Books, Books, Books

I read a grand total of 43 (one book twice) books in 2016, a vast improvement on 2015.  For 2017 I would like to read a minimum of 52.

The below are in order as read, books that made most of an impact (good or bad) are annotated.

  1.  Simply Christian by Tom Wright – a great introductory text with simple explanations.
  2. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert – the tagline is “creative living beyond fear”.  Yes and yes!
  3. The Zahir by Paulo Coelho.
  4. The Pilgramage by Paulo Coelho.
  5. Longbourn by Jo Baker.
  6. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts – this is an “epic” novel.  It is very long and meandering.  I felt that at least 200 pages could have been cut out.  I realise that this book has a lot of fans though so do try it if your tempted.
  7. Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle – This is a wonderful book, a must read about a Priest who runs a non profit for ex gang members in LA.
  8. How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran.
  9. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis (re-read) fantastic, I love C.S. Lewis.
  10. Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert – I really enjoyed this as I prepare for my own marriage in 2017.
  11. The Childhood of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee – profound.  This will stay with you long after you read it.  Completely unexpected but I really loved it.
  12. Eleven Minutes by Paulo Coelho – this is a fantastic book.  Read, it, read it!
  13. Prayer Without Pretending by Rev. Anne Townsend – I am lucky enough to know Anne who preaches at my church.  This was a very insightful little book about prayer and making time for it.
  14. The Day I met Jesus by Mary deMuth and Frank Viola – I absolutely loved this book.  I found it so helpful in learning the stories of these women from the Gospels and having them put into perspective.
  15. Every Day Sexism by Laura Bates – a real eye-opener in terms of statistics, if not in terms of experiences of women.  A great movement to get behind.
  16. The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Fielder – I adored this, a really different way to present and write about mental health, for the better.
  17. The Drunkard’s Walk by Leonard Mlodinow – I can’t do maths, I don’t like it, this was too hard.
  18. The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory – I really enjoy her novels, I can’t put them down.
  19. Work Smarter, Live Better by Cecil Peupion.
  20. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.
  21. The Wealthy Woman by Mary Waring.
  22. Lean for Life by Louise Parker – read about this game changer here.
  23. Being Mortal by Atwul Gwande – really interesting about societies’ view of old age and ageing and death (not as depressing as it sounds).
  24. According to Yes by Dawn French.
  25. Finally Feminist by J Stackhouse – alright but not amazing.
  26. Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequest – I really needed this book and it is probably the book that made most impact on me this year.  I would recommend it to anyone (I read this twice).
  27. Nerd Do Well by Simon Pegg.
  28. The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking – a great little book, we could all do with some hygge.
  29. Small Victories by Anne Lamott – a beautiful writer, a collection of essays, some had more impact than others but I really enjoyed this.
  30. A Lineage of Grace by Francine Rivers – I found this really helpful in helping me to identify the stories of women in the bible as often these are overlooked.  I really enjoyed this.
  31. Daring Greatly by Brené Brown – a must read.
  32. Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton – good.  Not as good as Carry, On Warrior.
  33. Rising Strong by Brené Brown.
  34. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling and John Tiffany – I miss Harry and the gang.
  35. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (re read).
  36. Listening to God by Joyce Hugget.
  37. Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton (re read).
  38. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson – AMAZING.
  39. Still Life by Louise Penny – got into the Inspector Gamache books on the recommendation of Sarah Bessey.  Did not think I would enjoy it at first but really got into it. I just finished the second.
  40. Advent for Everyone by Tom Wright – very good a good programme for Advent.
  41. A Christmas Tail by Cressida McLaughlin.
  42. The Problem of Pain by C.S.Lewis – deals with a difficult subject for Christians.
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Brave #oneword365

I am taking part in the #oneword365 project.  You choose a word or more accurately, a word chooses you, to guide you throughout the year, rather than making resolutions. Sarah Bessey introduced me to #oneword365 through her blog.  As she says, the word you keep coming back to, that’s your word for the New Year, and it’s usually the one you least want it to be.

Last year my word was “committed”.  I have written and read more than I did in previous years and have definitely said “no” more, although I am still learning to pause, and probably always will be.  In August I found Louise Parker and her Lean for Life method and after several years of trying and failing to shift an extra 10lbs I was carrying I did it in 8 weeks and have kept it off as it is a lifestyle change, not a diet.  More about that here, if you’re interested.

