plans (or even avoid making them in the first place) due to being too poorly to do things. This year I want to try and change that, by inviting family round for dinner, visiting friends who we don’t get to see on a regular basis, or even simply writing to or calling those we cannot see in person.

17. Have a Major Declutter

This one is all about creating space and order within our home. I am so fed up of clutter that I simply don’t know what to do with. A dear friend recently helped me sort out my kitchen cupboards, and it was so cathartic. I also spent a few days before Christmas tidying our bedrooms, and it made me realise that the only way to truly create space and order in our lives is to have a major declutter. I am reminded of how my Lent practise of giving away an item of clothing each day helped to really focus my mind on what I actually needed and what was surplus to my needs. As challenging as it was to give away 40 items of clothing (which made up almost half my wardrobe) it was actually truly uplifting to simplify my wardrobe. So I want to do the same thing throughout our house.

We’re actually hoping to move into a smaller place this year as well, so this has a very practical goal too – we cannot possibly take all of the clutter we have with us to another home. So instead of rushing to have a clear out when we move, I want to slowly do it over a few weeks or months.

18. Attend Young Spirits

My friend set up this wonderful pre-church group, which allows children and those new to the faith to explore that week’s readings in a fun and informative way before the service begins. We have yet to make a single session, as health issues have kept us at home, but I really want to try and make it to some of the sessions during 2018. It will be a wonderful way of exploring our faith from a slightly different perspective, creating new experiences for us to share together.

Phew – that’s quite a list, isn’t it? And yet, I feel like it is all perfect for me as I head into 2018. you may have read through that list and wonder how it all relates to my word of the year… but every single one of them is helping me to create a better life for myself. Some, like those in the blog/business section are more self-explanatory than others. But even swimming and yoga help me to create better health, and spending time with family and friends helps me to create more community and happiness. After several years of feeling like my life was spiralling out of control, I am so excited to have so many ways in which I can create little bits of change that will hopefully have a big impact on my life.

I’d love to know whether you choose a word for the year or set goals for yourself. If you do, please feel free to share them in the comments 🙂


*Please Note: the link to the NRSV Daily Bible is an affiliate link. If you use that link and then purchase an item from Amazon, I will receive a small referral fee. This helps me to keep running The Family Patch. For more information on how I use affiliate links, please read my disclosure policy.


I have joined in with both the #ShareYourYear and My Blogging Goals linkies with this post, to find out how other bloggers are reflecting on 2017 and preparing for 2018. Do go and check them out if you’re looking for a bit of inspiration!

Scrapbook Blog
Real Mum Reviews

Little Man's Baptism

Choosing to be Baptised as an Adult

This past weekend, Little Man and I were both baptised, and I was confirmed and welcomed as a member of the Methodist Church. Choosing to be baptised as an adult, and choosing to baptise my son at the age of 5, wasn’t a decision I made lightly. I thought about it for a very long time, because I wasn’t sure whether it was the right thing for us to do. But eventually it just felt right and that was when I decided to do it.

Little Man being Baptised

A large part of my hesitation came from the fact that I know I sometimes sit on the edge, looking in, wondering whether I truly belong. I’ve described my faith in the past as “fluid”, something which changes as I grow, and which takes inspiration from a wide variety of sources, not just Christianity. For instance, my husband, TJ, has been on Shamanic Courses; as a family we celebrate the Pagan Wheel of the Year; and our home is filled with books, music, and artwork from traditions as varied as Hinduism, Buddhism, and The New Age. So you’d be forgiven for thinking that I didn’t really relate to any single path.

Indeed, this is something that I myself thought about my faith for a very long time too. But the reality is that I do  relate to a single path, and that path is Christianity. Everything I believe comes back to the central core of the Christian message – that we are inherently flawed, but that God loves us anyway. So great is God’s love for us, that he sent Jesus to show us the way to live in that knowledge, and the Holy Spirit to guide us day by day as we try to do so. When I read or experience something from another tradition, it is always through that same lens of unconditional love, and whilst I do not think that Christianity has a monopoly on that truth, it is the path which draws me closest to it.

Being Baptised as an Adult

And it was this realisation that led me to making the decision to step deeper into my walk along the Christian path. I realised that I had been holding myself back from experiencing it fully, because I felt I was somehow intrinsically incompatible with Christianity. I erroneously believed that because I had doubts and questions and interpreted things differently at times from the traditional sense, and because I chose to include aspects from other faiths into my journey as well, that I couldn’t honestly call myself a Christian. And yet, when I look at that central belief I mentioned above, that “we are inherently flawed, but God loves us anyway”, I realised how crazy this thinking was. Why would God want me to miss out on the love and caring of my Church Family, just because I felt a little bit different? The answer, of course, is He wouldn’t!

I clearly remember the moment I was reading a book about Christianity and religion and realised that my thinking was all wrong. And I decided to explore the idea further. Then, that following Sunday, as we sang the opening hymns in church, I felt my heart opening and just knew God was gently encouraging me to just take that step, to stop overthinking it and just do it. So I spoke to the Minister at the end, and told him about my reservations but also how I felt it might be the right time to take the next step, and I’ll never forget what our Minister said to me. He said, “I believe God is big enough for everyone”. Basically, he was encouraging me to just follow my heart and step forward in faith.

Confirmation

There was a little more to it, as our Minister reminded me that I was already pretty active in the church, attending Bible Study and going to the Church Council Meeting, so why shouldn’t I be a part of the Church Family? And at that point I knew, without a doubt, that it was just right for me.

And for Little Man? Well, he goes to church with my every Sunday, and tells me about Angels and Heaven and how he just loves everybody, and quite simply has the faith of a child. So why shouldn’t he also be welcomed as a part of the Church Family… he will still have the opportunity when he is older to decide whether he wants to step further on that path and be Confirmed or not, but right now he understands enough to know he wants to be a part of it, and so he is.

Baptism Candle & Certificate

We were thoroughly supported in our decision, and had an absolutely wonderful day on Sunday. The sun was shining, the church was more full than usual, my parents came to watch their Grandson be baptised, my own Grandma was there,  and we had his two Godmothers (my sister and my friend from church) celebrating it all with us too. (Incidentally, he also has a “Fairy Godmother”, in the guise of a friend who comes from my New Age background, who shared a celebration for his birth with us way back in 2012 – isn’t he a lucky boy!) 

