Delightfully Chaotic, a Beautiful Mess

I liked maths at school. I liked the concreteness of it. The answer was either right or wrong. There were no grey areas. You either got the answer right, or you didn’t. I grew up enjoying the security of the correct answer, knowing that if I picked appropriately, I then would meet the standard and be satisfactory. But then always getting the answer right became hard work. When I got the answer wrong, feelings of shame and blame and judgement erupted. I saw those who around me striving to meet particular unattainable standards and melt down under the belief “If I do everything perfectly and get all straight A’s, I’ll avoid shame and be OK”. Being correct and right and looking perfect and flawless all the time became this unattainable goal. I see it now in other areas too, wanting the perfect job, the perfect home, the perfect relationship, the perfect life – we want perfection and to have it all together. And when we know that we’re not meeting these levels of perfection, we say to ourselves “I’m not good enough”.

Gretchin Rubin talks about perfection this way:

“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. A twenty minute walk that I do is better than the run that I don’t do. The imperfect book that gets published is better than the perfect book that never leaves my computer. The dinner party of takeout Chinese food is better than the elegant dinner that I never host.”

As a self-confessed achiever, I need to tape this to my mirror. Good enough is still very good. Romans 3:23, it says “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. Perfection is a hoax. It’s unattainable, all of us fall short. As long as we strive for it, we’ll be stressed and discontent and ashamed and frustrated. We need to learn to be kind to ourselves.

In my teams work in the creative office, I have a saying “done is better than perfect”. Yes, we aim for high standards and excellence but that’s not the same as perfection. Aiming for excellence is about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is a weight that we lug around with the belief that if we do anything other than reach this burdensome standard, we’ll be deficient.

And I think that’s why I love art. With artwork, perfection is subjective. There is no wrong or right and so creating can be an antidote to perfectionism. I like the experimental nature of it. The different colours that someone could paint a daffodil and it still is beautiful and right. The different words that people used to illustrate a scenario and capture the details in different ways. There’s safety and freedom in art.

2 Corinthians 12:9 says “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” We ourselves are living works of art with weaknesses and cracks and imperfections. My husband often laughs at my chaotic, disordered way of living. He once came home and thought the house had been burgled. It hadn’t, I’d just got changed and couldn’t decide what to wear. I’m currently wearing jogging bottoms, 2 woolly jumpers, hair tied in a top knot – I look a scruff. But there is beauty in imperfection. My slippers are comfy, my glasses give my eyes a rest and my oversized jumper reminds me of my family as it was a gift from my brother.

There is beauty in imperfection so be kind to yourself. Embrace your imperfections and free yourself to create.

“When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.” Don Millar

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Winter Wandering

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When I lived in Finland, there was no such thing as “wet play” where children had to stay indoors if it was raining. You went outdoors whatever the weather, with the exception of the temperature being below -20°C and then children were allowed to stay indoors. We bundled the children into their all-weather suits and wellies and off they went to play in the puddles and rain. There were covered areas to play and not get soaked too, lots of Scandinavian life is outdoors so Finland’s infrastructure and way of doing things supports this. I completely loved their way of doing this – it didn’t feel like you had to organise your life around the weather and the day was never wasted if it was raining. With 1 in 3 days in the UK being rainy, I’m not sure why we don’t have a different set up here, everyone seems to flock to the cinema or soft play centres if the dark clouds come in and cross any options of being outdoors off the list rearranging their plans.

In the winter, I get hugely claustrophobic. After a while, I need some fresh air and big skies. I need to get out of centrally heated buildings and climb out from under my blankets to air my lungs, get some vitamin D from the winter sun and feel some breeze. Ben knows how much I love a good landscape and bit of scenery so last year, he decided that I needed to join all the senior citizens and middle class families with children under 10 and get a national trust membership…and I completely loved it! Just before Christmas, we wrapped up warm and took our niece and nephew for a day out running in the gardens of Cliveden.