I was committed to listening and praying to God about my calling throughout the year, asking for help and guidance about this career change I feel called to and the studying required.   After an intense application process I got in!  I start the part time counselling course in two weeks!  I am so thrilled about this opportunity and everything it brings with it; learning new things, doing something I feel passionate about and which genuinely excites me.

I will have a lot of change this year.  I am going back to college at the age of 31 (and a half) to learn about something that I hope and pray I will eventually do as a full time career.  I have to leave my current career. I have to actually give up my, secure, relatively well paid job, for uncertainty, as there is no alternative currently on the horizon.  I will still need to work full time – there are bills to pay!  This feels like a huge leap of faith, particularly with a wedding to plan and pay for in September.

I will be relying on my support network in the next two and half years a lot more than I have before.  I will be taking a backseat in the breadwinning department, relying on my incredibly supportive fiancé to be responsible for paying the majority of our mortgage and bills.  I will be requiring emotional support from him and my family and friends who I simply won’t be able to see as much.

I am usually the “helper” the “giver”.  I do not like to impose myself, my needs on others.  I do not want to be a burden.  For a while I was insisting that I could do it all: I could continue in my current demanding job (50+ hour weeks, no breaks, commute time and evening, weekend and holiday email checking – not boasting, believe me I wish it were different) and study every Saturday and complete the assignments.  All so that I could still pay my way on a 50/50 basis and contribute equally to the wedding.

My fiancé and my friends were insistent that I was being deluded, something would have to give and it shouldn’t be my dream.  Eventually, I have become more accepting that I will need help, that it is okay to rely on others.  Isn’t that what I’ll be learning about anyway?  That if it’s okay for others to ask for help, for assistance, then it’s also okay for me to do so – it shows some arrogance really to think I am different or better than others.

Brene Brown so succinctly says:

“Until we can receive with an open heart, we’re never really giving with an open heart.  When we attach judgment to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgment to giving help”.

My word for 2017 is – BRAVE and I really didn’t want it to be.  I wanted it to be something profound like, I don’t know, “transformation” something that implied this would be my best year yet and was going to be wonderful. A year of great change and personal growth that I sailed through with aplomb, perfectly juggling all the balls and never dropping one.

It will be, but let’s face it, there will be plenty of tears and times when it’s really hard and I’m really tired and money is tight and I can’t go out for nice dinners and I miss out on time with friends because I have to study or work.  When I was honest with myself about the coming year I realised that although I am excited I am also terrified. I have kept coming back to something Aslan says:

“Courage, dear heart”. 

Bravery.  Brave enough to quit my job, brave enough to trust that it will work out, brave enough to go back to studying and get the most out of it, brave enough to rely on everyone and brave enough to say “no” and brave enough to be selfish with my precious time.

What does it look like for you?  Maybe you need to be brave enough to set aside time for yourself? To take a break?  To start that hobby you’ve always dreamed of or to take the trip of a lifetime or just to travel somewhere by yourself?  It’s a new year, full of opportunities to make a change, to do something different.

Doing something different doesn’t have to be a big thing though.  It can be choosing to be kind, or to keep your temper when you would normally lose it, choosing to not to beat yourself up when you (inevitably) drop some of the balls or just plain old cock it all up.  When that happens you then need to be brave enough to start all over again or admit that you might need to stop and re start doing something completely different.

Sarah Bessey (I love her, in case you haven’t guessed)* wrote this amazing post which I come back to whenever I lose a bit of my nerve about pursuing this calling.  She says:

“If teaching or preaching or writing or managing or leading or painting or film-making or delivering babies or studying astro-physics or whatever it is makes you feel more whole, then darling, do it all to the glory of God and you’ll see the way it makes you come alive will stain your entire life with joy…It doesn’t have to be pretty.  It doesn’t have to be seamless and easy.  It doesn’t have to come together without struggle.  In fact, I can pretty much promise you that it’s going to be hard at times to create the room for your calling to be lived out.  But it will be worth it.  Because if it makes you feel alive, if it’s what God gifted and called and created you to do right along with everything else in your life, then we all need you to do it and also you need to do it”.

So, brave it is and brave it will be.