Little Man was rather overexcited, pulling faces at the congregation and trying to sneak his fingers into the font during the service, but our Minister is wonderful and just took it all in his stride! We then had Communion, which in our church is open to all, so Little Man has had it before, but it felt doubly special on Sunday. And I think Little Man picked up on this too, as he pulled me into a hug and kissed me as we waited for the wine!

Communion following being Baptised

We were also blessed with some wonderful gifts from family and friends, to help us in our Christian journey, and I shall share some more thoughts on these with you in a later post. For now, though, I just wanted to write down my thoughts about our Baptism and my Confirmation whilst it was still all very clear in my mind.

Tell me, have you been baptised? How did you make that decision? And what does it mean to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences…


Joining in with Share The Joy Linky this week, as this post has obviously brought me a lot of joy! Find out more details about the linky by clicking on the image below…

Share the Joy linky at LizzieSomerset.com

Prayer Candles

Embracing Uncertainty, Grief, and Vulnerability

I was unsure what to call this post, because there are so many things that are heavy on my heart right now. But I think the title I’ve chosen sums it up rather well. For such a long time I have been desperately fighting the uncertainty over my future, the grief I feel over things beyond my grasp, and the vulnerability that comes with accepting that I am sick and that I can no longer give until I first learn to receive. Resisting all of that has taken its toll, and it’s time I learned to embrace it instead.

I hasten to add that this isn’t a new concept to me – I’ve known I’ve needed to do this for years, but knowing something and actually accepting it are two very different things. Even as my health has deteriorated over the past few years, I have refused to acknowledge just how ill I have become, because doing so felt like giving up. Even up until the very beginning of this year, I was determined to make it all work somehow – I’d go freelance and work from home, I’d schedule in time each day to focus on my well-being, I’d cook healthy meals from scratch, and I’d find a way to do all of this and continue to run two blogs, be active in social media groups, and get more involved in my local community too.

How hard could it really be? I thought. After all, I wasn’t quite as sick as I had been when first signed off work last summer. Several months of trying to rest as much as possible had made a difference, but I needed to get going again to help make ends meet financially, and I didn’t want to be held back by my illness anyway. Unfortunately, with all the determination in the world, there are some things you just cannot change. For me, this is my health. I’m not talking about small changes like eating healthier and getting exercise – of course those make a difference. What I mean is that, if you are chronically ill, sometimes you just have to accept your limitations and find a way to work within them. But that it something I am terrible at!

The past 3 months have practically broken me: I’ve been working with several clients on some pretty big projects; I’ve seen my family struggle with my Nan’s final weeks on this earth; I’ve had multiple conversations with Little Man’s teachers as he has been struggling to settle into the school environment; and I have tried to keep my home running as smoothly as possible throughout all this change, all whilst suffering from multiple viruses on top of my general ill health. And yet despite all of that happening, I still continued to try and do more…

When I look at it like this, I realise how unbalanced my thinking really is. And I understand why I live with this constant knot of anxiety at the pit of my stomach, never knowing when a full-blown panic attack may occur.  Because I haven’t given myself time to breathe, time to sit in the uncertainty of my life and grieve for all that I had once wished for but which can no longer be. And I certainly haven’t allowed myself to be vulnerable, because that fills me with absolute dread – what happens if I do that and it all falls apart?

So, of course, life enabled me to experience that which I feared the most, didn’t it? This week I was faced with “saying no and letting go” to so many things, things that I not only felt I ought to do but which I really wanted to do too. I had filled my week with fun activities – a trip to the Cathedral with a friend, and singing in the choir for the Church Panto. But a stomach bug stopped me in my tracks and made me realise I simply cannot do it anymore, I cannot continue to pretend I am coping when really I’m so close to breaking.

Prayer Candles

I toddled off to the Cathedral with my friend, feeling worse for wear but determined to make it through the week, and ended up spending half of the time in the toilets! I then sat quietly in a little chapel, knowing that I had to cancel my plans but so terrified of letting people down. Thankfully my friend was a wonderful comfort that day, encouraging me to allow myself to be vulnerable for once and not worry so much about other people, and I cancelled attending Bible Study that afternoon and Panto Rehearsal/Performances for the rest of the week. I cried so much when doing it, partly because I hated to let others down, but mostly because of what this signified. In cancelling these plans I was truly beginning to acknowledge how ill I truly am right now.

Which led me to thinking about all the areas in my life that drain the energy I simply do not have to spare. Many of them are things I love and am so passionate about, and it breaks my heart completely to have to put them aside right now. But the alternative is continuing until I break, and having been there just a year ago (and again a couple of years before that) I am desperate not to return to that place any more. This time I want to truly embrace the uncertainty of it all, to grieve for all the things I wish were different, and to allow myself to be vulnerable in this space. No more “putting on a brave face” and pretending all is well when it’s not. Wow, that is hard for me to write… and even harder to live!

Which brings me to the point of this blog post, really. I’ve had a good, long (and extremely hard) look at all the things that I have going on in my life and decided that I have to cut back on so much in order to give myself the time, space, and energy to truly begin this healing work. And here’s what I’ve decided:

1. I shall make time every single day to seek out the love of God which I know is helping me through all of this. This will take various forms – sometimes it may be reading a book, sometimes it may be walking in the park, and sometimes it may be sitting in silence.  Whatever form it takes, I want it to become a prominent part of my day, helping me to truly embrace the uncertainty of it all, trusting that I don’t have to have it all figured out!

2. Leading on from this, I shall use The Family Patch as my place to simply write what feels important to me, rather than trying to produce “useful” content. And right now that is likely to be a lot about faith. I know that this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, so please do feel free to unsubscribe or mute updates from me if you don’t want to read this kind of content. But for those of you who are interested, please do share with me your own thoughts and experiences in the comments, as I’d love to hear from you.

3. Even though it is faith-based, I am taking a break from Spirit Kid Network. I simply cannot devote the time needed right now to build up the kind of content it deserves. There is still content to be found over there from last year, plus my free chakra guide for kids, so I’m not shutting it down completely. I simply need to release the pressure of producing new content on a regular basis on both of my blogs.

4. I am also going to limit my use of social media, particularly Facebook Groups. To be fair I haven’t been using Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest that much lately anyway. But a large chunk of my time gets caught up in Facebook Groups. Most of these are relevant to the work I do at Shortman Media, so it feels a bit risky to step back from some of them, but I really do need to limit my time spent helping others – every short answer I give soon adds up over the length of a week.

