A blast from the past…reflecting on my first publication, gratitude for surviving teen puberty and a calmer life!

Just before leaving for our family holiday, I came across my achievements folder, which included this old 1990 Wycombe High School magazine. I’d kept it as the editor selected my cartoon of the return from a Duke of Edinburgh expedition. Surprised that it had been included, particularly as I’d forgotten to add my name, it makes me smile.

Fast forward twenty nine years later, and it’s my elder son’s turn to experience the Bronze Duke of Edinburgh expedition: this time by canoe! At the award ceremony, I found tears of joy springing up, to see just how far he’s come in the past 2 or so years.

From a socially isolated , angry and mixed up teen, fighting the changes through puberty, to a well-balanced, thoughtful and caring young man who is confident in his own unique identity and able to express his views in a respectful and clear way. In fact, he shocked his fellow students and teachers whilst on the trip, by finding his voice by assertively directing each team member in their rowing, ensuring the group made it to their destination in time! I am thankful for all the good that have come out of my son’s difficulties these past few years, as God has brought healing and redemption to a hugely painful time in our family.

We have just returned from a week in the wet, wilds of the Scottish Borders, refreshed, refined and relaxed, having built new family memories, where we’ve been blessed by each other’s company and learned more patience and tolerance of each other’s weaknesses!

Beauty comes from within..

Just watched this video of @TulsiDivine108, about living her life with burns, after a horrific plane accident. It really moved me, but the key message I heard was that she realised that it was others’ judgements on her physical appearance that was a limitation, not herself. I hope this video inspires you today!

https://www.instagram.com/tv/BxxByktFmw-/?igshid=ypppalys0olk

A prophetic poem from “A Desert Transformed”: Tracy Williamson’s new 40 day devotional book

I am pleased to feature an extract from Tracy Williamson‘s soon-to-be-released devotional, “A Desert Transformed“, on my blog today. Tracy is one part of MBM ministries with Marilyn Baker.

This poem is part of Day 3’s Devotional on the woman at the well with Jesus (John 4:7, 27-28):

Please could you give me a drink?

Won’t you look into my face?
Let down your guard of distance,

Look child, my beloved one,

Can you not see, I thirst.

I thirst for love of you.
You know your own pain
And shield your face from me,
Lest you be hurt yet again.
I gaze on you, see your heartache,
The scars that hurt you deep within, And my heart aches with love for you.

But child, will you not look
And see how, in my own scars,
I bear your every wound, every sin?

Child, I love you,
Will you not come give me a drink?

“What drink can I give you?”
I hear you cry.

Do you not know, child?
I thirst for you, for your love,
For you to be with me
As I love to be with you.
I thirst to share my heart with you, For you to share yours with me. To open wide the door of wonder

In your heart, mind and soul.

Child, it is I, who stands at that door,

Yes, I who speak to you am He.
And I long to be with you,
And for you to be with me.

I see a dawning of hope in your eyes
But then you cry “But what can I give you?

I am empty, my love is so small.
I’ve failed and I don’t know how to be.”

I reach out my arms to you,
Child, I know, I know all.
Give me the drink of your very emptiness

And I will give you my streams of love,

Love welling up to eternity.

I gaze at you with all the longing of my heart, as you will see I am the answer
To all the longing of yours.

Child, beloved one, will you give me a drink?

And with a joy that bursts from my very core

I see you come and sit at my knee
And there you offer your drink to me.

Whilst on Retreat at Ffald-y-Brenin, nearly 2 years ago, I came across an open spring on the path I was walking, and God reminded me of John 4:11,13-14 (The Bible, NLT):

Jesus replied, “If only you knew the gift God had for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me and I would give you living water,”…..”Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give them will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”

To see a visual of this passage really brought home to me my need to be constantly filled with this Living Water, God’s Holy Spirit, at a time when I was spiritually feeling really depleted. Tracy’s poem nudges me to look to Him again for all I need, whether feeling exhausted and in the desert or fully of energy and hopeful of the way ahead.

Have you asked God for His Living Water today, for whatever circumstances you find yourself in? Why not spend a few minutes now inviting Him to be your source, equipping you for the path ahead, receiving whatever He wants to give you now?

What happens once Mental Health Awareness week is over? #mhaw19

I’d hoped to have published this blog a few days ago, to coincide with the end of #mentalhealthawarenessweek. However, I’ve also been working on a short autobiographical story, which I’ve now submitted, which I needed to complete first.

I just wanted to share some helpful resources and activities that have improved my own mental health recently:

1. Running or Exercise

This is particularly helpful for overcoming anxiety. Check out the NHS Couch 2 5K app, over 9 weeks, it takes you from mainly walking, inter-dispersed with short periods of jogging, gradually building up to running solidly for 30 minutes, 3 times per week. By the end, you are running 5 kms. I started in January, and this was my 3rd attempt to complete it, so I was overjoyed when I finished Week 9, Run 3! The aim is to keep going with the running and I’m pleased to say I am, and do my best to do it 3 times per week. I am kind to myself if I don’t manage this!