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Totally ready to go back to school – gold pencil case with my wonderful pin from a friend and my new stationary from another 🙂

 

* I was lucky enough to meet Sarah in person at the Woman to Woman Conference in London in October 2015.  After she had preached I queued up to get her to sign my copies of Jesus Feminist and Out of Sorts.  We had spoken over a Facebook a few times and I totally fangirled, crying as soon as it got to my turn in line.  Sarah was gracious and lovely and took it all in her stride.  I realised later that I hadn’t even introduced myself and had been carrying on like she knew who I was.  I emailed her to apologise and introduce myself and as ever, she was so polite and kind.  I am still mortified.

Lean For Life

I have dithered about writing about my new lifestyle for a while.  Truth be told, I’ve been a bit scared.  I am a self-proclaimed proud feminist.  I don’t think that all women have to offer the world is their looks.  I despise advertising which constantly tells women to be smaller, less, be good, conform, look a certain way – long hair, perfect eyebrows, shiny nails, big boobs and bum but absolutely no belly.  Don’t you dare have an ounce of fat on your belly, or cellulite, or stretch marks or wobbly thighs.

If you’ve had a baby, never mind that it took you nine months to grow it and your body has done an amazing thing – produced another human being and now it is producing food for that human being (if you choose to breastfeed, obviously) – what you should be worried about is how fast you can lose that baby weight.

There are always fad diets advertised – look!  Lose 20lbs in two days by starving yourself and then put it all back on when you start eating real food.

This upsets me. Glennon sums it up perfectly:

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Here’s the thing.  Listen well – You are not undeserving of love if you carry a few extra pounds or you have stretch marks.  The way you look?  Not the most important thing about you.  Being kind, compassionate, brave, wise?  Those things are important.

I am 31 and I love food.  Love it.  I also enjoy exercise and try to be a healthy, why?  Because I feel better, happier, more me when I am healthy.  There’s no comparison.

I used to be able to eat whatever I want (read: a minimum of two chocolate bars a day) when I was a Support Worker (read: under 25).  I was walking all the time between clients, I would say on average 4 miles a day and generally ate healthily apart from the chocolate.  I was happy with my weight, I felt healthy, I was also running and going to the gym.  I didn’t worry too much about the chocolate.

Then I got my “career job” and I sat down at a desk for 7 hours every day and I put on over a stone in a very short space of time.  None of my clothes fit.  I quickly lost 7lbs but try as I might I haven’t been able to shift that extra 10lbs.

This year I said I was going to be committed to eating healthily and exercising.  I am 31 and I want to be healthy, happy and nourish my body.

I want to exercise and run and do yoga so I can find my stride and my breath.  So I feel powerful and strong, not bloated and fatigued.

I get married this year(!) and I want to look good in my wedding dress.  I won’t apologise for that.

I do not want to look super skinny and tired and drawn.

I do not want to feel bloated and be self-conscious in my dress.

I want to look back at photos and think “I looked and felt the best I could on that day, and that was pretty amazing.”

I want to feel beautiful and strong and empowered on my wedding day.  I want it to set the tone for my marriage.

How you look and how you feel are personal to you.  It is relative.  I know I was never overweight, not a day in my life, but I didn’t feel as good as I knew I could and I didn’t like it.

In August I picked up Louise Parker’s Lean for Life book.  I flicked through it in Waitrose and thought, “Yes.  Real food, no fads, no shortcuts.  I like the look of this”.

You have to read the book, familiarise yourself with the four pillars and plan out your transform phase.  This is a lifestyle change not a diet.  It takes dedication and you have to be prepared.  You need to work out how you are going to meal plan and you need to stick to it, not keep stepping out of the circle every time you want to.

I work full time in a demanding job with minimal breaks.  Unfortunately, I cannot religiously stick to all of Louise’s principles when I am at work – I have to take my lunch and snacks in Tupperware, which isn’t particularly beautiful and often I am forced to eat at my desk, in front of a screen which is less than ideal.

I still did it though.  I moved every day, often walking part of the way home from work to get my steps up, I liked that I didn’t have to do Louise’s workouts exclusively (although I did them 2-3 times per week) and that I didn’t have to give up my running and my yoga.

I ate more food than I have ever done!  I had to train myself to eat breakfast, which is something I never did previously, and to start with I could not manage the portions in the book and had to halve them.