The Faith Space

5. That being said, I do want to spend a bit more time in The Faith Space, which is a Facebook Group I set up for those of us who wanted to discuss faith in an open and religiously diverse way. I’m not promising anything in terms of how much I’ll actually do on there, but if you’d like to join us please do request to join the group over on Facebook.

All of this means that the limited time and energy I have outside of what I have to do (freelance work, housework, family life etc) is less likely to be eaten up by multiple different things and more likely to contribute to my overall well-being, by focusing on what is most important to me right now. I am a giver by nature – I want to be there for everyone, encouraging and supporting them, no matter what. But that takes a lot of time and effort, which I simply do not have right now.

So, that’s where I am right now – embracing uncertainty (and trusting in God’s plan for me), grief for all the things I have to let go of right now (including all those big, exciting plans I have), and vulnerability (so that others can offer love and support where I cannot). It’s an emotional place to be, and I have cried more over the past few days than I have in months, maybe even years. But that’s all part of the journey, isn’t it?

Christian Bloggers UK Easter Tag

Christian Bloggers UK – Easter Tag

Today is Shrove Tuesday (or Pancake Day), meaning that Lent is almost upon us. For many years this didn’t really mean anything to me – my family were not religious, we didn’t even bother having pancakes most years, and Lent was just something that bypassed me completely.

But in recent years I’ve tried to be a bit more focused on the opportunity this time of year gives us to reflect upon the way we’re living our lives (what do we need to give up?) as well as the historical, cultural, and spiritual meanings behind our Easter celebrations.

Which is why I was delighted to be tagged by Rachel from Mum on a Mission, who I recently discovered thanks to the Christian Bloggers UK Facebook Group. The premise is really easy – just 10 questions to answer – but it gives you the opportunity to reflect on what Lent and Easter means to you. If you’d like to join in, please feel free to copy and paste the list of questions at the end of this post!

Christian Bloggers UK Easter Tag

1. How are you celebrating Lent this year?

This year I am planning to choose one item of clothing every single day and put it aside ready to donate to charity at the end of Lent. I saw the idea on a Facebook post from a Salvation Army Corps and thought it was brilliant, because it not only gets you to focus on “giving up” material goods that may be surplus to your needs, it also helps you give to others.

For me this is quite a big thing, because I rarely buy myself clothes. Most of my wardrobe consists of hand-me-down clothes, or items I’ve had for years (a prime example being that one of the dresses I wore for a blogging conference was over 10 years old!) Don’t get me wrong, I like clothes, I just cannot bring myself to justify buying new clothes when I have perfectly suitable ones in my wardrobe.

So, for me, giving away clothes is a massive deal, not just because I won’t be replacing them, but because I usually cling onto them until they are falling apart! But over the past couple of years I’ve been given quite a few items of clothing for Christmas presents and the odd hand-me-down, so my wardrobe is in need of a good clear out anyway. But instead of going through and trying to simply clear space, I am hoping that a daily requirement to purposefully choose one item to donate (and which will make a difference to someone else) will help me focus on how blessed I am and also how blessed it is to give.

Edited to add: I was honoured to be interviewed on Inspirational Breakfast about this on Tuesday 7th March – you can listen to the interview below.

 

2. What does Lent mean for you?

To be honest with you, I’m still trying to figure this one out. You’ll have noticed that I recently wrote about how I’m only just starting to even feel able to consider myself a Christian and my views certainly make it challenging. For instance, the idea of a ransom for our sins just doesn’t sit well with me, and yet that’s pretty crucial to the modern understanding of the message of Easter, right?

That’s not to say that it doesn’t mean anything to me. Last year I wrote a post on my other blog about called, “How and Why I’m Sharing the Easter Story with My Child“, which focused on my rather liberal interpretation of it all. So just because I haven’t figured it out yet, doesn’t mean I’m not working on it. In fact I am currently reading the book, “The Case for God: What Religion Really Means” by Karen Armstrong, which has reminded me how we don’t need to have it all figured out to seek a relationship with God.

As Karen writes, “[…] we think that the concept of God should be easy and that religion ought to be readily accessible to anybody. ‘That book was really hard!’ readers have told me reproachfully, shaking their heads in faint reproof. ‘Of course it was!’ I want to reply. ‘It was about God.'” Those were the second and third sentences in the book’s introduction, and I knew straight away I was going to love it! It is hard going, it isn’t something you can just pick up and read anywhere – it makes you question and think and sometimes I have to read a sentence 2 or 3 times before it really sinks in. But I love it all the same, because of the very fact it reminds me that God is so unimaginably huge, it’s okay that I haven’t got an answers to these questions.

3. What things have you given up for Lent in the past, and did you succeed or fail?

I haven’t given much up in the past to be honest, because I’m usually totally disorganised and realise part way through that it’s Lent and I’ve already missed the beginning of it! However I did partially give up social media a few years ago. I say partially because it was quite a last minute thing and I knew that there were the odd things coming up which people would contact me about via social media rather than via email. So I logged in occasionally to check nobody had sent me a direct message or tagged me, but I didn’t log in daily, I didn’t scroll down the timeline, and I didn’t respond to anything other than direct messages which required a response.

I really enjoyed the break from social media actually, and ended up having a social media hiatus (especially from Facebook and Twitter) for several months at the beginning of last year. Stepping away really helped me to understand how much of an impact it had on my life (my anxiety levels improved dramatically!) and I was really quite hesitant to go back to it, especially Facebook which had become quite toxic to me. When I did return, I limited my profile and timeline and friends list significantly, making sure I only saw certain updates, and began using groups more effectively rather than simply scrolling my timeline. That all made a real difference to my experience of it, and it was all thanks to taking a break.

I think that’s where Lent is really powerful – by giving something up for 40 days you begin to see the impact that thing had on you. If it’s really challenging for you to give something up, then that thing has more control over you than it probably should have. “Everything in moderation” is a great phrase, but sometimes we have to step completely away from something to realise what we thought was moderation was in fact excessively impacting on our lives. We can then go back with a better mindset and create a better relationship with whatever it was, be it social media, certain foods, or bad habits.