I’m not going to lie – I was expecting them to whine and get bored very quickly. Cliveden is effectively just big gardens with an old house. There were no screens, and just lawns and topiary for entertainment. We took some cameras along and gave them free reigns on the day. What I love is that they made a game out of everything: the little bridges, the sticks, the pathways, running and skipping in the fields. We gave them our cameras and they decided to be photographers for the day. They ran around in the maze and at the end of the day they discovered the giant slide and frolicked as they raced down it. When you’re not given amusement or entertainment and have to create your own fun, you’re forced to be more creative.

Here are our budding photographer’s portfolios along with some other favourites from the day:

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We’re planning some more days out this winter, determining not to let the rain and hail stop us. Watch this space.

14 things I learned in 2014

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Another year has passed so I thought it would be fun to see what I’d actually learned from it. Here goes:

1. Don’t Shrink Back
Let’s face it, we are one of the most empowered generations of women to ever exist. We have been given ridiculous amounts of power and influence but so often, we don’t use it. We don’t utilise our influence to build, or even destroy. Our tendency is to do nothing. Back in January, I heard Jennie Allen preach on not shrinking back and it felt like someone grabbed my shoulders, shook me and woke me up to the responsibility I have, not for my sake but for the sake of others.

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2. I love the outdoors, like REALLY love it.

I love big open outdoor spaces. I’ve visited a lot of cities this year but my favourite places have been the mountains and fields and lakes and the spaces where you feel tiny in comparison to the landscape – I’m a sucker for a good view. Being outdoors is good for my soul.

3. Coaching keeps me healthy and accelerates my spiritual growth.

At the beginning of the year, I began meeting up with Lisa who is a coach and spiritual director, a dear friend and all round amazing human being. She has been the helpful and hopeful voice in my life, through asking questions, highlighting the nuances of my answers and providing tools to help me process situations I’m facing. From reading past journal entries and reflecting on the year, I feel like this year has been a season of accelerated growth and I understand myself far more now than I did going into the year. Much of that has been down to time spent with Lisa reflecting and processing and with her sharing her insights. I could not recommend it enough.

4. I can make meaningful friendships quickly.
This year, we’ve made some wonderful new friends and I’ve learnt that if you’re intentional about it, opening up over some round the table conversation, you really can build meaningful friendships in a few days – it doesn’t take a lifetime.

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5. Writing and making takes vulnerability.
Since starting this blog and knowing that others will read it, the temptation for me is too strip away a layer or two of my juiciest creativity and innovation to make the revealing less risky – to create in line with what people want me to say as opposed to what I want to say. It makes you feel exposed and vulnerable. As the things you make and create are personal to you, it can feel like there’s too much on the line to just put my wildest creations out there. If I do share it in its wildest and unrefined form and the reception isn’t great, I have to remember who I’m creating for and the purpose behind this blog. This writing is a risky business.

6. To just start where I am

Don’t wait for everything to be perfect. You can read about that here.

7. To stop wearing busyness and exhaustion as a badge of honour.

I was driven by “should do” instead of “want to do” and thought that if I did more, I would be more. I had mistaken efficiency with love and am learning to answer “how are you?” with responses other than “busy” or “tired”. I’m avoiding these words as then I have to find something more interesting to be.

8. The art of calligraphy.

In the Autumn, I took a calligraphy course and learnt copperplate lettering. I loved doing something so practical and enjoyed every minute – I’ll write about it soon.B1WMT3fIAAA619k

9. To delight

Celebrating is important. Enjoying and cherishing and reveling. This year, we’ve been intentional about celebrating and delighting in the small things – the end of a busy season, pulling off a great conference, birthdays. Its been great for our souls.

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10. There’s a difference between rest and recreation.

I think I’ve always thought that rest and recreation were interchangeable and as long as you were doing something fun, it still counted as rest. Turns out, I was wrong. I’ve tried to pack lots of playing into holidays as possible (days out, hosting dinner parties, holiday activities and projects) but left no time for stopping and stillness. There have been a few times this year when I’ve come back to work after a holiday filled with lots of fun things but not feeling rested at all. It’s R and R not R or R for a reason. You need both.