I found snacks and lunches that would transport to work easily and I said goodbye to alcohol and chocolate.

Sometimes it was really hard but to be honest it became easy and a natural way of eating much more quickly than I thought it would.

I forced myself to eat nuts, something I never did before and now I love almonds and cashews and pecans!

The thing is that the strict “Transform” phase is only temporary.  Nothing is off limits once you are in the lifestyle, nothing is “bad” you just have to get there and then you eat within the circle 80% of the time.

I did the transform phase for 8 weeks and I lost 10.25 lbs and the inches as you see below.  I completed the transform at the end of October, since then I’ve been on a Girls’ Weekend to Berlin, had Christmas parties and Christmas and New Year and so I have been living the lifestyle, stepping in and out of the circle, maybe a bit more out of late, and I am maintaining my weight. I have been surprised by how easy it has been.

Total Loss:

Weight – 10.25 lbs

Arms – 1 inch

Thighs – 1.4 inch

Waist  – 3 inches

Lower Belly – 1 inch

Bum/hips – 2 inches

I haven’t put up my original weight or inches because as I say, everything is relative.  It’s about being the healthiest and happiest version of you and that looks different for everyone.

I don’t want to make someone feel bad, or indeed, make myself feel bad by inviting comparison.  I have never had any children.  I will repeat that.  I have never had any children.  Also, I am 31.

I have always been a healthy weight for my height, I have pretty good self-esteem about the way I look.  Good for me.  I know it isn’t always that way for others.

In this selfie obsessed, instagrammable culture we live in where everyone puts a “filter” on their life and women are held to very high beauty standards it is very hard not to invite comparison and to feel that we are less than if we do not match up to beauty ideals.

The Louise Parker Method has never made me feel less than. 

It has never made me feel bad about the way that I look or the journey that I am on.

The Louise Parker Method is all about you as the individual – the goals you set.  What you want to achieve and how you feel.  It does not set a “standard” for everyone.

It is about nourishing your body, eating good food, learning about yourself and food and making positive changes forever.  I sleep better, my psoriasis had practically disappeared at the end of the transform phase, I have more energy and more confidence.

I would recommend this lifestyle change to anyone because best of all – you don’t become frightened of food.

The recipes are easy and delicious and as long as you prepare for the working week you can totally stick to everything whilst working long hours and commuting.  I feel better than I have in a long time and I am thrilled with my results.  They were right for me and no one else!

If you are looking to make a healthy, permanent change this year then this is a nutritious and healthy way to do that.  The online community over at Instagram is particularly helpful with all the #leanies helping each other out and providing encouragement and support.

Once you have made this part of your lifestyle you won’t want to go back.

If you want to see the type of food I eat – follow me on Instagram where I often post pictures of what I am eating.

 

 

N.B. All opinions are my own and I are based on my own, personal experience.

 

Advent and why I love it

I love Advent, the time leading up to Christmas, specifically the four weeks before, the start of the Church calendar.

I love the anticipation, the excitement, the decorations, doing “christmassy” things like eating too much and drinking mulled wine and eating mince pies and seeing family and friends but I also love it from a Christian perspective and not just a secular one, because it means our Emmanuel – our God with us – is coming.

Christians celebrate the arrival of Jesus’ birth every year, but the four weeks preceeding the main event are very special as we prepare, yet again for his arrival.  Of course Jesus has already arrived but every year we get to remember it again and go into the new year renewed in hope and love.

This year I have prepared by reading “Advent for Everyone” by Tom Wright.  I found it really useful to consider the Gospel of Matthew and learn more about what waiting means for us now.  Tom Wright uses the helpful analogy of a bicycle wheel to think of the church calendar – although we repeat the same things throughout of the year in a cyclical fashion we are not static – a bicycle wheel moves forward and as Christinas that is what we aim for – to grow in understanding and love.

2016 has been hard, hard on the world as a whole and hard on a lot of individuals that I know.  Syria and the news that comes out of there has been devastating, the global refugee crisis with so many displaced, incidents of racism on the rise, homelessness, poverty…it goes on.  It seems as though the scarcity myth has won out in recent times, a lot of people are believing that there isn’t enough to go around; not enough money, not enough love, not enough time, not enough understanding.  They seem to have turned inward, wanting to only help themselves and those that are like them.  The world has seemed very selfish, dark and scary at points this past year.