4. Have you ever taken part in an Easter bonnet competition? ( If so post the picture for us all!)

No, I can’t say I have. I remember my mum making Easter Bonnets for the kids when she was a childminder, but I don’t think we ever made any. I’m not even 100% sure what it entails, to be quite honest with you. I’m off to Google Easter Bonnets now…

5. What is your favourite pancake topping?

Hmmm, the few times we had them growing up it was simply lemon and sugar. Then when I went to Russia at the end of my first year of uni and then again during my third year, I discovered a whole new appreciation for pancakes.

There were little kiosks at the end of many roads, where they made a HUGE pancake on a massive griddle pan (using what looked like a squeegee window cleaning thing to get an even coverage) and then they dolloped your topping in the middle and deftly folded it over itself several times until you got a lovely little square package. My favourite topping was always chocolate spread for those!

We also went round to tea at someone’s house once (we’d met her at a school event we’d been asked to speak at) and she brought out a massive stack of pancakes and various toppings for us to enjoy whilst we listened to music and she practised her English with us. Another time we went to a school event with younger kids, and the mums had brought various snacks, including pancakes, for us to enjoy. Seriously, pancakes work for any occasion!

Tonight I’ll be making a big stack of pancakes and TJ and I will enjoy some of them as savoury ones (with cheese, ham, salami etc) and some as sweet desserts (with fruit, jam, and lemon and sugar). I have always preferred savoury over sweet whereas TJ has a sweet tooth, so making a mix works really well for us. Little Man does not like pancakes, so he’ll be having fishfingers and chips haha

I’d like to point out that my husband managed to convince himself that last Tuesday was pancake day, even waking me up with the pancake song! And in my half-awake state I agreed to making pancakes that evening. So we’ve already had a trial run, because I didn’t work out until afterwards that he’d got the wrong week haha

6. How do you celebrate Easter Day?

Honestly, we don’t have a specific way of doing this. As a child it really wasn’t a big deal for us. Even though we were off school for the holidays, all I really remember is that it was usually my Grandma’s birthday and that mine was coming up too. We didn’t even have Easter eggs – my mum preferred to buy us a bar of chocolate and give us a few squares each day through the holiday.

Last year was the first time I went to church on Easter Sunday for a long time (perhaps even only the second time ever, I can’t quite remember). It was a really lovely service, we were all given a daffodil to take to the front and add to the display around a cross, and the Minister made it really accessible to even the youngest people there. So we shall be going to church again this Easter Sunday too.

We’ll probably also do some kind of roast dinner, because we don’t eat meat very often and it’s nice to make it a real treat. Then we may take a walk in the local park to get out and celebrate Spring too – new life!

7. What is your favourite Easter food?

I don’t really have any foods I associate with Easter. My dad played football every Sunday until he turned 40, and so he didn’t really want a big roast dinner at the weekend. We used to have our roast dinner in the middle of the week, so it was rare we’d have anything special on Easter Sunday. I think we might have gone to my Grandma’s once or twice, but I think that was when Easter fell on her birthday more than just an Easter celebration.

I can’t even say chocolate is my favourite Easter food, because I’ve always had to limit my intake of it. During my teens I didn’t touch chocolate for several years, as we weren’t sure whether it was contributing to my migraines. And even though I eat it now, it still affects me if I eat more than a small bar a day (sometimes even that affects me). I think maybe I need to create a new food tradition for our family…

8. What would you encourage others to think about during Easter time?

I think, for me, it is all about hope – even after the darkest days of our lives there can still be the most beautiful and transforming light that shines upon us. Whether you understand that in the Christian story of the Resurrection, or in a more secular view of Spring coming after the harsh Winter months, I think that message of hope is something we all need, now more than ever.

9. What activities do you take part in during Holy Week?

Um… none.

Actually, I once went with my friend (whose parents are Salvation Army Officers) on the Good Friday Walk of Witness, where various churches come together and walk down the High Street to the Cenotaph together. We randomly bumped into my Grandma there and so she and two of her church friends took me and my friend for dinner at the local hotel, which sticks in my mind as a really beautiful day of “togetherness”.

But other than that I really haven’t done anything during Holy Week. Maybe Little Man and I will take part in the Good Friday Walk of Witness this year…

10. Who else would you like to nominate to take part in the Easter Tag?

Okay, so I’m going to tag my friend Rachel, from Life Story, who is the only other mum with a young child at our church. We have some really fascinating chats about Christianity and faith, however I know that this may not fit on her website. So you’re not obliged to take part, Rachel!!

I’d also like to tag Lizzie Somerset, who I’ve come to know better this past year through a couple of Facebook Groups and the Share The Joy linky. It will be good to read your answers to these, Lizzie!

Finally, I’m going to tag Peter from Inspired By Faith, who to be honest would probably have taken part without the tag as I know he writes regularly about his faith. However Peter had a wonderful conversation with me when I first joined the Christian Bloggers UK Facebook Group and I’d love to read his answers to these questions!

And if I haven’t tagged you but you still want to take part, please do feel free to simply do so! All you have to do is copy and paste the questions below into your own blog post, and then share it with others. Have fun!

1. How are you celebrating Lent this year?
2. What does Lent mean for you?
3. What things have you given up for Lent in the past, and did you succeed or fail?
4. Have you ever taken part in an Easter bonnet competition? ( If so post the picture for us all!)
5. What is your favourite pancake topping?
6. How do you celebrate Easter Day?
7. What is your favourite Easter food?
8. What would you encourage others to think about during Easter time?
9. What activities do you take part in during Holy Week?
10. Who else would you like to nominate to take part in the Easter Tag?


Please note: there is an affiliate link in this post – if you click on the link to Amazon and purchase Karen Armstrong’s book, I will receive money for this.

Finding Your Place in the Church as a Progressive Christian (1)

Finding Your Place in the Church as a Progressive Christian

I hadn’t planned a post for today, but having just returned from a truly thought-provoking church service, I felt the need to sit down and share what is in my heart right now. You see, the visiting Minister who took the service today talked a lot about how difficult we often find it to share our faith with others. And for me this remains one of the biggest challenges I face in my own journey of faith.

For many, many years I didn’t even think I could fit into a church community. Ever since I first discovered the basic tenets held by most Christian churches, I realised that I simply could not accept some of them. I certainly couldn’t affirm a belief in the general understanding of the Trinity or the explanation for Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. In fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking that rejecting these basic principles meant that I couldn’t define myself as a Christian in any way. I believed that for a long time too.