11. I can keep 2 living creatures alive for a whole month (with help from Ben).

I’ve wanted a dog for a while but I was never convinced I was responsible enough to look after something living and wasn’t sure whether we’d be able to give them enough attention, time and walks as we’re quite busy. However, in the summer, we spent a month looking after our friends lovely labradors and we completely loved it. Granted, we may have taught them some bad habits (sorry about the whole sofa thing Catrina!) and there were a few precarious incidents with some cows, but we had lots of fun with them.

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12. Use every emotion as fuel for prayer.
I did a study on the life of David this year with some friends and my big take away from it was how he used every emotion that he experienced and used it as fuel for a conversation with God. The psalms are a collection of those emotion driven conversations – he complained to God, was angry, delighted, he mourned, he shared his disgust and fear. Through every emotion, he cried out to God because God can handle out emotions. This year, I’ve begun to get better at doing it.

13. I can finish things.

This year, I did a two month program of exercising an hour a day for 6 days a week. I never finish anything as I get bored before the end so this was a major achievement for me.

14. A change of place + change of pace = change of perspective.

There have been many times this year when I’ve realised that I haven’t left that same 10 mile patch of land for weeks. I live, work, shop, visit family and friends all in this same patch of land and I regularly get claustrophobic. It is so life giving for me to leave Bracknell and go to the beach for the day or take a picnic in the countryside. When I’m stuck in that rut and feeling hemmed in, I know I need to slow down and get out of Bracknell, whether just for the day or for a holiday. It helps.

It feels good to track the journey and document the progress that you’re making. What did you learn this year? I’d love to hear it!

We Wish you a Merry Christmas

Christmas, when you’re job is part of a church team, is kind of big deal. It’s been exciting, annoying, exhausting and incredibly rewarding all at the same time. Our energy levels are low but our hearts are full. Now the pre run up to Christmas is over, we’re taking time to delight in this season and having a slow Christmas – church on Christmas Day, then my family for lunch. We’ll amble over to Ben’s family in the evening and spend boxing day with them – no phones, no rushing, no “busyness”. Just family board games, laughing at in-jokes under fairy lights and general snoozing on the sofa.

I’m ending this year celebrating the great moments in 2014. I’Il hope you take a minute to reflect on the great things God has done for you this year, both big and small.

In lieu of a Christmas card, Merry Christmas from us!

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Oh Christmas Tree – The Sprouting Spruce

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Welcome December! Time to don the seasonal sequins and deck the halls. Now, my Mum and I have always had a bit of a thing about Christmas trees. Most people go for the bushiest, tallest, straightest, most symmetrical tree that will stand looking stately, grandiose and impressive as the centre piece of the living room.

Mum and I would take a slightly different approach… when left to be the family representatives to select the family Christmas tree, we’d always go for the wonky one, the one with the really long stick at the top that looked like it was reaching up to be as tall as possible, the one that’s a bit lop sided or the ridiculously small, chubby one that looked cute but would be overlooked by the busy Christmas shoppers.

We’d pack it into the car and then spruce it up (pardon the pun) by putting wedges under it to straighten it out, putting it on tree stumps or upturned buckets to make it look taller and generally give it some TLC so that the poor Christmas tree wasn’t cut down with nothing to show for it (we don’t like waste for the sake of it).

After Ben and I got married, Ben has had to adapt to my slightly eclectic Christmas tree preferences. The Pocock side of the family tend to go for the majestic, imposing tree choice (in my husband’s words “they don’t have feelings, just get a massive, decent one”). Our compromise has been a living Christmas tree. Last year, we purchased a sweet, little live Christmas tree which I’ve been lovingly watering and tinkering with over the summer. I’ve been marvelling over the fresh green shoots, saying “hasn’t it grown tall” as if it’s a small child and dreaming sentimentally about how our Christmas tree will grow with our family. It’s ticked my environmental sustainability box and Ben is happy in the knowledge that it’ll one day grow into the colossus of a tree that he longs for… unless I accidentally kill it (which is quite likely.)

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Christmas trees are just one of the many traditions that I love about this time of year, whether they be fat or thin or wonky or straight – roll on the social media ambush of festive fir photos to adorn our screens.