Advent reminds us to have hope, that the light, the light of the world is coming once again and that actually there is enough in Jesus; enough love, enough patience, enough compassion, enough hope, enough good – to heal us as individuals and to heal the world.

A lot of people mock this idea.  The Church and Christians have got it so wrong for so long.  Examples of Jesus?! Ha.

This is of course true.  Here’s the thing about our God and our Jesus though, they expect us to do better, to learn, to be.  to be the light of the world.  We are given this responsibility to be shining examples of Jesus’ love out in the world.  We are to help bring about God’s kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven”.

This is why I love Advent, because every year we have the opportunity to wait, to think, to learn, to grow.

Hope, joy and peace to all humankind.

A present day history lesson

Earlier this month I travelled to Berlin, Germany, with some of my girlfriends for what is becoming, an annual weekend away to places beginning with “B”…last year was Bath, perhaps next year will be Budapest or Barcelona?!

I have only been to Germany once before to stay with a friend of mine who lives and works out there but in a very “English” area.  What I saw of Germany on that trip, I loved.  The people were very friendly and services were efficient (I expected no less).  I hadn’t really had time to research Berlin before we departed (shameful I know) I was relying on all of my co travellers who had been at least once before to show me the city in short weekend there.

We arrived on the Friday and were staying at a great hotel which was super clean and reasonable near to Alexanderplatz which is good for shopping and for getting around Berlin.  On the Friday night we checked in and went for a stroll around before going to eat dinner at a restaurant serving traditional German fare.  We saw the World Clock on our stroll and wherever you are, you can’t miss the TV tower which dominates the Berlin skyline.

On the Saturday we did a lot of walking, we first went to the Ritter Sport store where we had a go at designing our own chocolate bar – mine had ginerbread, biscuit pieces and gold stars and I can confirm it tasted exceptional.  We then had kaffee and kuchen, that favourite of German traditions in the Rittersport cafe before continuing our walk taking in the sights at Checkpoint Charlie, where we had our pictures taken in a traditional photo booth – squeezing in the four of us was quite the challenge! and then on to the Reichstag building and the Brandenburg Gate via the hollocaust memorial.

 

It then absolutely chucked it down so we ecided to spend the evening close to our hotel, although we had been planning a trip for cocktails at the Monkey Bar which we had heard a great deal about but due to the weather, sadly didn’t make it there.  Instead we took in the sights of the Galleria food hall and had a picnic in our room before taking a team photo in our Berlin jumpers, purchased from Primark.  Natch.

On the Sunday morning we had time to take in the sights of the East Side Gallery  which has the beautifully preserved mosaics from the Wall displayed in the open, before getting our flight home.

Berlin is wonderfully fun and it is a walking history lesson.  Every corner seems to have a bit of history pointing out to us humans where we have gone so wrong in the past.  It was particularly poignant that just four days after our trip the results of the American election were in and it appears that the world is once again going backwards and not forwards.

In times like these I take hope in messages like this one on the Berlin Wall:

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“Many small people who in many small places do many small things that can alter the face of the world”.

It may feel like what we do as individulas doesn’t matter, but I am a firm believer that we were created to be kind and loving souls and that throughout histroy people have tried their best to love eachother.  Let’s all do our bit to be the kind, loving individuals that we were made to be.  Let’s stand up for people who might feel scared at this particular time – let’s do that by speaking out and showing our love.  Don’t be silent in the face of hatred – do.  Make the world better, kinder, more loving and start with the people next to you, the ones you come in to contact with.  Challenge racisim or sexism or any other kind of ignorance you come in to contact with and show the world that Love Wins.

 

 

Pausing, Two

Something changed in me last year.  I had started doing the She Reads Truth Bible Reading Plan – reading the entire Bible in a year – and the more I read God’s word the more I wanted to know God.  The more I wanted God to know me.  That sound ridiculous because of course, God already knows me, all of me, but I wanted a real relationship with God, one where I was really hearing God.  Not just saying thank you and asking for things -:“Hi God, how are you?  I’m doing okay, Thank you so much for my wonderful boyfriend, friends and family I am so lucky.  I know that.  Please keep them safe.  Sorry about that thing I messed up, I’ll do better next time, I’m trying, sorry,  Oh and by the way, can you send your peace to X because they are really struggling, I’m fine.  I’m lucky, my life is really easy in comparison, I know that”.