But no matter how much I rallied against these ideas, I still felt drawn towards Christianity in ways I can only describe as God drawing me back to it time and again. I explored other faith traditions, and doing so helped to form the idea in my mind that there really is more than connects us than divides us in life. Yet no matter how many other paths I explored, I always came back to this desire to be part of the church community.

Finding Your Place in the Church as a Progressive Christian

When I first discovered the writings of Progressive Christian scholars such as Marcus Borg, I was thrilled to realise that questioning the general principles affirmed within the church didn’t automatically exclude me from being a Christian. I began to realise that even though I might not interpret the Bible in the same way as others, I could still turn to it for inspiration and guidance. And whilst I may not always agree with certain ideas, Christianity is far bigger than any one single person, church, or denomination.

Which is how I found myself regularly attending our local Methodist Church, because I finally felt like I could fit in. That’s not to say it is always easy. Despite the fact that I go to church most Sundays, I still feel more like a visitor than an active part of the church family. This has nothing to do with the congregation, who are wonderfully welcoming, it’s just that when you’re still trying to figure out how you fit in to the church, it can be very difficult to know how to do so.

For instance, Little Man has watched several children be baptised in the church and has expressed an interest in being baptised himself. Now, part of me knows he just wants to have a special day, and hasn’t thought that much about what it signifies (he is only 5, after all). But the reason I hesitate is not because of his lack of understanding, but rather my uncertainty over whether it is right for us to do so.

I have never been baptised and so if I choose to baptise him, I’d like to be baptised myself at the same time. But should we really do this when I know that I still haven’t figured out quite how I feel about and understand that part of Christianity. I wrote about how and why I was teaching Little Man about the Easter Story from a Progressive Christian point of view last year, and for the most part I am comfortable in the way we are exploring the Christian faith together. But there seems, to me at least, a big difference between our personal exploration of Christianity and a more public affirmation of our faith, such as baptism.

You may be wondering why this is such a big deal to me. We go to church, and our church is very welcoming and allows us to take part in communion whenever it is held, even though neither of us has been baptised. So in essence, it doesn’t stop us from being part of the church family. And yet, there is a part of me that feels like we still sit on the edges, looking in rather than being an active part of the church. And that bothers me.

there is a part of me that feels like we still sit on the edges, looking in rather than being an active part of the church

I know that most of this is my own hesitancy rather than anything the church is or isn’t doing to help me feel more welcome. But it does make me wonder why this is so hard, and just how many more people feel the same way that I do. The Minister today asked a similar question – how many people come so close and yet do not take that first step to enter into our community, because it feels unapproachable to them? Are we doing enough to share our faith with others and show them how welcome they would be to join us?

One of the things I love most about the church I attend is that I can see signs of this happening. There is a notice on the inside of the church which says something along the lines of, “it’s not our role to bring people to church, it’s our role to bring people to Jesus”. This speaks to me so strongly, because it reflects the ideas within Progressive Christianity that focus on building communities where there are many ways to experience and understand the Divine, and that it’s important that we, “accept all who wish to share companionship without insisting on conformity”.

And yet even with these signs in my own church, I still feel so hesitant to speak up, share my heart with others, and become a truly active member of the church. I still fear what will happen if I do. But I promised myself that 2017 would be a year of courage, and so it’s time for me to dig deep and find the strength to do so. Our Minister this morning called us to do just that – she phrased it as “God has thrown down the gauntlet”, and I love the image that evokes.

She reminded us that God challenges us sometimes, and though we may try to resist, it’s what we have been called to do. For me the message is loud and strong – I’ve been gifted with the ability to communicate and connect with others in such a way that my entire life has focused on these key skills. And yet in this one area I resist it so strongly, for fear of what it might entail. “Who am I to do or say these things when I don’t even know quite where I fit in yet?” I ask myself. Well, actually, who am I not to?

The truth is, I probably have far more in common with those who are hesitant about attending church than many other church-goers. I know what it’s like to come in as an outsider, someone new to the faith, with questions and doubts that I think may exclude me from the community. I also know what it’s like to walk a path between multiple faiths, drawing inspiration from other religious traditions as well as Christianity. And if that wasn’t enough, I also have such a passion for exploring faith and making it more accessible for others.

Which is why I felt I had to write a post today, after the message at church was so strong this morning. I needed to express what it’s like to attend church when you feel like you don’t quite belong, because it’s often a confusing place to be. And I wanted to challenge myself to step out of my comfort zone this year and truly try to find my place within the church as a Progressive Christian. Because finally I feel able to say that – I am a Christian, even though I reject some of the more common understandings of what this means.


I’d love to hear your thoughts on this – do you define the “type” of Christian you are, or just that you are Christian? How do you define what it means to be a Christian? Is it even possible to define it, or is it too complicated for words?

Don’t forget I am always happy to provide a space on this blog for you to share your own thoughts and experiences. I feel a major part of my blogging journey is to help express the diverse unity that exists within our faith communities, as well as society as a whole. So please, feel free to share your thoughts with me on this (even if you disagree with everything I say!!) 


I’m linking this post up with Share The Joy hosted by Lizzie Somerset, as it is a really special post to me and it gives me joy to know that I am finding the courage to put this kind of post “out there” in the hope of developing conversation with others who are passionate about talking about faith too, whatever that may look like for them.
Share the Joy linky at LizzieSomerset.com

Share Your Personal Faith Story Book

Diverse Unity – Finding You Belong In Faith

For a very long time now, I have felt like I didn’t really belong to any faith group, and that bothered me. It seemed like there were things I believed (or didn’t believe, as the case may be) that kept me from fitting in fully with Christianity (both the more mainstream communities and more liberal ones, such as Unitarians and Quakers) as well as other religions such as Paganism and Buddhism. It felt like I was floating somewhere between many different paths and as much as I believe there is truth within each individual path, and that there is more than connects us all than separates us, I still wanted to feel like I belonged somewhere.

I wanted to be able to explore my faith openly and with others, without fearing becoming an outcast by putting my foot in it somewhere along the line! I had found myself turned away from Christianity in my first year at University by the Christian Union (which gave me the impression that to be a Christian you had to fit into a very small definition), and later found myself kicked out of an online forum for saying the wrong thing and expressing a doubt! Looking back, these were two very small experiences that were totally balanced out by the welcoming and supportive communities I experienced in the local church at Uni and my time volunteering with Die Heilsarmee in Germany. But my fear of not “fitting in” was so great that I never allowed myself to fully open up in those groups and felt like I was always hiding something.