2. Doing more of what you love

A few months back, I’d stopped doing a lot of what I usually enjoy, as I was depressed and lacking motivation. For me, going for a walk in the park, practising my drumming and writing are fun things which give me enjoyment. I had to go through a phase of pushing myself do 1 enjoyable thing a day, even if I didn’t feel like it! By doing these activities, my mood definitely improved.

3. Challenging unhelpful thoughts

I know I’ve blogged quite a bit on this activity but I find it works! Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) identifies your self-critical thoughts, acknowledges the emotions and body sensations you feel at the time, and then looks at the evidence for and against that critical thought. A new, more realistic truth is written down, and your emotions rated again, which helps reduce the negative emotions, thoughts and associated behaviours. This helps to lift your mood, as you think more realistic thoughts about yourself. You can ask your GP to refer you to your local Talking Therapies, or you can self -refer using the Single Point of Access (SPA) in some areas. There are also online computerised CBT courses available, such as Silver Cloud, which you can fit into your weekly schedule. Again your GP can refer you via your local Talking Therapies. As a Christian, I have also found memorising relevant Bible verses, to counteract the unhelpful thought too. Psalm 57: 3 reminds me that “My God will send forth his unfailing love and faithfulness.

4. Reaching out to others you trust for help and support

This takes courage, I know, if you’re feeling anxious or depressed. It may mean having to get over self critical thoughts of “I should be able to handle this myself” or worry about what others may think of you. I find those friends who aren’t judgemental, are kind and understanding are the ones I feel safe to talk with about how I feel. Sometimes our friends give us a fresh perspective and help us to see things more positively. Give someone a call, and have an honest chat or go out for a cuppa together.

5. Find out more about the mental health condition you are experiencing

Mind’s national website has an A-Z list of all things mental health, and recently I’ve found simple, informative pages on various conditions I’ve been researching. They also have a variety of guides on different conditions, including an Understanding Anxiety Guide and the different types of depression. They also have an online membership you can join with some good benefits, such as an online community.

Also, if you are a mental health service user or a carer, many mental health trusts have Recovery Colleges, which provide free courses on many topics relevant to mental health recovery, e.g. Understanding mental health conditions, personal recovery, managing stress, self-compassion and getting back into employment. Look up your local mental health trust website and search for “Recovery College” to find out about your local courses. In Central & North West London Foundation Health Trust, Recovery College courses and timetable can be found here.

Learning the simple truth that LESS IS MORE!

I’m aware that it’s been 3 months since I last posted, and it felt liberating to finally put pen to paper earlier this week in preparation for a new blog post and metaphorically blow away the cobwebs from my mind!

Life has been tough, resulting in me wrestling with unhelpful, self-critical thoughts and doubts about my future. I’ve chosen to hold onto my mustard-seed sized faith in God, even when I can’t see more than a few centimetres ahead of me. Psalm 57:5 (NLT) says “I cry out to God Most High, to God who will fulfill his purpose for me.”

Also, Ps 32:8 (NIV):

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” Both these verses fill me with hope that God has a plan for me, even if I don’t see that crystal clearly right now.

CBT thought sheets have become the order of my day: my most recently tackled thought when reframed was “Although I’ve not written a blog post recently, I am writing regularly, e.g. journalling and at my writing group, and can express myself well. Remember I won 3rd Prize in an Association of Christian Writers’ Journalism competition!” The aim is to come up with a more realistic, rational truth that overcomes the unhelpful thought! That more realistic thought has led to an almost instant change in behaviour, and resulted in this blog post!

The other lesson I have learned is that I have overloading myself with daily tasks, and need to do less. This past week, I have experimented with how much I have planned into my day, purposely making my ‘To Do” list longer some days and seeing how this has affected my mood and how productive I was as a result. Then on other days, doing the opposite: putting in a fewer tasks (more realistic), again seeing how I felt on achieving these and how productive I was. Interestingly, it was on the latter days that I felt better, was more productive and had a greater sense of achievement. This is in contrast to putting too much into my day, falling behind, rushing and hence being less productive and feeling I’ve not achieved enough. On the days with less tasks, I had the choice to add in another activity if I had time and the inclination.

My daily plan for this coming week involves 1 activity in the morning (writing, housework or some admin that needs doing ), having lunch, possibly a rest, e.g. Ignatian meditation or progressive muscle relaxation. Then another activity (prayer group, meet a friend or something enjoyable for me) in the afternoon. It’s taken several months to acknowledge my limits and accept that I’ve been expecting too much of myself and falling into that worldly trap of perfectionism (a battle that I have fought with myself since childhood, I think!). I know I am not alone in thinking this way – Katharine Welby-Roberts writes about her own struggles with perfectionism in her Inner Conflict chapter in her book “I Thought There Would Be Cake” (SPCK, 2017). The other thing I’ve noticed is the automatic negative thoughts racing through my mind have subsided somewhat, as the pressure is taken off myself to be defined by how much I achieve each day. I am learning to be kinder and more accepting of myself, regardless of how much I do, and know that God loves me just as I am, with my imperfections and weaknesses!

