I just wanted to end the year by sending you my new poem , partly on a Christmas theme. It’s been such an odd year, no one could have predicted what was to come.
But I’d like to wish you all a wonderful Christmas, whatever that looks like for you. I pray you’ll be able to take the day as it comes and remember the good things, no matter how small and simple they are.
I look forward to greeting you again in the New Year, and just wanted to make you aware that I’ll be running an online Winter Wellness workshop on Thursday 21 January in the evening. Please email email@example.com to register your interest. More details to follow…
Recently I’ve been reading Liz Carter’s new book, Treasures in the Dark, a mixture of poetry and prose, written whilst she was shielding during the national lockdown earlier this year. Her poetry is so expressive and the sections of the book are divided into the seasons of the year, each piece pointing to the hope we have in Jesus.
Liz lives with a chronic lung condition, thus why she was shielding. Her 1st book, Catching Contentment, was written out of living with this condition as a Christian who hasn’t yet fully experienced God’s healing but has found ways to know God’s presence and some contentment through it all.
Reading her Easter poems from her Treasures in Dark Places book, I was drawn to Friday, expressing the pain of Christ’s crucifixion seen through the eyes of a disciple:
We weep for you
our tears are our food
day and night
our souls wrenched apart
shards of desolation pierce our hearts
Yet you capture our tears
gather the great oceans of them blend them with your own
you shoulder our agonies
and you sit inside them with us you are torn for us
but ‘do not weep,’ you say, ‘take courage,’ you whisper.
We join in the groaning of all creation dive into echoes of exultation
ache for the song of restoration
and wait with fragments of tear-washed hope.
The second line of the first verse is based on Psalm 42 : 3 where an upset King David is thirsting after God , crying out to the one who saves for help. How often do I come to God in the difficult times? Cry out to Him for all that I feel, lament and mourn? It’s so easy to look to other people or things first for comfort, yet God knows what we need, before we even ask.
The second verse starts with:
“Yet you capture our tears
gather the great oceans of them
blend them with your own
you shoulder our agonies
and you sit inside them with us.”
These words leapt out at me when I first read them and were a great comfort in a difficult time, coming to terms with some bad news for a loved one. That Jesus is with us in our sorrow and pain, sitting with us and catching our teardrops is a strong reminder that he understands even our negative emotions and sits with us through them. We are not alone, no matter how we might feel or what we are enduring.
The news I had received had pulled out all kinds of emotions after initial numbness: positive and sad memories, guilt and a rawness and vulnerability that came from deep within. I had to bring all I was feeling and thinking to God and surrender the pain into His hands to relieve the burden and ask for His wisdom for how to act moving forward.
There is hope that there will be a time when God will wipe away every tear (Revelation 21) and there will be an end to our suffering when we leave this life behind. This brings comfort in the here and now, despite what is being thrown at me. Jesus in his death knows the pain and hurt that the world has endured for all of time. He knows the full and unfathomable weight of that burden and remained faithful to it, even to a death He didn’t deserve on the cross – fully man, yet fully God. It’s mind blowing, a mystery but also brings liberation and peace to a hurting a wounded world.
Is there any pain you need to bring to God today? Remember that He ‘catches our tears and sits with us, no matter how great that hurt may be.
Liz’s new book, Treasure in Dark Places, is available from Christian bookshops, Waterstones and online at Amazon. For more information about her book and where to buy it, click here.
As we draw closer to Christmas, how are you feeling? Do you feel prepared and have a plan ? Or are you filled with anxiety or worry or even dreading it?
A few weeks back I attended my local Recovery College ‘s “Coping with Christmas” online course. This has helped me to think about how practically I want us as a family to do Christmas this year & in a way that brings some joy rather than mainly stress.
Some tips to manage stress :
Breaking tasks down into small steps, e.g. cooking Christmas dinner.
Make a Christmas budget so that you don’t overspend. Include presents, food, travel, trips, donations, etc. & any extra costs you may have over the Christmas period.
Think about the things you find most difficult over the Christmas period., e.g. finances, relationship, emotions, health wise). Write them down. For each one, come up with how you can overcome this difficulty.
What are the good things you enjoy about Christmas? List them. Look at them when you feel stressed, overwhelmed or anxious to remember the positives.
Boundaries : Think about what is manageable & what’s not. Be clear with family/ friends and stick to these.
Self care: What activities will relax & recharge you ? Diarise time to do them, e.g. exercise, quiet time, have a hot chocolate or chat to a friend.
When you start to feel stressed, what helps you to destress? For me, doing some deep breathing or mindfulness really helps in the moment.
Be kind to yourself. How is your self-talk in your head? Is it negative or self-critical? Stop yourself if you notice unhelpful thinking and write it down. Would you speak to a friend like this? What’s a more kind way to speak to yourself? Say this to yourself instead. If you notice these negative thoughts are constant or your mood has been low for more than 2 weeks, this is the time to get help. Make an appointment with your doctor. Cognitive Behavioural therapy (CBT) may help.