I’ve given that up now.  Now I come to find Jesus.  I come when I am joyful, when I am weary, when I am thankful, sad or anxious.  I don’t try and qualify my feelings now.  Everything is relative.  It’s not a competition where only the worst cases are deserving of God’s attention.

Since summer 2015 I’ve been working on saying no, making time for me, making time for God, exercising, writing and reading.  Doing all the things that make me “me” and make me feel present.  Saying “no” is really hard for me, I am by nature a bit of a people pleaser and I find it hard if I feel like I am letting others down.

In September, I went on a mindfulness retreat at Burrswood which is a fantastic place, it has a hospital part offering hydrotherapy and respite care, there is onsite counselling and retreats and has weekly healing services.  I’ve wanted to go on a retreat for ages, and this came up at the right time earlier this year.  I now know how important it is for me to stop, to relax and to accept help.  I spent four days at Burrswood and I have never felt so relaxed in my adult life, honestly, I can’t remember a time that I have felt so relaxed and content like that, I think it might be before I started university, the summer after A Levels and before starting my degree.

I find practicing mindfulness hard.  I have kept it up (and I’m quite proud of myself for doing so) since the Retreat.  I find it hard to focus on my breath though, I get thoughts all the time – you are taught to try and acknowledge the thoughts and let them pass.  I have trouble with the last bit, I tend to wander away with the thoughts, so it’s a good job I am using this book and CD guide so that I can be led back to the present:

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Being in the present is what mindfulness is all about.  Acknowledging your thoughts and feelings, noticing your surroundings.  Paying attention.  Peace.  Not rushing through life at 100mph trying to tick everything off of your endless mental to do list.

This is the theme of “Present Over Perfect” by Shauna Niequist.  I’ve read it twice.  I think this book might have been written just for me.  Shauna talks about laying things down, learning how to say no, living simpler.  The tagline for the book is “Leaving Behind frantic, for a simpler, more soulful way of living”.  Yes, I thought, that is definitely what I need.

Shauna says about saying no:

“It was very difficult for me to learn to say no.  I did it badly, awkwardly, sometimes too forcefully, and sometimes with so many disclaimers and weird ancillary statements that people actually had no idea what I was saying.  I hovered endlessly after I said it – was that okay?  Are we okay? Because I love you – you know I love you right?  We’re okay?”

I know this feeling well.  I have always been the girl who said “yes”.  Yes I’ll come and visit you on that weekend and yes I’ll see my family the weekend after and Yes I’ll do that with you the following Saturday and Yes to after work drinks and yes to staying late, yes to volunteering and yes to serving coffee at church and yes to being on that committee.

The thing is saying all those yeses meant that I was also saying no.  No to rest, no to time to myself, no to time to write, no to time to read, no to time with God, no to time with Carl, just us two.  That’s a dangerous pattern to fall in to.

There’s nothing wrong with yes.  Yes is fun and leads to wonderful memories, laughter and time with family and friends, opportunities and adventure.  It has to be balanced with a bit of no though…or perhaps more yesses but yesses to things like rest and quiet time.

I hope I am more balanced now.  I am trying.  I still fall into the yes trap, sometimes I do it because I am worried about disappointing someone.  Now however, I respect my nos and I respect other people’s nos.

There is nothing wrong with setting boundaries.  As hard as that is to do sometimes.

Here’s to embracing the pausing.

Pausing, One

Anxiety is no friend to logic.  You might “know” something but your body betrays you.  You feel like you have something heavy sat on your chest.  You can’t breathe deeply enough.  Your airways are tight.  Your chest doesn’t expand properly.  It feels like there’s a rubber resistance band strapped around your lungs.  You feel sick and your stomach is upset.  You obsessively and compulsively bite all of your nails down to the quick.  Tears are never far from behind your eyes.

It is the absence of peace.

In August 2015 I turned 30.  That summer I experienced a prolonged feeling of anxiety for the first time.  Lots of things happened and turning 30 seemed to bring it all into a sharp focus.  I had changed my job four months before and I suddenly realised that it wasn’t the job, it was me.  I was working long hours and was very stressed at work.  There was an altercation with my neighbour which left me feeling vulnerable at home.  I felt unanchored and a little bit lost.  I didn’t know what I should be doing for a career, could I really change?  I had spent so much time and energy (and money) getting to where I was.  Other people really want my job, it felt a bit like a betrayal to be thinking about changing careers.