9 Types – The Enneagram

Have I told you about Enneagram? If I’ve had a conversation with you in the last 2 weeks – if we’ve had a meal together or a staff meeting or you’ve been stuck in a car with me – the chances are, you probably have heard of them. Some new friends introduced me to it when they basically had me sussed after 24 hours of knowing me. I’d heard about it in passing but never really paid much attention to it.

The Enneagram (pronounced “any-a-gram”) is an early Catholic personality profiling system that describes 9 basic types of people and explains why we behave the way we do and then points to direction for individual growth. It teaches that in early life, we learn to feel safe and to cope with different personal and family situations based on our natural talents and abilities.

A really brief overview as I’m not an expert:

1’s – The Perfectionist –  1’s are motivated by the need to right and perfect. They are realistic, contentious, particular and principled. They strive to live up to their high ideals.

2’s – The Helper – 2’s are motivated by the need to be needed or loved. They are loving, warm, concerned, nurturing and sensitive. They are emotionally expressive and focused on relationships.

3’s – The Achiever – 3’s are motivated by the need to be successful. They are energetic, optimistic, self assured and goal oriented. They fear being worthless.

4’s – The Romantic – 4’s are motivated by the need to be special and unique. They have sensitive feelings and are warm and perceptive and fear having no identity or significance.

5’s – The Investigator (or the Observer) – 5’s are motivated by the need to understand and perceive. They are introverted, curious, analytical and insightful.

6’s – The Loyalist (or the Questioner) – 6’s are motivated by the need to be safe. They strive to receive approval and to feel taken care of. They are responsible, trustworthy and value loyalty to family and friends.

7’s – The Adventurer (or Enthusiast) – 7’s are motivated by the need  to be happy and avoid pain. They are energetic lively and optimistic. They want to contribute to the world.

8’s – The Asserter (or Challenger) – 8’s are motivated by the need to self-protect and be strong. They are direct, self-reliant, self-confident and protective. They fear being harmed, controlled or violated.

9’s – The Peacemaker – 9’s are motivated by the need to keep the peace. They are receptive, good-natured, adaptable and supportive. They seek union with them and the world around them.

 

Shauna Niequist has written more in depth about the types here. Or for even more info you can look at Enneagram Institute here or 9 types here.

I’m a 3 and understanding this has helped me see some of the positives of my personality. Knowing that I can be task driven and competitive, I love being busy, that I thrive on striving for new challenges and goals, that I value feedback and affirmation has always felt like something to be ashamed of. It sounds vain and narcissistic, competitive and selfish. But learning what a 3 looks like at their best (optimistic, confident, industrious, energetic) as well as their worst (deceptive, vindictive, pretentious…eek!) has shown me habits and patterns of thinking that I have when I’m in health and also in stress. It’s confirmed aspects of my personality that I hadn’t acknowledged before (I value feedback good or bad, and I don’t like being interrupted… I really don’t!). It’s encouraged me to stop and rest, highlighted my tendency to adapt to whatever I feel would be valuable to that situation, as opposed to truly being myself. That I’m loved for who I am, not what I do and that my feelings are as valuable as my accomplishments.

I’ve found it hugely helpful in understanding why I do things, I can see a bigger picture of my coping strategies and am beginning to learn alternative behaviours. It’s added a whole new awareness of the way that I’ve been made and is helping me live in the healthiest possible way. I see my feelings and emotions in a new light, it’s encouraged me to create boundaries, it’s highlighted potential pitfalls and negatives habits that we’ve been oblivious to in our marriage and has given me insight in conversations around peoples motivations so it’s helping to improve my relationships.

So I’m a 3. My husband is a 9.  I shouldn’t inflict my desire to be busy on him as he values peace and relaxation and if I have an issue, I should engage in discussion with him but not confrontation. My close friend is a 6 – she values clarity and direct instructions, gentle reassurance and lots of encouragement. My in-laws are 8’s and 4’s. My mother in law appreciates it when I’m straight and direct, she would prefer that to me being diluted or vague. My father in law values compliments, particularly about the things that make him unique. He will always enjoy theatrics, humour and creativity no matter how much he’s told be sensible.

It’s valuable to get to know each type, not just your own and to learn some of the characteristics of relationships between those types. Next time I see you, we can sit down and work out which you are and I pray you’ll find it as useful as I have.