As a Christian, I also find reminding myself that what we’re really celebrating here is the birth of Jesus. He came down to earth, fully God, yet fully human, to restore our relationship with Him. Putting my focus back on God can put all the other tasks into perspective.
Reflecting on what you’d like Christmas to be like this year, after such a different 2020 to what we expected, how are you going to prepare for Christmas? How can you put your focus back on God?
Whilst reading Dr Kate Middleton’s Refuel book about managing stress and avoiding burnout, one piece of advice really stood out. She talked about taking some time out, even a few days, to rest and recover.
Fortunately, I’d been watching an online retreat from the Royal Foundation of St. Katharine’s and discovered that they were open for overnight stays. Swiftly I decided to book a two-day retreat for the following week. I couldn’t wait! After several months of being unable to find any respite, (I am a carer to one of my sons with special needs), I had become quite desperate for some space to myself. It gave me something to look forward to, kept me motivated for the wait I had to endure.
I was quite busy beforehand and didn’t really have time to plan ahead as to what I’d do whilst there. I started packing the day before but kept it to a minimum so that I could practise some simplicity whilst there. However, I include some items to pamper myself with, such as nail varnish, a face pack and an uplifting shower gel (to name but a few items!)
On the spiritual front, I also packed some Christian books to help me to destress and focus more on God. I was able to finish ‘If Not Now, When?’ by Fernando de Paula: a really helpful book, showing me how to better live in the moment and value each day that God has given me. I started reading this during lockdown but wasn’t in the best place to receive it. Over time my improved mood has meant that I have been more motivated and hence more open to completing the activities at the end of each chapter. On some level I’ve been able to let go of the past, feeling more positive and looking forward to what God has in store for me.
I have continued with Refuel and the chapter on staying calm that discussed practising mindfulness and introduced an exercise to try out really stood out. Previous chapters had looked at 1 Kings 19: where Elijah has just defeated the prophets of Baal and was experiencing a low period after the adrenaline rush of this event. I reread this passage and contemplated how God refuelled him – Kate made the point before there was any healing for Elijah God made him rest, eat and drink. I was thankful to be in the tranquillity of St Katharine’s that was already providing these things. The food there was amazing, not having to cook, having healthy, gourmet dishes, really helped my mood and physical body. I felt challenged to be more mindful of making healthier and appetising meals on arriving home, increasing my fruit and vegetable intake that I’m sure my family will appreciate the more appetising bit!
Slowing down my daily pace also helped and I’m aiming to maintain this in even small ways, now too. I was kind to myself about relaxing my quiet time in the mornings so that it didn’t feel so rushed or a tick box exercise. The first morning I attended Morning Prayer in the Chapel and focussed on the liturgy and just being present in the moment. It felt so good to just breathe and ‘be’ a bit. No agenda, no plans apart from breakfast, lunch and dinner! I decided to do some writing for my mental health memoir around the theme of retreats!
The weather was beautiful, so I could sit out in their garden in the afternoon to eat lunch or read a book. I loved just enjoying the warmth of the sun on my face. I found journaling my thoughts really helpful, sometimes turning these into prayers for the issues I was grappling with.
I’d planned to meet up with an old friend living nearby and we met over a coffee at the Yurt Café, also run by the Foundation. It was a glorious sunny day to be sitting outside. It was wonderful to catch up on the past 2 years or so and how our kids were doing. In fact, it was a Spirit-filled time where we were able to share and pray for each other, picking up our friendship where we’d left off.
From the library I’d borrowed a few books: a meditation with art book by Sr Wendy and Surprised by Joy by CS Lewis, the first part of his autobiography. It was interesting to read about his childhood and where his Christian beliefs had started from. It was useful to see his writing style to feed into my own memoir writing too.
There was also plenty of time for solitude too: I woke early each day and took a walk down to the River Thames, a short walk from the Royal Foundation. One day I walked via Shadwell Basin to Wapping, whilst the next day I walked in the opposite direction to Canary Wharf , giving me the space to enjoy God’s natural and manmade creations which were awesome and quite overwhelming with the towering buildings! I saw the sunrise on Day 2 and caught some great light for my photos, including views into the City, across the River and of Canary Wharf. Sometimes I listened to worship music on my way but at other times enjoyed the silence and beauty around me.
I found the liturgy comforting in the Chapel services. Isaiah 43:18-20 leapt out at me:
“I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert
To give drink to my chosen people.”
God often speaks to me through water imagery and these verses gave me hope, a sense of being refilled and refreshed, ready to return to the real world.