But faith is a funny thing, isn’t it? It grabs hold of you and refuses to let you go, even when you’re so angry and closed-minded about it. Over the past decade I have come back to this idea over and over again, and each time my heart has softened a little bit. I now go to church most Sundays and Little Man and I are enjoying exploring the Bible together through the Bible App for Kids every evening before bed. But even now there is still a part of me that hesitates to define myself as a Christian, and whilst I have considered baptism for myself and Little Man I have yet to arrange it because I feel like it would be making a declaration of faith that isn’t completely honest. Because there are still things that I believe (and don’t believe) which I feel are not necessarily the generally accepted ideas within Christianity.

Which is why it has been a complete surprise to me these past few weeks to discover that there are people who have absolutely no issue with calling themselves a Christian whilst having similar beliefs to me. I have discovered over recent months that there was a growing “liberal” or “progressive” movement within Christianity, having read books by Marcus Borg and John Churcher. And then even more recently a friend of mine, who I have always considered quite a “New Age Hippy” (like me), shared with me that her church (Episcopal) would never have dreamed of expecting her to give up her belief in Angels, Reiki, and the other “woo woo” stuff that I had been so scared of sharing with others.

My conversation with this friend included her suggestion that what I had long considered the “mainstream Christian” view might actually be more the exception than the norm – what an interesting thought! Yet I know there are others, like me, who have felt they have had to keep certain aspects of their lives hidden from their church family, because they fear its reception. And that still bothers me, because I have this issue with honesty… I feel like I am being dishonest not to disclose where my beliefs may differ, yet it’s such a tough discussion to have that I hide it anyway.

But time and time again I feel the nudge to take that leap of faith and open my heart to the endless possibilities that will come with doing so. I hear the message that I am a writer, a communicator, a facilitator, and I am meant to use these gifts to help both myself and others. Which is why I have recently started two new projects – one is a Facebook group (The Faith Space), where members can come together and discuss all things faith related in an open and non-dogmatic way; and the other is a new book, bringing together the personal faith stories of a wide variety of people.

I’m loving the conversations that are starting within the Facebook group, and am extremely excited about the book. It is my hope that this book will become an informative resource for new believers and those who, like me, are unsure of whether they “fit in” or not. By providing a space for a variety of people to share their own individual story of faith, I hope to show that there is so much diversity even within a single faith tradition, and that this diversity actually opens up Christianity as a warm and welcoming faith to those of us who may have felt we couldn’t belong for one reason or another.

More than anything, I want to show that there is not one “right way” to be a Christian, rather that we are all welcomed to follow in the footsteps of a man who was so radical in his own faith that he risked everything to show us the way to know God and love one another. Because, after all, didn’t Jesus himself ignore the religious teachings of his time when doing so allowed him to show love and compassion?

So here’s my invitation (or rather request) to you – if you would like to contribute your own personal faith story for the book, please do get in touch at admin@shortmanmedia.com and let me know! I’ll then send you out more details about the book and answer any questions you may have about it. I’d love to hear from you.

Share Your Personal Faith Story Book

 

Doorway

When One Door Closes…

…stop banging on it!

The past couple of weeks, I have been dealing with some really huge emotions. I’ve gone from being positive and excited about our new life (new home, new jobs etc) to utterly miserable about the things that we simply cannot do.

It started with sickness stopping us doing something as simple as a day trip to the beach (reminding me of how often our health keeps us from doing “normal” things) and continued with a really bad month with my Endometriosis (just in time for the ten year anniversary of my diagnosis) that made it even more obvious how much my health issues have prevented me from doing.

And then it was just a slippery slope (made worse by hormones, of course) into remembering how much I had looked forward to having and raising kids, only to have to stop after “just the one“. I cannot tell you just how much my heart and soul yearned for things to be different, for another baby to be in our future, for our “baby days” not to be over. So when the Endometriosis kicked off and made me realise that not only could I not have another child, I was also struggling to do all the things I desperately wanted to do with the family we already have, it all just got a bit too much.

Of course, it all became immeasurably easier once the hormones started to settle down (!) but there was still a sadness underneath it all that wouldn’t go away. Until yesterday…

I was busy looking up quotations to send in a little book to a friend who is going through a tough time of her own right now, and I came across this:

When One Door Closes... Reflections on Life

I can only describe my reaction to this as a kick in the gut. Within those two short sentences I found so much truth that it hit me right to my core. I realised that I had been desperately banging on closed doors, like a woman possessed, for far too long. And it was time to walk away…

When I look back on my life, particularly the past few years, I can see many moments in which I chose to keep fighting a losing battle. I chose to invest far too much of my precious (and limited) energy on trying to make something happen that I knew, deep in my heart, wasn’t right. I’m not saying that what I wanted was wrong, just that it wasn’t my journey to take. And whilst saying goodbye to our dreams is very often the hardest thing we can imagine, sometimes it is the best thing we can do.

I’ve known this, at some level, for a long time. I know that I have touched upon it, more and more over the years, each time coming closer to accepting it as one of life’s great lessons. I know this, because I can look back on my blog and see what I was thinking 3 months ago, a year ago, even five years ago. This is one of my favourite things about blogging – it gives you a tangible record of where you were at each point in your life, how you were feeling, and what you were thinking at those times.

When I look back over old posts, I can see recurring themes that crop up time and again. I see acceptance – accepting my limits, accepting the realities of life, and accepting myself. I see understanding – understanding the journey I’m on, the lessons I am learning, and how this impacts on how I live my life. And I see purpose – what I feel like I’m here to do, and how I achieve that.

However, I also see myself making the same mistakes, over and over again. I realise that this time last year I understood that it’s okay when life doesn’t turn out as planned, yet I still continue to try and make everything fit into an old ideal for my life. I see that at the beginning of this year I fully embraced living a life of “surrender” in which I allowed life to unfold as it did, without desperately trying to “fix” it, and yet I find myself forgetting how to do this. And I see that, yet again, I have been trying to ignore my body’s signals that something isn’t right and I need to make a change…

I have an appointment with my GP next Tuesday to discuss moving forward with dealing with the Endometriosis. It may well involve seeing a consultant to fight for something I have been thinking about for several years now but so terrified of pushing for. It certainly means walking away from a closed door. And in many ways, that scares the hell out of me, because once I walk away, there’s no turning back.