Reflection:

Are there any unhelpful thoughts that are affecting your mood? If so, what might be a more realistic, rational thought to tell yourself instead?

Are there any areas of your life where you are overloading yourself? If so, bring it to God, and ask for His wisdom to prioritise what’s important and what can wait.

What can you do to find some rest/ do something relaxing or enjoyable this week?

New Year, New Beginnings

“The Lord is close to the broken hearted; He rescues those whose spirits are crushed.”

Psalm 34:18 NLT Bible

Someone shared these Bible verses with me at church last Sunday. They spoke powerfully into my life, bringing me great encouragement as I recover from the emotional rollercoaster of the past few years.

During the past few months, God has been slowly removing some unhelpful commitments from my life that had been stealing my joy and depleting my energy supplies, rather than reviving me. I realised the stressful effects of this activity whilst keeping a food diary, when I would comfort eat on return from this activity.

For over a year, I had been testing God’s call to come away from this but due to family circumstances I needed to stay where I was to maintain some stability whilst other changes were taking place. Things came to a head when I was rudely awakened to the fact that I was seriously stressed out and was experiencing burn out. Realising this, I knew that I had to take myself out of the situation so that I could really look after my own needs and stop putting others needs above my own. To some, this may sound selfish, but as a carer it is often very hard to see your own needs as you are caught up in making sure the people you care for have all they need. I had to start prioritising my wellbeing, accepting my God-given limitations and stick to them. In his book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Peter Scazzerro shares that God has given us certain limits to protect and sustain us, and recommends taking a 24 hour Sabbath rest once a week, mirroring God’s rest from finishing creation in Genesis 1 and 2. For me, I’m trying to take this challenge seriously, although allowing myself time to stop doing chores around the house or other mundane tasks is proving difficult at times.

Silence and Solitude are becoming my new friends: I’ve started to use the Take Time Ignatian meditations to intentionally be still and rest in God’s presence and listen to His voice. It’s amazed me how much He’s had to say when I take time to be with Him. The reoccurring theme is that He loves me; allowing that truth to sink deeper into the heart of me is healing in itself. Also visualising Jesus himself holding me close in his arms and knowing that he’ll never leave me nor forsake me is key.

As I step out into a new season of new beginnings, I know the hope of God’s provision as I focus more on my writing. There have been some specific encounters, as I have networked, meeting new friends who share similar experiences and finding more balance in my life. I choose to immerse myself more deeply in God’s love and accept the good things He has in store for me.

How to manage the Christmas Shopping crowds using self -care strategies….in my case: a face mask!

This is my first post for my new blog Natural Beauty Bites, which I’m launching today. It focuses on green skincare and natural wellbeing. It brings together my environmental expertise and love of all things beauty and make up:

Naively I recently I booked a facial and massage on Oxford Street on the first Saturday in December … without any thought to the Christmas Shoppers that would be out in force!

I’d hoped to go onto see a friend for a cuppa at their Christmas Fair but found myself falling further and further behind with my plans. Not having seen said friend for over a year, I found myself pushing myself harder to get over there but had to make the tough decision to cancel our plans as the Central line was down. I realised I need to stop and take care of myself and that meant stepping back from the crowds and taking a breather!

Self care is so important – making “me time” – whatever that looks like for you. For me, natural skincare is a big part of taking care of myself.  This can involve putting on a face mask, which physically helps me to slow down, relax and breathe.

So on that busy Saturday, I was so thankful when I came across a new skincare range being launched in the UK by Boscia.

Photo taken after my Boscia mini facial that Saturday.

They are a Californian-based company, offering charcoal range of moisturisers and masks through Boots Central London stores.  I was treated to a 10 minute mini-facial and afterwards my skin was radiant and nourished, ready to face bitter wind outside on the street.  The product used was their Charcoal Pore Pudding face mask, a black and grey striped cooling cream, which had fantastic results. The facial was finished off with their hydrating gel, a light moisturiser: initially black in colour which invisibly blended into my skin.  Having sensitive oily/combination skin, my skin felt calm with no tingling whatsoever.  As I left the store, the stress of the Christmas crowds melted away, and I went on my way, with an instant confidence boost and raised energy levels.

After sampling their charcoal peel mask at home, my skin felt more hydrated and calmed:

First of all, I cleansed, then applied the mask liberally with my fingers, starting with my forehead and left a 1cm line from my hair line and avoided my sensitive eye area.  It needed just over 10 minutes to dry fully and then I peeled it off, forehead first. Again, my skin felt supple and well moisturised and I finished my facial off with the black hydrating gel.

All of these products are cruelty free, contain plant-based extracts, such as geranium and have no artificial nasties in them.  See Boscia.com or #bosciaukxboots for more info on their range of products.