My time away may have been different to previous retreats but one that blessed and uplifted me, restored and renewed me. As I assimilate back to family life, I intend to keep some of these practises alive to remind me of how God spoke to me and how to daily live this out.
Is there some way or some place you can get some quiet time to be with God? What does that look like for you? Perhaps diarise some time to make this happen in the next week or so.
With World Mental Health Day just around the corner, I want to reflect on how all things writing that have helped me get through the past 6 months. Part of that has been practising what I preach on writing for wellbeing and recovery.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t always been easy. There was a point in lockdown where I was struggling with depression, in part due to running away from how I was feeling. It was at that point that someone challenged me to start writing down how I felt again and face my fears. It took a while and initially took the form of single sentences acknowledging the negative thought, eg. “I’m not good enough at this.” Then it evolved more into journalling, a mixture of feelings and reflections on why I felt like that. Over time it has become a daily practice, sometimes a paragraph, sometimes a page or two, depending on my mood. In my more creative moments it has been a poem or blog. The result has been a lifting of my mood, fresh perspective on my situation, and a greater ability to problem solve. And so I’m coming to terms with being a poet and often this is how I express my deepest thoughts or process a situation I’m going through.
Tomorrow (9 October) to celebrate World Mental Health Day, I will be running a session using poetry to express how we feel, alongside Amanda Epe and Jo Robinson. I’m excited and looking forward to sharing some of my own poetry. If you’d like to find out more or book your space, click here.
Writing can take many forms, and it’s about finding out what works for you. Self-expression is important. It can help us better understand ourselves and take those thoughts buzzing round our heads and get them out into the open or onto the page.
What can you do today to acknowledge your thoughts and get them down on paper?
In the final moments of his life, it is documented, George Floyd was heard calling for his mother. I do not know how loud was his cry given that Derek Chauvin was kneeling on his neck. But it was loud enough for those present to hear him. As well as others around the world.
Diana Spalding of the Motherly website wrote, “When mothers around the world heard this, we let out a collective wail. Because deep down in the depths of our beings, all we ever want to be able to do to is come when our babies call us.” Shared humanity. Shared agony. The humanity of another has to be recognized for agony to be shared.
Ms. Spalding continued in her article, “I’m here, my love, I’m here. George Floyd’s mother couldn’t say that. But we can. Not in time to help Mr. Floyd, but please, dear God…
Posted with permission @mindinharrow from Instagram
I am thankful for a week’s rest from work and other admin but it’s been a challenge to switch off and stay off social media. However I now see the mental tiredness that being on a screen so much brings and the greater sense of peace that resting from it brings.
Taking more time for self-care and resetting boundaries with my family have also been of benefit over the week. Although I didn’t intentionally plan it, there’s been breakthrough as I’ve had a mini retreat and more time for God, soaking up the healing environment of the hills and mountains . More to follow on Instagram this coming week….
I know it’s been a bit quiet from me recently on the blog front. The beginning of lockdown was quite easy to manage but the past two months or so my mood dipped. I’ve been trying to focus on improving my wellbeing, including facing how I’m reallyfeeling by journalling. For a while I found myself not really wanting to ￼address how I felt and so stopped writing my ‘morning pages.’ These are the equivalent of writing a journal, although somewhat longer (prescribed as 3 pages per day.) See Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way, for more details.
Instead, I’m now writing a few lines (sometimes more) when I wake up to summarise how I’m feeling. I might add in what’s really helped ( a high point) or emotions I’ve really been wrestling with. It helps me to make sense of where I am emotionally but also may help me to gain some fresh perspective or problem solve about how to move forward. James Pennebaker is a social psychologist who’s done extensive research into the power of expressing emotions, either verbally or in writing and how this can enable emotional, as well as, physical recovery from illness. More about his research and its health benefits are discussed further in the Writing for Recovery training workshops I lead. Click here to contact me to find out more about the workshop or to make a booking.
Gratitude is another kind of journalling that focuses on what you are thankful for each day. When I first heard about this, the advice was to think of 3 things that you’re thankful for just before going to bed. That way you go to sleep in a contented frame of mind. Current advice during lockdown is to write 5 or 10 things to say thank you for, and as a Christian I tend to frame it as “Thank you God for….” but you can also put it as “I am thankful for…”. To be honest, appreciating 5 things from my day is usually enough for me. A friend of mine had said that keeping a gratitude journal has really helped her to keep her mood on an even keel throughout lockdown.
How about having a go at journalling for yourself? All you need is a notepad/ Pc/ mobile and pen to get started: try writing one word to describe how you currently feel. What’s contributed to you feeling that way?
As you start to write, the words may just start to flow and you find yourself getting a few paragraphs down without thinking too much about it. Even if you recognise the emotion you’re currently feeling, that’s encouraging self-awareness and can lead to further reflection about why later on.
I’d love to hear how you get on, so please add a comment below or email me.