But the reality is that this door has been closed to me for a very long time. I’ve been banging on a closed door, holding myself in limbo, waiting for someone to find a way to unlock it and let me through. Even though that will never happen.

So today, I wanted to share with you the message that is carefully working its way into my heart and helping me to move forward… When one door closes, stop banging on it! Trust that whatever is behind it is not meant for you. 

Finding Peace in the Chaos with Mantras

Chanting For Peace

It’s no secret that life is pretty crazy here at The Patch. This year has seen us face redundancy and relocation, and whilst things are slowly beginning to settle down it is still far from peaceful. I’m currently balancing two new jobs, whilst building up my blog again (which is fun, but takes a lot of time). TJ is dealing with lots of changes at work, which is stressful enough without the added concerns of his own health. And Little Man is trying to adapt to life in a new city, which isn’t all that easy for a 3 year old to fully understand.

So with all this going on in our lives, I find that there is constant chatter in the back of my mind. I think at a mile a minute normally anyway, but with so much to think about on a daily basis right now it has become much more complicated. At the beginning of the year I set out some goals for the year. These included being more mindful, worrying less, and living more purposefully. Whilst on the surface it may seem like I am getting there, my internal dialogue is still constantly worrying about what the future holds and missing what is happening right now. I am, in essence, losing myself to the chaos around me, rather than finding a centre of peace within it.

Finding Peace in the Chaos with Mantras

And I want to change that. I want to embrace something which becomes a natural part of my day, setting me up for whatever happens by giving me some sense of internal peace. I have tried it before, making a promise to myself to pray, meditate or try yoga everyday, but it just hasn’t ever worked out. I get distracted, or I feel sick, or I just don’t feel I have the time, and it all falls by the wayside. Until now…

Whilst I was packing for our move, I tried listening to various radio stations, albums, podcasts etc but found I simply couldn’t focus on what I was listening to and focus on packing at the same time. It became more stressful than helpful. Until I discovered this version of Gayatri Mantra on youtube.

I don’t know how to describe how perfect it was… over 2 hours of music and chanting that was so easy to learn and sing along to. Focusing on the repetition of the words alone, even though I had no idea what they meant, was so therapeutic. I could think about what I was packing whilst chanting, because the pattern meant that it became easier to sing each time. I want to say that it meant I didn’t have to focus too much on the words, and that is true, but there was some thought involved because what essentially happened was that the mindless chatter and panicked thoughts that usually ran through the back of my mind began to disappear.

I’m not sure this is exactly how most people use mantras, but it is certainly working for me. Over the past few days I have listened to the Gayatri Mantra again whilst sorting out the bedroom, getting reader for work, pottering around the house… and the more I do it the more I find myself singing without the music too. I’ll be walking to work and it suddenly pops into my head, or I’ll be preparing lunch and the words just slip out. The combination of music and words seems to work so well for me, and I am beginning to really love the way that it quietens the fearful or chaotic thoughts that run through my head, helping me to find a calm centre from which to approach my day.

The weirdest thing is, I’d have never thought that chanting would be my thing! TJ first shared a few with me this time last year when he was learning some as part of his Shamanic Practitioner course. One of them was another of Deva Premal‘s tracks, and when he first played it to me I could feel the power within it, and I did enjoy joining in with him once in a while. But I never really made the time for it. Last year was, in very different ways, equally as chaotic as this year has been and I just don’t think I was in the best place to appreciate what it could offer me. I felt chanting was something I had no time for, especially as I read Eat. Pray. Love last summer and saw the dedication that was involved by the author during her time in India. Little did I know that even the smallest amount of time spent in this way would make a massive difference.

But now I know, and I want to embrace this wholeheartedly. I’ve decided that I want to make time for chanting every single day, even if it is only for 10 minutes in the morning as I jump in the shower. I’m hoping that, in time, I will find a way of making some dedicated space in my days for really focusing on the mantra, feeling the music flow through me and understanding what the words actually mean. But I know that if I set myself too great an expectation I will only give up. So for now I’m going to just try and make sure it is a daily activity, no matter how small.

I feel a particular affinity to the Gayatri Mantra, so I am going to try and stick with that for now, to really try and understand its meaning before moving on to another one. I’ll let you know how it goes. And if you chant, please do let me know what your favourite it, how you integrate it into your day, and what it means to you – I’d love to hear about it!

Beltane Altar White Spring Glastonbury 2012

Beltane Blessings

Beltane Altar White Spring Glastonbury 2012

Happy Beltane Everyone!

This past week has been one of many new beginnings for us as a family (a new home, a new nursery for Little Man, and two new jobs for me) and is the culmination of many months of preparation and waiting. It’s hard to believe that all of this was set into motion right back at the beginning of the year and is only just really coming to fruition, but I find it immeasurably satisfying to see how perfect the timing is.

Beltane is a celebration of union, of all the different parts coming together, and of the fruits of our labours beginning to come to us. It is a time of renewal, of new growth, and of preparation for the blessings yet to occur. We see this in nature, as the Wheel of the Year turns, and yet this year I also see it so very clearly in our own personal circumstances. And it feels good.

We had been hoping to make it to Glastonbury to celebrate Beltane this year, as it is 3 years since we were there with our dear friend for Little Man’s blessing. But I have to say that postponing our trip until later in the year so that we could move home and start a brand new chapter in our lives is more than worth it!

Today is a special day in particular – we hand over the keys to our old house, just as I begin my new job. How’s that for a new beginning? Having surrendered to whatever life may bring at the beginning of this year, it feels so special that life has brought us through the incredible uncertainty we faced at the beginning of this year and provided us with a beautiful fresh start at this glorious time of year.

It shouldn’t surprise me that I feel so connected to this particular time of year – after all my birthday falls in the same week as Beltane and we’ve chosen it as a special moment in our year before (for Little Man’s blessing). But what does surprise me is how much is happening this year in particular, and just how many things are really blossoming in our lives right now.

It’s not just the new house and new job either… they are external changes, but I can feel my heart changing too. Things that have remained hidden, or crushed, over the past few years are beginning to resurface and I find myself excited about embracing them once more. Like embracing spirituality, connecting with others, and celebrating these special moments in time.