I have experience (a long time ago now) of working in mental health.  So I did what I advocate, I acknowledged the way I was feeling, tried not to beat myself up about it and I was honest with my inner circle.  I also went and spoke to my doctor.  My doctor upon listening to me said he wasn’t surprised I was feeling like that, and suddenly, just like that I started to feel better.  Sometimes all we need is someone independent, someone outside, to take a look at our life and offer us some reassurance that we are not weak or crazy.  Sometimes it takes more than that and that is okay too.

It was then that I decided I needed to make some changes.  I felt like I had missed some warning signs – just in case anyone else is unclear – throwing up before you go to work every morning is definitely a warning sign that all is not quite right.

I wanted to step back, to make more time for me, to relax.  I was so tired.  Tired of being busy and doing and pleasing everybody and feeling like I was failing myself.

I decided I had to learn to say “no”.  I wanted to be more selective about where I spent my time.  I didn’t want to be rushing all the time trying to fit everybody in and making no time for me.  I wanted to do more creative things.  Mostly, though I wanted to spend more time listening to God.  Actually, learning to listen to God, discerning his will for me rather than trying to control all aspects of my life and just ask for his help when it got hard.

I wanted to know what I was being called to do.  There is a part in “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho, where the boy is being taught about the path, about how if you are on the right one then the whole universe conspires to help you and you keep seeing signs to let you know you are following your destiny.

The idea of counselling as a profession had been in my mind for a few years after a throw away comment from a friend and I hadn’t done anything about it until I signed up to an Introductory 12 week course at CityLit in January 2015.  I had really enjoyed the course but then had changed jobs and kept plugging along in “the real world” when the wheels started to come loose and I realised that actually, I couldn’t keep on.  I prayed a lot about it, and decided that I would need to get a job back in London to have any hope of being able to study part-time.

In November I put my CVs out to a few places, by December I had an interview and I was honest an open with the interviewer and she gave me some names of other places where I could apply as they were interviewing someone else.  By the first week of January I had a new job a commutable distance for part-time study.

Then the doubts came.  I wondered if this really what God was calling me to do or if I just wanted to do it because I didn’t like what I was currently doing.  I decided I would give the new place “a fair go” before making my decision.

I have been chugging along, keeping on, ticking over, I tried, I did.  But I think that that constant little nudge toward counselling in the back of my head that won’t go away is there for a reason.  I have found a part-time counselling course that I can apply for this January, it will be a big commitment – every Saturday from January to July, and it will be a scary process, going back to studying part time (at my age) and giving up some security in the job I have now, but if I have learned anything over the past year and a bit it’s that it will be worth it.  The application process for the course opens next month and closes pretty soon afterwards, they make quick decisions about who they let in it seems.

Last week I was pretty stressed with work, I guess the fact that the application process will be opening soon has also been in the back of my mind, I was working long hours again, often on my own and I experienced anxiety again, seemingly out of nowhere.  That horrible sick feeling, the feeling that I am crap at my job and making all of the wrong choices.  The feeling that everything is out of control.

I went, every day last week for 10 minutes to the church across the road.  I just wanted to sit at the feet of Jesus, and pour out my troubles to him and ask him for his peace, he doesn’t disappoint.  I had found this on Pinterest a few days before, and thought it may help those of you who also experience anxiety, as it helped me:

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The feeling passed more quickly this time, I have learned how to manage it better, how to acknowledge the feelings and I have learned that they will pass.  I have also learned that I need to have a positive attitude toward it, anxiety can suck you in and down if you let it.  This week I gave myself a stern talking to, I reminded myself that I am on the path and that it isn’t always straightforward, I have to push through and do hard things.  I can do that.  Paulo Coelho reminds us that:

“I can choose either to be a victim of the world or an adventurer in search of treasure.  It’s all a question of how I view my life.”

I am definitely choosing to be a positive thinking adventurer, one who isn’t scared to try new things and grab opportunities with both hands.  I am not going to give in to the fear or the anxiety.  I am on the path and I am trusting in God and my heart to lead me to my destiny, back to the soul of the world.