And the more I open myself up to the possibilities, the more opportunities and encouragement I find. And Beltane is one such opportunity. We now live in an area where is is easier for us to connect with like-minded communities to explore our faith. We also have easier access to nature, parks, and our own little garden space with room for a veg plot! Celebrating the seasons and embracing their gifts is quite literally right on our doorstep, and we are determined to make the most of it.

For now, though, we will begin by creating our own little Beltane Fire to welcome us into our new home, and give thanks for the blessings that have already come to us. And the rest will all fall into place…

A Journey Through Prayer

Today I want to write about the journey I have been on recently, which in many ways is deeply personal and therefore rather scary to blog about. And yet it is having such a beautifully positive effect on my life, I feel like I need to share it.

How prayer, meditation and journalling have helped me in uncertain times

It all began at the very end of last year. 2014 was a hellish year for us. It followed several difficult years we had already survived and seemed to push us beyond our limits in a way nothing else had ever done. And I was broken. I have touched on this previously, but a lot of it never actually made it onto the blog at all. Needless to say, it was a very dark period in our lives.

I was so caught up in simply surviving that I couldn’t even enjoy the publication of the book, despite knowing what a massive achievement it was. Most days I felt like I was living on an endless spin cycle, dizzy with the inability to ground myself as I desperately gave absolutely everything I had to the many, many responsibilities I had upon my shoulders.

When I finally did ask for help, and things became immeasurably more stressful as a result, I found myself balancing precariously on the edge of reason, unable to eat or sleep, and obsessing over things I couldn’t change. I was lost and I couldn’t see a way to find myself again…

Until I prayed.

It’s not that I haven’t prayed before, but instead of a hasty “please help me” prayer, I sat down and really opened my heart. Beaten by life itself, I took a moment and let out a heartfelt prayer:

“Okay… I’ve tried it my way, and it isn’t working. I don’t know anymore what I want, let alone what I should do. I’m ready for you to show me the way forward, wherever that takes me…”

It is a prayer that I have never dared to say, because by surrendering so completely there is the possibility that something could come along that I do not want to face. But it felt like I had nothing to lose. My way really wasn’t working, in fact it was positively damaging me, so it couldn’t get any worse. What I didn’t expect, of course, was for things to get a whole lot better, almost overnight!

Within moments of saying those words, I felt the tears I had held inside come pouring out. The release was incredible, and I felt a warmth and calm wash over me. Nothing really changed that day, the circumstances that had led me to such despair were still there, but something had shifted inside my heart. I had opened up to the idea of being guided and supported – for the first time in a long, long time I didn’t feel the almighty weight of trying to make sense of everything on my own.

2 Corinthians 12:8-9

Over the next few days I began writing a journal, reading books and blogs online, and simply allowing myself to feel what I needed to feel. And I began to feel that things would be okay. I didn’t have to feel alone, even when I was alone, and that helped me immensely. I knew I had some difficult times ahead (although I had no idea just how shaken up my life was about to become) but I would be okay because I didn’t have to face them alone. I’d always have a quiet space to return to in prayer.

This led me to choosing Surrender as my Word of the Year. It also heavily influenced my goals for 2015. And all of it was perfectly timed because a few days later my whole world turned upside down. I returned to work after a month off sick, to find out that changes to the organisation meant I was facing possible redundancy.

As the higher earner in our family, redundancy is quite a scary prospect, however my reaction was incredibly calm. It just made sense – I had prayed for direction and direction was what I was been given. It was making me close the door on an area of my life that I had poured my heart and soul into, which I would normally have fought against. But instead, I chose to surrender to it, trusting that the closing of this door was to free me up for the place I now needed to be.

Let me stop here for a moment to really emphasise this point… at the end of 2014 I was on the edge of despair, and yet just a few weeks later, when my entire life became ultimately more stressful thanks to redundancy and all that this entails, I was so much calmer than I had been in a long, long time. This, more than anything else, proved to me the power of prayer!

Things seemed to happen really quickly after that – we found a new house to rent, far closer to my parents, and I attended two interviews for new jobs. And I really, honestly felt like everything was being perfectly orchestrated to lead me into the place I needed to be.

But it wasn’t quite that simple. The house fell through, the job interviews were unsuccessful, and I find myself at the beginning of March with no job and a house full of boxes but no new home to move to. That stress level just cranked up another notch.

I feel exhausted from multiple journeys to and from our new home town, calls and emails chasing people regarding paperwork and payments, and multiple hospital visits thrown into the mix, just to make things extra interesting of course! And my faith began to waiver that little bit once more… until I made the time to sit and pray again.

Looking in my journal, I realised it had been more than a month since I had really made the time and space to sit and be with my thoughts. I had neglected to devote time to prayer and meditation, which in turn had a knock-on effect on my ability to cope with what was happening. That’s not to say I was super stressed again (far from it), but I began to question what it was all about. Until I prayed…

Commit to the Lord whatever you do and he will establish your path proverbs 16:3

In the midst of my prayer asking for guidance and comfort, I felt a very distinct response as if someone were saying to me, “why do you think it isn’t working, just because it isn’t already sorted?” And I knew, right then, that my impatience was getting the better of me. Instead of trusting in the process, allowing myself to be guided even when I couldn’t see the way forward, I was trying to force things to happen in my own time – a sure way to stress myself out!

Patience isn’t a virtue I really possess. I want everything to be sorted now. It’s most certainly a big learning curve for me, this trusting process. And yet, it seems so easy when I remember to take the time out to simply sit in prayer and reflect upon how this makes me feel. I cram so much meaningless stuff into my day, and yet the thing that makes me feel the best so often gets left out. Why is that?

I don’t actually know the answer to that one, but I do know it is worth continuing to try and make it a priority in my day because when I do I feel so much better. My life is currently as crazy as it has ever been (crazier even) and yet I feel as if everything is going to be okay. And that is why prayer is becoming an important part of my life.

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I really want to write a quick note here to say thanks to the amazing team at Thrive Moms. It is through rewatching their Fall Retreat (which I initially wrote about here) that I began to pray in earnest. Whilst still not really knowing where I fit in when it comes to faith and religion, I do love getting their weekly newsletters and seeing the wonderful supportive work they do to help mums do more than simply survive motherhood (because, we all know, that some days that’s what it feels like!)